November 22, 2007
Americans don’t forget Eastern Europe’s survivors
(Page 3 - Previous Page)For two years, with the list continuing to increase, Buzby was essentially running a one-person show, using her own money and what she solicited from friends and relatives.
But fate played a part again when Buzby found S. Chic Wolk, a supporter of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, who was also greatly concerned about the survivors' welfare. They agreed to team up, with Wolk providing the funds and Buzby carrying out the work. Wolk, 81, the Project's biggest benefactor, now contributes $7,000 every three months.
"I contribute more every time I read one of their letters," he admitted.
Fate also played a hand when Buzby found Sonia Kovitz, who has a doctorate in Russian and who now speaks of the Survivor Mitzvah Project as her "calling."
She and Buzby compose the letters primarily via e-mail, with Buzby printing out the translated copies in Russian and assembling the mailings. Kovitz has also organized an extensive and searchable database of survivors and is compiling online files with copies of all the correspondence, in Russian and English.
There also continues to be, according to Dovid Katz, a "wonderful and inspiring symbiotic relationship between the Survivor Mitzvah Project and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute," with Katz carefully vetting each survivor's financial status and determining need.
The Survivor Mitzvah Project also complements the work of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, which is supported by the Joint Distribution Committee and which provides food as well as home care and other services to survivors in Vilnius and four other towns. But the Lithuanian Jewish Community must balance welfare programs for the elderly with educational, religious and cultural activities for the country's entire population of 5,000 Jews, with $250,000 of the Community's annual budget of $740,000 earmarked for social services. (The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles provides direct funding, amounting to $350,000 in 2007, to the Jewish communities of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for specific cultural and educational activities.)
"We cannot cover all the needs," said Simon Gurevich, 26, executive director of the Jewish Community in Lithuania. He noted that out of 1,387 Holocaust survivors registered in Lithuania, 1,075 require some kind of assistance. Of those, 103 people are currently on a waiting list for food.
The total number of Holocaust survivors in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova is unknown. "We can't even give a decent estimate," said Aaron Breitbart, senior researcher at Los Angeles' Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But according to Katz, who has been conducting expeditions since 1992, there are thousands, with most living in abject poverty.
"What are we waiting for? We can't wait," Buzby said.
Buzby would like to work more closely with established organizations. In the meantime, she is desperately seeking increased funding for everyday essentials like food and medicine as well as for cataract surgeries and other procedures. If possible, she would like to enlist the aid of dentists to make false teeth and pharmaceutical companies to donate arthritis creams, aspirin and other medicines.
She would also like congregations, havurahs and b'nai mitzvah students to adopt individual survivors. And she is always seeking Russian translators to assist Kovitz and volunteers to help her so she can continue to make a difference in survivors' lives.
"I want them to know before they go that there are people on this earth who are not bad," Buzby said.
For more information about the Survivor Mitzvah Project or to make a donation, call (800) 905-6160 or visit: http://www.survivormitzvah.org
- The Lower East Side Restoration Project
- The Vilnius Yiddish Institute
- The Jewish Community of Lithuania