Holocaust survivors say Germany needs to help ease poverty among aging members

Chris Adams

Holocaust survivors in the United States face severe health problems and often-grinding poverty, and advocates urged members of the U.S. Senate Wednesday to push German officials to make good on that country’s decades-old promises to them.

Led by survivor Jack Rubin of Boynton Beach, Fla., Holocaust survivors and family members told the Senate Special Committee on Aging that money made available to Holocaust survivors didn’t come close to paying for home health care services, hearing aids, dental care and the other costs of the aging population.

“We are losing more and more survivors every day and they need our help now,” Rubin told the committee. He said advocates need the president and Congress “to pressure Germany, and all culpable corporations, to fulfill their moral obligations to Holocaust survivors.”

Rubin was born in the former Czechoslovakia and survived several Nazi concentration camps and death camps.

Witnesses told Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democrat from Florida who leads the committee, that there are about 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, about 110,000 of them in the United States, with big concentrations in New York, South Florida, Los Angeles, Chicago and a handful of other cities.

The percentage of those survivors living in poverty ranged from 25 percent and up, according to differing estimates. The most recent survey of survivors in South Florida was in 2003, and it found that 39 percent of them lived below the official poverty line, according to testimony submitted to the committee.

Asked by Nelson what services are most important for these aging survivors, witnesses said access to home health care was vital, given the fear many Holocaust survivors have of being removed from their homes.

Much of the testimony revolved around the reality of life as an elderly Holocaust survivor – and about the impact that long-ago captivity can have still have.

Lee Sherman, president of the Baltimore-based Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies, said that even survivors who had adapted well in America may experience triggers late in life, especially if those problems are compounded by dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“Some Holocaust survivors may resort to hiding food in their rooms, insecure about when their next meal will come, and how much food will be available to them,” he told the committee. “Some survivors learned long ago to fear and mistrust doctors, white coats, or uniforms because of their terrifying experiences with Nazi soldiers and medical experiments.”

But Rubin emphasized that he was not asking U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for additional services. An organization called the Claims Conference has for decades negotiated with the German government to provide for payments to survivors. But the amount of money so far made available through that system doesn’t go far enough to tend to the needs of current survivors, Rubin said.

“We don’t want anything from the United States government. They did enough for us. They opened their doors. They gave us a new life,” Rubin said, adding later that, “Long-term care should be taken care of by Germany.”

By Chris Adams
McClatchy Washington Bureau