Remembering the Holocaust, Forgetting the Survivors
This January 27, nations around the world will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the most horrific evil ever perpetrated upon humanity: the near destruction of Europe’s Jews.
During a special Knesset ceremony on December 20, 2016, I was honored — on behalf of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and eight other individuals and organizations — to receive the Beacon of Light Award from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims. Limor Livnat, the chair of this survivors’ foundation, said that the annual awards pay tribute to those who work to improve the lives of survivors.
I was humbled that our organization was recognized for its longtime dedication to helping needy Holocaust survivors. But while the ceremonies and awards are important, they also serve to underscore a largely ignored humanitarian tragedy that we as a community are not doing enough to address.
Today, many of the world’s remaining 500,000 Holocaust survivors are living out their final years in poverty. Most of those who are suffering either live in Israel, across the former Soviet Union or in greater New York City.
Of the 189,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, 25 percent live below the poverty line. Of the 60,000 survivors throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU), poverty is endemic — approaching 85-90%. Even in New York City, home to another 60,000 survivors, about half live below the poverty line.
This is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. But worse, it speaks of a moral failure, because those who suffered the unimaginable are now suffering once again through general ignorance or neglect. And the clock is ticking for us to respond. Every day, 40 survivors die. Within about a decade, few who experienced the Holocaust first-hand will remain.
In Israel and throughout the FSU, the poorest survivors are barely subsisting on meager income, often forced to choose between eating and securing life-saving medicine. Many survivors suffer through brutal winter conditions, unable to afford home heating fuel.
Thanks to the support of millions of Christians across the United States and elsewhere, our organization has been able to provide more than $7.3 million annually in food, medicine, winter heating fuel, daycare and other assistance to more than 18,000 survivors in Israel and more than $15 million annually in food, medical assistance, home care and winter aid to those in the FSU.
While we are certainly gratified to have been able to make some impact and help many survivors, we are by no means satisfied that our job is done. As a community, we cannot stand idly by as even one Holocaust survivor in Israel or anywhere else is forced to make a cruel financial calculus regarding their most basic human needs.
Our moral responsibility only begins with remembering the six million. But our true moral duty will only be fulfilled when those who survived the unspeakable are not still forced to live in unspeakable conditions. We must ensure justice for those who endured the unimaginable.