I recently introduced H. Con. Res. 129, along with my South Florida colleague, Ted Deutch, urging Germany to comprehensively and immediately provide for the unmet needs of Holocaust survivors throughout the world. Tragically, after nearly three-quarters of a century and having lived through humanity’s darkest period, tens of thousands of survivors are suffering without basic life-sustaining services and care they need in their advanced years.
The time for justice is now; the time for action is now, because there may not be a next year, or even next month, for many survivors.
There are an estimated half million survivors worldwide, about a quarter of whom live in the United States. Nearly 15,000 live among us in South Florida. But the sad reality is that half of all survivors worldwide, including in the United States and Florida, live at or below the poverty level and in many cases, alone and without family support.
Lacking funds for home care to medicines to eyeglasses, food to utilities and rent, many survivors are unable to maintain even a modest and dignified standard of living. We must also remember that after enduring the torture, the experiments, the labor camps, the loss of loved ones and annihilation of entire families, survivors’ medical and mental healthcare needs are far more complex and extensive than those of other elderly.
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These are just some of the brutalities of the Nazi regime that survivors struggle to cope with on a daily basis. They deserve more — so much more.
That is why the German government needs to step up and honor the pledge of the late Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to take care of all the needs of every survivor to their last breath. It isn’t that Germany has done nothing to fulfill this pledge — German governments have provided some support through income-assistance programs, and have even doubled funding for home care services in the past five years. However, as the German Ministry of Finance itself has admitted, the level of care financed by the government to date has been vastly insufficient, especially for so many in dire need of intensive, long-term care.
The inconsistent manner in which existing funding and care is disbursed makes matters worse. The current system places an undue burden on survivors and their families and forces them to jump through too many hoops, causing harmful delays and waste.
H. Con. Res. 129 urges Germany to recognize the imperative to immediately and fully fund survivors’ medical, mental health and long-term healthcare needs and to administer these funds efficiently, fairly and without delay.
Germany has a historic and moral responsibility to enable all survivors to live out the remainder of their days in comfort and dignity, and the United States has an obligation to ensure that efforts to run out the clock and permit this continued suffering are put to an end.
Congress is in a unique position to work for and fight on behalf of survivors — many of whom are our constituents — because their concerns raise profound moral and humanitarian issues with national and international dimensions. We have a long history of working on behalf of survivors, whether it be to enable them to pursue restitution of stolen property, art, insurance, or other assets, or to urge Germany to honor its unique obligation to alleviate and end the continuing injuries inflicted by the Nazi regime.
Wednesday, May 4, is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. As we remember and honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, we are all compelled to do everything we can to help those who have lived through those unconscionable atrocities. I urge my colleagues in Congress to join us in sending a united message and I urge President Obama to join our efforts.
For these survivors, there is no time to waste. They’ve waited more than 70 years. We trust that Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German Parliament and German people will act without further delay to provide for all of the medical, mental health, and homecare needs that each survivor requires, because that is the obligation owed and it is also the humane thing to do.
These survivors have seen the worst humanity has to offer; let us show them the best of humanity by ensuring they live out their days in dignity.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th District in Congress.