November 29, 2007
Holocaust survivors in L.A. are still struggling
(Page 2 - Previous Page)And the responses, when they do arrive, are often disappointing.
Last year, Bet Tzedek filed more than $2 million in reparations claims with the Hungarian government on behalf of 350 clients, who submitted a total of 1,300 claims for family members who perished in the Holocaust.
Of those 1,300 claims, which were filed more than a year ago, only two have been approved so far, and the money, about $2,200 for each person, has not yet been received. Additionally, of the claimants who have received responses, Levine said, "Sadly, about 15 percent of those have since passed away."
Still, Levine said that the Hungarian filing was one of the most incredible undertakings Bet Tzedek has ever done, processing all 1,300 applications, each taking about 10 hours, in a three-month period.
Bet Tzedek is gearing up again for another claims marathon. On Sept. 19, a new directive was issued by the German government in which a minimum of 150 Los Angeles-area survivors, possibly as many as 500, could receive symbolic compensation for "voluntary" work in Holocaust-era ghettoes. This would be a one-time payment of 2,000 Euros.
The first of an ongoing series of clinics for eligible survivors was held in late November, staffed by volunteer attorneys from several large Los Angeles law firms. Meanwhile, ongoing prescreening began on Thursday, Nov. 15, and survivors who believe they may qualify are urged to contact Bet Tzedek.
To properly assist Holocaust survivors with claims and to deal with ongoing needs such as medical treatments and increased pension payments, Bet Tzedek has upped its Holocaust program staffing.
While the program was previously administered by one full-time paralegal and one staff assistant, currently attorneys Lisa Hoffman and Volker Schmidt work full time as Holocaust Services Advocates, along with an assistant. Additionally, Levine devotes half her workday to Holocaust issues.
In order to process all the claims, an increasingly time-consuming process, Bet Tzedek relies on hundreds of volunteers, as well as its staff.
"The longer away from the actual events, the more the survivors' memories fade," said Schmidt, who is licensed to practice law in both the United States and Germany. "And with time, it becomes more difficult to track down necessary paperwork."
The money, however, is important to the survivors.
"The amounts of money sound so trivial, such as $2,200 for your lost son," Levine said. "But, unfortunately, for a lot of our clients, they are at the point in their lives where that $2,200 could make a difference in being able to pay bills or not."
Others, who may not need the money, still feel that the German government should pay for what they did.
Rosalie Greenfield, 84, who lives in a Fairfax-area duplex she owns with her husband, has enough money from reparations and Social Security to cover her basic needs. Still, she has lived in pain all her life and believes her monthly pension of $1,400 should be doubled.
"They broke my back in Bergen-Belsen. They should take care of me better," she said.
For some survivors, such as those who cannot meet their monthly mortgage payments or who have lost all their benefits with the death of a spouse, the problems are much greater than what JFS or Bet Tzedek can handle. For others, nothing could ever fill the hole in their lives that the Holocaust created.
But when it comes to those who struggle financially, the situation is less dire if they have a social network.
Henri Opas, 84, a retired cook and caterer (photo above), has monthly rent and other expenses that exceed his Social Security income of just over $800. To supplement, JFS provides eight hours of home care weekly and a $100 Ralphs gift card.
Opas, a widower for 18 years with a daughter on the East Coast, maintains an active social life. A thrice-wounded soldier who escaped from Poland at 16 and fought in the French Free Army as well as the Israel Defense Forces, he spends his days at the Disabled American Veterans Hall in Woodland Hills.
Additionally, Opas has a next-door neighbor, a young mother from El Salvador with two small children, who has befriended him. He also still drives and has cousins in Agoura who help with car expenses and insurance.
"If anybody needs anything more than I do, please give it to him. I'm sufficient. I don't need no more," he said.
In reality, the survivors need more and more services. And it takes money to provide them.
But people are not eager to donate.
"Look, it's easy to raise money to put someone's name on a museum. It's very tough to get money to help these people," said Morgan of the Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund.
To help assess future needs more accurately, The Jewish Federation has commissioned a Jewish Senior Community Assessment, which will include Holocaust survivors, Dragon said.
Led by demographer Bruce Phillips, professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the study will revise and reinterpret data from the 1997 population study to see how seniors' needs have changed. Results are expected in early 2008.
Additionally, JFS is planning a major outreach in early 2008 to unserved and unaffiliated survivors in the San Fernando Valley. The organization is also targeting survivors from the former Soviet Union living in the San Fernando Valley and in Santa Monica.
Forer-Dehrey said that JFS is committed to serving the Holocaust population as long as necessary. She cites a phone call she received from a survivor in her 80s who lives in West Hollywood.
"For four years in Auschwitz I never had a shower. I think at the end of my life I deserve a shower," the survivor said.