Poverty Among Holocaust Survivors Hits A Nerve In Israel : Parallels About a quarter of the 200,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line. The government is now pushing a plan to increase assistance.

Poverty Among Holocaust Survivors Hits A Nerve In Israel

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And in Israel, an organization supporting victims of the Holocaust has found that one in four of the nearly 200,000 survivors there live in poverty. Now Israel is beefing up its budget to support more of them in the final years of their lives. NPR's Emily Harris has more.


EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: In the Lifeline crafts workshop in Jerusalem, a man cuts a design in a flat piece of brass. The elderly people who paint, sew and shape clay here come for companionship, creative work and a small stipend. Everyone lives below the poverty line. Some, like Yulia Feuerman, are Holocaust survivors.

YULIA FEUERMAN: (speaks Russian)

HARRIS: Feuerman puts down her knitting to dig into her memories. One dawn in 1942 German soldiers called all Jews from the ghetto of her small town to the central square.

FEUERMAN: (Through Translator) The Germans directed people to the left or to the right. My papa took my by the hand and said: Come with me. We went to the right with my brother and oldest sister. My mother and other sisters went to the left. I never saw them again.

HARRIS: She and her oldest sister were the only family members to survive. Feuerman now lives off part of her late husband's pension. Since 1995, she's received $400 a month from a German government fund to help Holocaust survivors. Still, her income puts her below the poverty line. Any support from Israel she says will come too late.

FEUERMAN: (Through Translator) Far too late. The only people still alive were children. I was ten years old. Now I have one foot in the grave. They should have thought of this earlier.

HARRIS: Israeli law says money given by Germany to Israel more than half a century ago can only be offered to survivors who arrived by 1953. Feuerman has not been eligible for help from Israel because she immigrated here a decade later.

Rony Kalinsky runs the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. He says Israeli leaders were focused on other issues in the '50s.

RONY KALINSKY: They have to build the country, to build an army, very expensive for security, and that was maybe right for those days. Now, when the Holocaust survivors are old and their needs are so high, this is the time to try to make the changes.

HARRIS: The biggest change the Israeli government plans is to erase that 1953 cutoff date. After parliamentary approval, all those who Nazis forced into ghettos or camps will be eligible for payments, ranging from 600 to $1500 a month. Kalinsky's organization did the study that found a quarter of Holocaust survivors live in poverty. He knows they're not the only ones. Government statistics show one-fifth of all Israelis live below the poverty line.

KALINSKY: But I'm sure that every one of our people in Israel expect that Holocaust survivors won't have this situation. They are Holocaust survivors and they expect the country to give them all the help they need, that they will live in dignity for the last years.

HARRIS: The study found that one-in-five Holocaust survivors had to choose between food and other necessities over the past two years. Almost half felt lonely, even though the Holocaust is never far from memory in Israel.


HARRIS: Every spring on Holocaust Remembrance Day a wailing siren signals people all over the country to stop driving, talking, whatever they're doing, for two minutes of reflection.

Yael Eckstein, of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, says there has been plenty of attention and money given to memorials.

YAEL ECKSTEIN: And that's important because we have to remember. But what the Fellowship believes is that this is our final opportunity to help the individuals who were affected by the Holocaust.

HARRIS: Among those her organization helps financially is Sonya Barulya, an 83-year-old living in a run-down Jerusalem apartment where she can barely afford the rent. Barulya is Jewish, but did not survive a camp or ghetto. She lived through part of the siege of Leningrad, when Nazi troops cut off almost all supplies to the city during World War II.

SONYA BARULYA: (Through Translator) People ate leather. People ate glue. They boiled it into soup or jellies. All the dogs, cats, horses.

HARRIS: Eighty thousand Israelis, like Barulya, are counted as affected by the Holocaust but not directly. Israel's new support for Holocaust survivors will offer this group much less than camp or ghetto survivors - about a thousand dollars a year, plus full coverage of medications and counseling.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.


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