Dont let Holocaust survivors live in poverty

Every April, in honor of Yom HaShoah, J. joins other Jewish institutions and media outlets around the world in recalling the horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime and remembering those who suffered the unimaginable cruelties of the Holocaust — both those who survived, and the millions who did not.

There’s a reason why it’s called the Holocaust, singled out from other genocides. All genocides seek to destroy an entire group of people based on their race, religion or nationality. Holocaust is an ancient word meaning “all burnt,” a chillingly visceral description of the Nazis’ brutal evisceration of Europe’s Jewish communities. The Nazi campaign differed not in the scope or cruelty of its murder, but in its careful planning, its ongoing review of various killing mechanisms, and its unrelenting efforts to complete the outrageous project as efficiently and quietly as possible.

Today, there are approximately 130,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States. The youngest are in their 70s; nearly one-quarter are 85 or older. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 25 percent of them live in poverty, a figure that is 21⁄2 times greater than the national average of people 65 and older.

How can the Jewish community permit this? It boggles the mind. Every single one of these people should have a warm home, a soft bed and a full belly, and shame on us for not ensuring it.

Now and then, legislative initiatives come along seeking to alleviate the situation of these aging survivors through financial assistance. Every one of them helps, in incremental ways at the very least.

Last year, $5 million was added to the fiscal year 2015 budget to create a Holocaust Survivors Assistance Fund at the Department of Health and Human Services. Now six Democratic senators are urging that the funding be renewed. On March 27, a letter authored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was sent to the relevant appropriations committee asking that $5 million be added to the fiscal year 2016 Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill, earmarked for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Fund. The fund leverages public-private partnership opportunities with nonprofits, foundations and the private sector to address the most urgent needs of Holocaust survivors and the nonprofits that help them, focusing on allowing these people to age in place with all appropriate services. 

We applaud these senators for addressing this pressing need, and we urge the committee to accept their recommendation.