JERUSALEM – An Israeli government offer of a new $20 monthly stipend for Holocaust survivors provoked outrage Tuesday, with survivors charging the meager allowance will do nothing to make up for years of neglect of the 240,000 Israelis who lived through Nazi horrors.
Survivors have long claimed that European countries treat them far better than Israel, where many elderly survivors live in poverty. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announcement of the new allowance did nothing to change that impression. One survivor called the offer "absurd and insulting."
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II. Hundreds of thousands who survived concentration camps came to Israel after the war. Many suffered physical or psychological damage from the torture and deprivation they suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Six decades after the war ended, the remaining survivors are elderly, and many have been unable to provide for themselves in their final years, suffering chronic shortages of money for medical and psychological treatment and in some cases even food.
Israel TV showed video of an 85-year-old survivor who said the only meat he could afford was chicken necks.
Olmert presented his program as a solution.
"We are correcting a 60-year-old blight," he said. "Holocaust survivors living in Israel are entitled to live respectably without reaching a situation in which it is beyond their means to enjoy a hot meal."
Beginning next year, the amount allocated for 120,000 needy survivors, about half the total number still living in Israel, will be $28 million annually, according to Olmert's statement.
But that works out to an average of just $20 a month for each survivor.
"Of course the survivors cannot accept such an offer," said Dubby Arbel, chairman of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Arbel said about 65,000 survivors are in acute need of assistance, but his foundation can provide for only half of them.
Many survivors were outraged. "This doesn't solve anything," said survivor Avraham Roet, 79. "The government doesn't understand the significance of the Holocaust and what horrors the survivors went through. If they did, they wouldn't propose this absurd and insulting plan," he told The Associated Press.
The new payment is in addition to government support already given to survivors, including those deemed physically or psychologically handicapped, and regular pension payments of about $487 a month.
Survivors groups charged — in what was meant to be an especially painful dig at the Israeli government — that survivors are treated better in Germany.
"We know what the conditions of the Holocaust survivors are in Holland, France, Germany and Poland. They are much better than in Israel," Noah Frug, chairman of a consortium of Holocaust survivors' organizations and a survivor himself, told Israel Radio.
Hillary Kessler-Godin, spokeswoman for Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said Germany still pays monthly pensions to 80,000 survivors around the world, after starting in the 1950s.
"Each survivor's pension can be different depending on their persecution history," she told the AP. Other funds have paid out billions of dollars to various categories of Nazi victims.
Roet said the average stipend for survivors in Holland, where he was born, is between $2,740 and $4,110 a month.
Arbel urged Olmert to raise the allowance "for the sake of Jewish identity and Zionist identity, and so that we can all tell our grandchildren that we took care of the Holocaust survivors."
"For 42 years I received nothing from the state," survivor Kathleen Schwartz, 71, told the newspaper Haaretz. "This grant has arrived too late for thousands of survivors. Time is working against us."
Critics maintain that more of the nearly $80 billion in reparations Israel has received in compensation from Germany should have gone to the survivors. A large percentage of the money, which was paid beginning in the 1950s as Israelis struggled to build their fledgling state, went to the military and for infrastructure.