Wednesday, 26 April 2017
Israel vs Holocaust survivor Ilana
The State Comptroller's report published last week painted a depressing picture of how Israel treats Holocaust survivors living in it who still insist, for some reasons, on making demands, on consuming and, in general, on living, 72 years after the end of WWII.
According to the report, as of January 2017, 158,000 Holocaust survivors still live in Israel, as well as 56,000 people whom the government has recognized as victims of anti-Semitism and racist persecution during WWII. The State Comptroller's report finds that their average age is 85, and that they are dying at the rate of 1,000 per month - a rate projected to increase in the coming years.
The youngest Holocaust victims, those born in 1945, months or days before the horrors ended and the final collapse of the Third Reich, will be 85 in 2030, should they live that long. Actually, it is mainly Holocaust children who are living among us – people born in 1930 or later, who were less than 15 years old when the horrors were taking place. These survivors experienced the psychological damage when they were still small, childish, innocent, and vulnerable. Even thousands of psychologists, psychiatric drugs, and a solicitous national establishment will never heal them.
According to the State Comptroller, however, the Israeli establishment does not even bother to show a smiling face to Holocaust survivors, offer them a hand, or embrace them. In 2014-2016, according to the report, the state allocated NIS 100 million to Holocaust survivors, but the Ministry of Labor, Welfare, and Social Services has not even bothered to devise a plan for distributing the money, and only NIS 4 million reached the survivors. Many of them lack basic nutrition, let alone decent housing, medical and nursing aid, and in general, a dignified life.
Today, Holocaust Day, I have chosen not to repeat the story of indifferent clerks, with rebukes and heartrending descriptions. Perhaps it is preferable this time to relate just one story, in no way unique, of a Holocaust survivor who lived here among us, before she died 18 months ago. I refer to the late Ilana Ben Yaakov (Morgernstern), who lived in Hadera, mother of Yaakov Ben Yaakov, an engineer at Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) living in Shiloh.
"Mother was born in Romania in 1933 in a village in Moldova," her son says. "When she was a child, she and her family were expelled from their home and wandered to the city of Iasi (Jassy), 20-30 kilometers away."
In 1941, when she was eight year old, Ben Yaakov's mother experienced a life-changing event: an especially cruel and murderous pogrom, known to history as the Iasi pogrom. Romanian Fascist leader Ion Antonescu, who collaborated with the Nazis, guided and executed the pogrom a few days after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in a despicable effort to appease the side he thought would win.
Estimates of the number of Jews killed in the pogrom range from 13,000 to 20,000. The violence was unprecedented and especially hideous. Ben Yaakov's mother and her family hid in an attic overlooking the city square. From there, she looked down and saw Romanian soldiers putting Jews into lines and shooting them. Other soldiers went from house to house looking for Jews. At one stage, they also came to the house in which her family was hiding, until she heard a Romanian officer say, "There's no one here," and their lives were saved.
She then underwent a nightmare of unending starvation and fear. In one case, a soldier identified her as a Jew and began chasing her. She, a little girl, ran for her life, and was seriously injured in her leg. "My mother told me that they stitched her leg with a needle and thread meant for clothes," Ben Yaakov says, "because that was all they had."
No pension and little savings for the Ben Yaakov family
Many years later, in Israel, after raising a fine family and a career as a private kindergarten teacher, Ilana, who was recognized as a Holocaust survivor, entered assisted living housing with no pension and dwindling family savings. Yaakov, one of her sons, battled to the best of his ability to make her final years dignified and reasonably comfortable.
"Her health deteriorated in several respects," he remembers. "She accumulated a higher and higher proportion of disability, but then I discovered that the Ministry of Finance Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority was simply doing everything to make sure her disability would not exceed 70%, and would remain even at 69.7%, so that they wouldn't have to pay her more money.
"I wrote them letter after letter, and fought over fractions of a percent. In the end, she got NIS 7,500 a month, and that was more or less enough." Ilana lived several years in assisted living housing in Jerusalem, and everything appeared uneventful. Then, however, she suffered a severe stroke that left her in need of nursing care. Her son says, "The assisted housing facility told us they couldn't go on taking care of her in her condition, and that she had to move to a nursing institution. The problem is that at the time, these institutions cost at least NIS 13,000 a month, and we had NIS 7,500. My mother had no pension, and her husband, who worked at a bank, died almost a decade before her. The savings he left her had been almost completely used up. We didn't know what to do."
Ben Yaakov, who has 10 children, had to sell his parents' apartment in Hadera, and even that did not cover the expenses. After repeated correspondence, he and his brother went to the National Insurance Institute branch in Hadera, where one of the clerks told them that they would have to supply the missing NIS 5,500 a month for their mother's needs. "We eventually had to remove her from the assisted living housing in Jerusalem because of her medical state," he says.
"Globes": Where did you send her?
Yaakov Ben Yaakov: "To an assisted living institution in Beer Sheva… We were lucky, because we knew the manager there, and he offered to take my mother until all the mess with the state could be solved. Despite the distance, we didn't think twice."
Ben Yaakov says that once the state recognizes someone as a Holocaust survivor and grants them the benefits for it, it in effect withdraws all the other money given them up until then: National Insurance Institute payments, widow/er's pension, hours allocated for nursing treatment, etc.
"I didn't know what to do," he says. "I wrote dozens of letters to MKs and ministers, and nothing helped. It went on that way, until I sent a letter to Yair Lapid, who was Minister of Finance at the time, and who apparently cares a lot about Holocaust survivors. All of a sudden, less than a month after I sent him the letter, the same clerk from the National Insurance Institute in Hadera called me and said, 'Mr. Ben Yaakov, what's the problem? Pay NIS 7,500 a month, and we'll pay and take care of all the rest.' It was a miracle for me, but what about the other families of Holocaust survivors? Why should they have to go on fighting for every shekel?"
The Ministry of Finance said in response, "We do not know of the cases described. We will be glad to receive additional particulars and examine the claims. We note that some of the complaints involve matters for which the National Insurance Institute and Claims Committee are responsible, not the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority."
Note that the Ministry of Finance's spokeswomen insisted on making this laconic and general response, because they did not receive the deceased's ID number, even though they had her first and last name, maiden name, and the name of one of her sons - particulars that are enough to obtain particulars about her in any simple Google search, but not enough to provide a specific response. That is unfortunate.
"Someone who doesn't have persistent children gets nothing"
Many Holocaust survivors now live in retirement homes and assisted living housing, which are quite costly. Almost all of them are bitter about the policy of the Ministry of Finance and its clerks, which has been going on for generations. Here are some complaints from Holocaust survivors in retirement homes in Tel Aviv who preferred to remain anonymous.
"The Ministry of Finance issues a pretty expensive-looking booklet in color every year. The booklet lists all the wonderful things that the Ministry of Finance offers. There is a problem, however: none of the benefits they offer comes easily. You have to write letters, pass committees, and in most cases, you are refused, and have to appeal. Someone who doesn't have persistent children fighting for him gives up and gets nothing. Someone who fights to get what he's entitled to eventually gets the benefits."
"There are dozens of organizations for helping Holocaust survivors. All of them have nice addresses, with dozens of employees and big salaries, but when you call and ask them for help, you're told, 'There's no money. It's all used up'."
"Two years ago, Germany offered a one-time €2,500 payment to Holocaust children. They said that anyone born after 1928 was entitled to it if he or she was in a concentration camp, ghetto, or in hiding. Logic says that if the Ministry of Finance has already recognized you as a survivor, you meet the conditions, but it's not like that. The money sat there for 18 months, during which the euro plunged, and many survivors who were definitely entitled were refused."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on April 24, 2017
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