Government grants and health insurance companies award a bigger share of benefits to senior citizens living in residential facilities, but Holocaust survivors are better off aging in their own homes, according to several people testifying at a two-hour Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing Jan. 15.
The United States, they reasoned, must convince the German government to increase its funding of compensation programs so that survivors can receive in-home services.
“The emotional triggers that can be set off by institutional care can be devastating for them. Things that other residents would likely ignore can take aging Holocaust survivors psychologically and emotionally back to their traumatic youth or childhood,” argued Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the committee’s top Republican. “Confinement in an institutional setting with certain rules, schedules and uniformed staff can literally bring back nightmares. Everyday experiences — showers, doctors, hunger, a lack of privacy — can trigger flashbacks and nightmares.”
Jack Rubin, a survivor of several Nazi concentration and death camps, said the way it is now, many Holocaust survivors are living below the poverty line and can’t afford two hearing aids, let alone someone to come into their house daily.
“The only fair and decent option today is a partnership with the German government,” he testified. “Holocaust survivors are not asking for more money from the taxpayers. U.S. taxpayers are already burdened enough.”
“We are not schnorrers,” he continued. “We are not beggars. What we are asking for is what we deserve.”
Rubin called on the Obama administration and Congress to pressure the German government and corporations that partnered with the Nazi regime to “fulfill their moral obligations to Holocaust survivors today.”
Besides Rubin and Anat Bar-Cohen, a daughter of two survivors, organizational leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America and Selfhelp, a community services group that helps survivors living in New York, testified for the need for increased funding.
Lee Sherman, president and CEO of the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies in Baltimore, testified that the health problems of survivors tend to be greater than those of average senior citizens.
“Some survivors may unsafely attempt to stand or walk without assistance, because during the Holocaust, their strength sustained them, while the sick and the weak were marked for death,” stated Sherman.
Survivors need a multitude of services, he noted, including home health care, home-delivered meals, financial and legal services, transportation, counseling for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and socialization services.
Jewish agencies are able to recognize these needs, even when survivors are too proud to ask for them, continued Sherman. But all these services cost money, and what is provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany is not enough.
“Our agencies report that they require an additional $100,000 to $4 million per year to provide for the basic needs of Holocaust survivors,” he said. The request range is so broad, because it was calculated using the least amount each agency needs all the way up to the most each requested.
Sherman urged the senators to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which includes provisions for Holocaust survivors, and end the sequestration that mandates cuts to social service agencies.
According to the committee, one fourth of the roughly 140,000 survivors in America live at or below the poverty line, with many facing significant health and mental illnesses beyond normal aging due to the malnutrition, lack of medical care, little exercise and sunlight and exposure to severe weather conditions that they experienced during World War II.
“These complex dynamics require a different approach to traditional long-term care models,” acknowledged committee chair Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “The emphasis on caring for aging survivors must be on creating a safe space surrounded by a trusting caretaker, familiar environment and a basic sense of control over daily life.”
Bar-Cohen, a Bethesda resident, noted that the Jewish Social Service Agency in the Washington metropolitan area “has experienced a 15 percent budget cut for each of the past four years from the Claims Conference and other sources.”
The result is “across-the-board cuts to vital services, placing fragile and impoverished survivors in waiting lists and eliminating social events, transportation and other crucial services,” she testified. “JSSA had projected a shortfall for designated Holocaust survivor services in the D.C. area of $730,000 for 2013 and similar or greater shortfalls for the next 10 years.”
Last month, Vice President Joe Biden announced plans to appoint a special envoy to assist Holocaust survivors living in poverty.