I am a Holocaust survivor who sits on the board of directors of the Claims Conference. At the recent annual board meeting, we discussed this year’s negotiations with the German government, which led to, among other benefits, an agreement that will result in $1 billion for homecare for Holocaust victims from 2014 through 2017.
For elderly, needy survivors who wish to age at home, there is no issue more important. Holocaust victims alive today were denied a normal youth in stable surroundings. They were uprooted, subject to indescribable torment, often lost all family members, and then had to begin their lives anew after the war. Now, in their old age, Holocaust victims often suffer physically and emotionally more than other elderly. It is of paramount importance to them to be able to live out their days in stable, familiar surroundings rather than in a nursing home, and avoid even more trauma.
The current Claims Conference leadership has been able to convince officials in the German Ministry of Finance of their country’s obligation to support this need. When negotiations for homecare funding began a decade ago, in 2004, the German government committed 6 million euros for the year; the amount for 2015 will be 205 million euros.
The German officials, as committed as they are to their country’s obligation to survivors, did not come to this funding level of their own, free accord; they have been hearing from the Claims Conference for the last decade about the numbers of survivors who need and will need this aid, and about their straitened financial circumstances, much of which stem from their experience as victims of attempted genocide. Survivors not only suffered damage to health, but lost any family inheritances or assets that might have accrued to them as well as years of education, and most had to re-settle in foreign lands after the war.
In my youth, enduring all I did during the Shoah, I could never have possibly imagined that 70 years later, Jews would be working with Germany to attain care for those who survived. I never could have conceived of an empowered, international Jewish organization arguing passionately for ever-more money so that victims could age peacefully in their homes.
And so, as a survivor, I would like to thank the individuals who work so hard on behalf of thousands of survivors they will never meet and whose homes they will never see. Many of these individuals who are not survivors were born after the Shoah or lived elsewhere during that time, yet they have made the welfare of elderly victims their life’s calling and their passionate crusade. To be sure, there are many survivors who do good work for the Claims Conference, and they are to be thanked as well.
Together, the survivors and others who comprise the Claims Conference leadership as well as those who have preceded them are writing a page in Jewish history that is still not complete. For 60 years, the Claims Conference has advocated for the rights of survivors, and now the negotiations for homecare are the latest chapter in this organization’s great history. As both a survivor and a director of the Claims Conference, I have every confidence that its current leadership will continue achieving as much as possible for those of us who remain, for as long as needed.
Jehuda Evron is president of the Holocaust Restitution Committee and president of Holocaust Survivors-Queens Chapter.