One of the prompts on a call I made said, “For Nazi Victim Services press one.” I didn’t listen to the rest of the recording because that was what I was calling about—healthcare assistance for a woman who was left an orphan in 1940 when her entire family was murdered by the Nazis.
The woman I’m referring to is my mother-in-law, who’s 90 years old and was hospitalized recently. After she came home from the hospital last week, I remembered that I had heard that there are organizations here in New York that receive funding from the German government to facilitate the care for the surviving victims of Nazism who are all at least 80 years old, most in their nineties or older.
One of the leading and efficient groups that handle these situations is the Jewish Community Council of Coney Island. The executive director there, Rabbi Moshe Weiner, is a most proficient and, indeed, award-winning administrator who does an exemplary job managing these types of services, amongst many others funded by government.
Moshe directed me to a social worker who told me right away that, yes, there is funding to help with home-care services for people like my mother-in-law but that there is a long waiting list.
Of course, I was interested in finding out how I can get her qualified for these services but I was startled to hear that there was a waiting list of elderly survivors. So I digressed as I spoke to this young woman on the phone. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you telling me that there’s a waiting list for Holocaust survivors in their eighties and nineties? What exactly are they supposed to be waiting for?” I asked.
The person I spoke to agreed that it sounds odd to have people in that age bracket and of that background on a waiting list of any sort. A further inquiry revealed that while the survivor generation is shrinking, the need for services for those who are now elderly—which means all Holocaust survivors—is greater than ever before.
The intermediary between these agencies like the JCC of Coney Island is the Conference on Jewish Material Claims on Germany, known commonly as the Claims Conference, established in 1951.
According to Rabbi Weiner, while the Claims Conference does extraordinary work in a most effective fashion, there is still a shortfall in funding that can be used in order to assist survivors as they age and require healthcare services.
The Israeli government, in a recent unrelated effort to prioritize coronavirus vaccines for survivors, said that their research indicated that there are approximately 360,000 Holocaust survivors living around the world. According to Moshe Weiner, who services the greater Coney Island area that includes large swatches of Brooklyn, there are presently 18,000 survivors residing in that one borough.
He says that every week his JCC receives between five and twenty new requests for some level of services. He adds that the Claims Conference has determined that his organization alone would need an additional $6.2 million in order to serve all those on the waiting list. The German government pays billions of dollars annually in Holocaust survivor reparations as well as many millions more for healthcare services for the aging population.
Of course, it’s impossible to assign a dollar value to the loss of entire families and possessions as a result of the horrific Nazi onslaught. And I have to add that it is unconscionable that survivors who need assistance in any form from the German government are on a waiting list.
For his part, Rabbi Weiner says that he is reaching out to potential donors to raise the $6 million that he needs to serve all who have contacted his office for assistance.
As part of the last several stimulus packages, the United States has handed out billions of dollars where it is essentially needed but has also sent money to foreign countries to study rather obscure matters that certainly could have waited for the next distribution of funds. The latest distribution to businesses came from leftover funds that were sitting in government accounts for months awaiting allocation. That total was almost $400 billion.
It may not be something that is on the U.S. government’s radar, but a few thousand Holocaust survivors in New York alone are on a waiting list for healthcare services. They need $6 million. Maybe I’m naïve, but is anyone out there?
On another matter related to Holocaust survivors scattered around the world today, you may have seen commercials on some cable news stations for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The organization, which attracts many millions of dollars from Christian communities to support poor Jews in locations like the Ukraine, has been doing important work for decades. The organization was founded and run by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein until his death two years ago and is now run by his daughter, Yael.
The commercials on Fox News and other channels show Ms. Eckstein visiting with elderly survivors in what looks like crowded and crumbling ramshackle huts where they sit in coats and hats because it is freezing both outdoors and inside their one-room shacks.
These infomercials are generally seen around Chanukah and depict Ms. Eckstein opening a box that features some nonperishable foodstuffs, a Chanukah menorah, and a box of candles. Over the upcoming weeks you will probably see the same commercials that show her unpacking a box that includes a package of matzah and a jar of gefilte fish. In the spot, she walks through the area of these broken-down homes, asking viewers to donate $25 for one such box to be delivered to these folks for the holiday. After years of seeing this commercial, first featuring Rabbi Eckstein and now his daughter, I wonder why the Fellowship has not improved the lives of these people with something more than a jar of fish and a box of matzah.
I mean, I think they could have knocked down those horrible huts and built a decent place for these people to live. Or, better yet, how about moving the elderly frail Jews to Israel, so they can live out their years in dignity and with self-respect in the Jewish homeland? I don’t know the answer to this question. Maybe they want to stay in the Ukraine where they have always lived, though I doubt that their goal is to remain living in poverty and bitter cold. Perhaps there is a plausible explanation and I just don’t know it.
It’s been 76 years since World War II ended. Those who managed to survive, live, and rebuild should not be relegated to anything other than a top priority, whether here in New York or in the Ukraine. That’s why I was a bit stunned to hear about that waiting list last week. Obviously, this is not a good thing. There has to be a better way.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.