People who survived the Holocaust as children received last Friday a payment from the German government of €2,500, about $2,700.
The one-time, symbolic payments were wired to survivors' accounts and came after several years of negotiations between the German government and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The Claims Conference argued that the “unimaginable trauma” survivors experienced as children is only now, as they age, showing up as physical symptoms — such as a higher rate of cancer, osteoporosis because of insufficient calcium as a child, and nighttime sweats.
It took several years — and an increasing number of documentary studies proving this assertion — before the German government finally agreed last September that child survivors deserved special recognition and created the Child Survivor Fund.
“They lived under unbelievable conditions of deprivation, and in our negotiations we focused a lot on the late onset of the physical and psychological consequences [of such abuse],” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.
Applications for the money were mailed in January to about 70,000 survivors in 52 countries who the Claims Conference believe are eligible based upon information from other compensation programs it is involved in.
To be eligible, survivors must have been born after Jan. 1, 1928 and been persecuted as Jews in a concentration camp or ghetto (or similar place of incarceration, in accordance with the German Slave Labor Program); or who lived in hiding or under false identity or illegality for at least six months in Nazi-occupied or Axis countries; or were a fetus when their mother suffered any of the persecution described.
Julius Berman, president of the Claims Conference, said in a statement that child survivors “endured devastating separation from parents, witnessed unimaginable atrocities, suffered from malnutrition and hunger, and lived through other persecution that stole their childhoods. All of these have had a cumulative effect and are resulting in late-onset problems that only now are manifesting as physical and psychological symptoms in the survivors’ advanced age.”
Schneider noted that following their liberation, these children “looked forward to building their lives and focused on a career. Later in life, they, like other older people, look back on their past and relive memories. But for these elderly people, those memories are torturous. They have night terrors, emotional triggers and psychological issues. They have osteoporosis because they did not get enough calcium as children.
“So we looked for a way to create a program that recognizes their different problems. And the one option agreed upon was a reimbursement program for the issues and problems that manifest themselves in different ways. It is obviously a symbolic payment. It is not going to change a person’s life, but the money can be used in a way that is most appropriate to address the issues they are facing now,” he said.
Masha Pearl, executive director of The Blue Card, a nonprofit that aids needy Holocaust survivors nationally by providing direct financial assistance, said the $2,700 payment is significant for some child survivors. She noted that about one-third of the 120,000 survivors in the U.S. live at or below the national poverty line.
Of the some 60,000 survivors in the New York metropolitan area, it is estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 of them are indigent – most of them child survivors, Pearl said. The Blue Card, which she described as an “agency of last resort,” has 1,580 clients in the New York area to whom it gives up to $300 per month, in addition to providing medical and emotional care.
The $2,700 payment, she pointed out, is “much more than symbolic” for many of them because “their needs as survivors are so high, and they face more medical problems than the general population.”
Survivors, Pearl said, generally have “poor dental health as a result of malnutrition and neglected dental care,” and that the cost of dentures starts at $2,500. They also often need hearing aids, which average $2,500 per ear, she added.
“The physical horrors of the Holocaust, including malnutrition and exposure to harsh weather, continues to take a toll on survivors’ health,” Pearl said, noting that requests to The Blue Card for help are up 20 percent from last year.
Indigent survivors, she pointed out, receive SSI, Medicaid and German reparations, but often “that still is not enough” because of high co-pays and the need for additional medical supplies that are not covered.
“I spoke with a survivor who said he is trying to find out if he can take half a daily dose instead of a full dose of his medication because the cost is so high,” Pearl said.
“This money will allow a measure of dignity to be restored so that [the child survivor] can pay off money owed to the utility companies, for the medical supplies he needs, and for private transportation so he does not have to always rely on Access-A-Ride,” she added.
Individuals who have not received an application by mail but wish to apply to the Child Survivor Fund may obtain additional information, including full eligibility criteria and application forms, at www.claimscon.org/childsurvivor.
Applications must be submitted by survivors, not heirs. However, if an eligible survivor passes away after an application form is received and registered by the Claims Conference, the survivor’s family is entitled to the payment.