November 22, 2006
Many aging Shoah survivors are living a new nightmare
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"Survivors often lack the physical and emotional glue to keep going," Kinsler said.
To help address their growing needs, several local Jewish agencies have, for years, offered survivors an array of services. Now, executives from The Federation, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and Bet Tzedek, which helps victims file compensation claims, are in discussions on how to do more.
"We have an obligation and a responsibility to help," Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel said.
Yet, despite communal agencies' best efforts, they lack the resources to provide all of the needed services all of the time, said Lisa Brooks, director of communications and donor relations at JFS.
"We can take care of the basics, but sometimes people's needs go beyond that," Brooks said.
Whether because of pride, ignorance or extreme physical and metal isolation, some desperate survivors fail to avail themselves of existing services and receive no help.
In the 12 month period, which ended June 30, Jewish Family Service spent $2.1 million on programs for about 700 local survivors, or an average of $3,000 a person, a 17 percent total increase in spending over 2005, said Susie Forer-Dehrey, the agency's associate executive director. Among other services, JFS offers taxi vouchers for doctors' visits, in-house cleaning and cooking, counseling, adult day care, free groceries, emergency medical grants and referrals to nursing homes with staffs trained to care for survivors.
When JFS gets involved, the agency can really make a difference. Take the case of the late George Kukawka, a survivor who died earlier this year at 86 from congestive heart failure.
Kukawka's nephew, Ron Wolfson, a professor of education at the University of Judaism, said that a JFS social worker attended to his uncle's needs for more than a decade. She arranged for Kukawka to have hot meals delivered to his house, helped him find a high-quality subsidized apartment in the San Fernando Valley and, when Kukawka's health deteriorated, helped secure him a spot at the Jewish Home for the Aging.
"The community really rallied to care for Uncle George and did it with the Jewish value of honoring the elderly with dignity," Wolfson said. Born in Poland, Kukawka was forced by the Germans to load trucks in the Warsaw Ghetto. On one occasion, he received a brutal beating that nearly killed him and left him deaf in his right ear. Escaping in 1942, he hid in a Polish forest until the war's end.
Coming to the United States in 1951, Kukawka moved to Los Angeles a year later and found factory work as a welder. Despite the fresh start, nightmares plagued him, as did his health, which began its slow downward spiral when he developed asthma and emphysema in his 40s. Kukawka never married.
With no savings or pension, Kukawka relied heavily on his monthly government check of $1,079, most of which came from Social Security. If not for the assistance given to him by JFS, Wolfson said, Kukawka's "life would have been significantly more difficult."
Like JFS, Bet Tzedek has programs specially tailored to assist Holocaust victims. One of the nation's only Jewish-run legal aid service agencies, Bet Tzedek has helped 3,000 mostly local survivors apply for restitution and reparations and "fight for their rights as vociferously as possible," said Mark Rothman, the nonprofit's Holocaust services advocate.
Rothman's program is funded, in part, by an annual $50,000 grant from The L.A. Federation. He said his job is to help victims navigate their way through the often-confusing process of applying for compensation from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany or the Claims Conference, as well as from foreign governments and international programs that offer restitution.
Rothman currently has four part-time law clerks and one part-time staffer working with him to help clients determine which funds they qualify for; to fill out applications that sometimes must be translated from German, and to draft appeals in the event of rejections.
Without Rothman's assistance, many victims would likely never apply for compensation due the complexity and restrictions of several of the funds. The Article 2 Fund, for one, which was created in 1992 after lengthy negotiations between the Claims Conference and the newly reunified Germany, represents an attempt to compensate survivors who had previously received little or no indemnification.
However, the fund has several restrictions imposed by the German government. To qualify, a victim must have been incarcerated for at least six months in a concentration camp, lived illegally under false identity for at least 18 months, hid from the Nazis under inhumane conditions for at least 18 months or been imprisoned for at least 18 months in a Jewish ghetto, as defined by the German government.
A survivor who spent only five months in a concentration camp or 17 months in a ghetto does not qualify. There are also income restrictions. Applicants with annual incomes in excess of $16,000 for a single person and $21,000 per married couple, excluding Social Security, are ineligible.
Over the past 55 years, more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors in 75 countries have received financial compensation as a result of the work of the Claims Conference, said Hillary Kessler-Godin, director of communications for the Claims Conference. Victims who spent time in concentration camps, worked as slave laborers, were subject to medical experiments or who had their properties seized by Nazis and their allies have received some form of compensation and restitution. The Claims Conference has also allocated about $1 billion to organizations, including L.A.'s JFS, for social services and Shoah education. And for many indigent victims, Article 2's $320 monthly payments or the one-time $3,000 Hardship Fund allocation can make a big difference.
Yet not everyone applying for compensation receives it. The Claims Conference rejects nearly one in five Article 2 applicants. Sometimes survivors meet the requirements, but still are denied because of application errors or an inability to produce birth certificates and other decades-old documents, Bet Tzedek's Rothman said.