I am the only one of 105 family members to survive the hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps. Therefore, I read the Aug. 9 article Growing bond between Germans, Jews highlighted in South Florida, with mixed feelings. Post-war Germany has engaged in vital diplomatic relations and provided support for the state of Israel, outlawed anti-Semitism and Neo-Nazi activities and provided modest pensions for some (but not all) Holocaust survivors.
These efforts deserve credit.
However, Germany’s obligations to the remaining survivors of the Holocaust remain painfully unfulfilled. Today, half of all Holocaust survivors in the world, including in the United States, live in or near poverty. It is well-documented that survivors suffer from extreme physical and mental-health challenges resulting from the Nazi German regime’s death camps, slave labor, torture, malnutrition, medical experiments and death marches, which have left their brutal legacy up to this very hour.
Despite recent funding increases by Germany, the medically mandated treatments such as home healthcare, dental care, mental healthcare, medicines, hearing aids, and other vital services are not being provided. With home care, for example, Germany’s recent announcement of $800 million over a four-year period, divided as it should be among the 56,000 survivors currently receiving care worldwide, provides less than 30 percent of the hours needed by those survivors.
Germany should be responsible for providing for all of the remaining survivors’ needs, period. Why should a 90-year-old survivor living alone, suffering from osteoporosis, compression fractures and severely worn-out joints, be limited to the Claims Conference cap of 25 hours of home care per week, when he or she requires care 24/7? The rationing caused by the current system puts survivors’ lives at risk.
Further, the current distribution system through the Claims Conference is deeply flawed, with impossible bureaucratic barriers and diversion of funds. Funding by Germany must not only be comprehensive, but also be channeled through the U.S. government to survivors or service providers directly.
It is doubtful that Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who promised in the 1950s that Germany would provide for the victims of the Holocaust “to their last breath,” would be satisfied by the state of affairs today.
The Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, a national coalition of elected survivor leaders, and other survivor and second-generation leaders, have implored Chancellor Angela Merkel to lead her government to take full responsibility for all survivors’ actual healthcare costs. We believe that the German people are fair and just and, if they understood how many survivors are still suffering, would overwhelmingly approve. This is the only way for peace to come to the remaining survivors of the Holocaust.
I cannot begin to describe the anguish we survivors feel, after the horrors we endured, to now see so many helpless survivors suffering because they cannot afford basic needs. But this is not news. The lack of funding for survivors’ care has been reported locally in the Miami Herald and in-depth on CBS-4 News and in newspapers worldwide for 15 years. The problems were documented in Congressional hearings in 2014 thanks to Sen. Bill Nelson and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Ted Deutch. We cannot understand how our pleas have still fallen on deaf ears.
How can the director of the local social services agency serving survivors say, when asked if he is satisfied with current funding levels, that, “It depends on what your goals are.” The goal must be to provide survivors all the care they need for dignity in their final years, and that is not happening. How can the American Jewish Committee (AJC) have dialogues with German leaders and be “profoundly moved” by their aspirations, but say nothing about the plight of destitute Holocaust survivors who are still with us? This is the same AJC whose international lobbyist, Rabbi Andrew Baker, helped protect the immunity of global insurers Allianz and Generali who defrauded billions of dollars from Jewish families after the Holocaust. How can my good friend Andy Hall somehow not hear the desperate cries of the survivors in need all around him, and believe we “cannot ask for more” from Germany?
We can, and we must. It is one minute to midnight for so many survivors in misery. Will Chancellor Merkel listen? Will anyone?
David Schaecter, of Miami, is president of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA.