Last Generation of Holocaust Survivors Face Higher Costs, Even as Numbers Dwindle

Social Service Providers Try To Cope With Growing Woes

Link to Past: Holocaust survivors Kenneth and Ida Dancyger, both 68, pose in front of photos of their grandchildren. Even as the number of survivors dwindle, the cost of caring for those that remain will soar.
getty images
Link to Past: Holocaust survivors Kenneth and Ida Dancyger, both 68, pose in front of photos of their grandchildren. Even as the number of survivors dwindle, the cost of caring for those that remain will soar.

By Hody Nemes

Published November 16, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The number of living Holocaust survivors will shrink rapidly over the next 13 years, but the costs of caring for the remaining survivors will rise, according to a new report by Selfhelp Community Services.

Selfhelp, a social service provider for seniors, estimates that 65,000 survivors currently live in the New York metropolitan area. By the year 2025, only 23,000 will remain.

But those numbers can be misleading. Selfhelp expects the cost of supporting its survivor clients will increase more than 20% by 2025, from $9.9 million to $12.6 million per year.

“Even though the overall number will decline, there will be more need for care,” said Elihu Kover, who directs Selfhelp’s programs for survivors.

Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht, Selfhelp serves as the “last surviving relative” of New York-based survivors. Founded by a group of immigrants in the 1930s to assist European Jewish refugees, Selfhelp currently employs 45 social workers, who help manage survivors’ healthcare and finances. The agency also offers its clients emergency financial assistance, subsidized home healthcare, and free housekeeping. While Selfhelp serves non-survivors, Kover said its “core mission” has always been catering to survivors.

Selfhelp cared for 5,300 survivors last year, and would like to serve a similar number through 2025. New clients seek them out regularly, with 700 added last year. “They’re even coming in at 95 – they walk in the door and say, ‘I never needed you before now,’” Kover said.

Selfhelp expects a rise in the cost of caring for these clients, thanks in part to their increasing frailty. Survivors’ health often begins a noticeable decline after age 75. By the year 2020, every survivor will be 75 years or older, even those born in the final months of World War II. A correspondingly high percentage will require costly medical care.

Survivors also face more severe medical problems than the general population. The physical horrors of the Holocaust, including assault, starvation, and exposure to inclement weather, continue to take a toll on survivors’ health as they enter old age. Entering a hospital or a nursing home, however, can be emotionally traumatic.

“[T]he structure and regimentation of institutional care can re-awaken overpowering fears related to the trauma they experienced during the Holocaust,” the report said.

Selfhelp tries to ensure that survivors receive care in their own homes. Thanks to negotiations by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, the German government has agreed to significant funding increases for survivor homecare. The amount of subsidized homecare provided by Selfhelp has more than quadrupled in the last eight years, and Kover expects further growth. “The need will continue to increase as survivors age and need more care,” he said.

The final generation of survivors is especially ill equipped to meet the financial costs of aging. A UJA-Federation of New York report cited by Selfhelp found that the youngest survivors are largely from the former Soviet Union, or two-thirds of survivors below age 75. Soviet survivors are more than four times as likely to live in poverty as other survivors, as they often do not qualify for social security. As these impoverished survivors enter their final years, Selfhelp expects they will need more financial assistance than their predecessors. Last year, Selfhelp distributed over $1 million is emergency aid.

But one of Selfhelp’s most important programs is quite inexpensive. Monthly “coffeehouse” events allow survivors to mingle and connect with each other.

“I enjoy them very much because I get together with my friends, and the lunch and entertainment is always very nice,” said 91-year old survivor Hannah Deutch, who escaped Germany on the Kindertransport and remembers Kristallnacht “like it was yesterday.”

Seventy-five years later, Deutch uses a Selfhelp social worker to apply for benefits from Germany and is a regular attendee at Selfhelp’s Queens events. Every Passover, she attends a seder run by Kover with other Queens survivors.

“It’s like a family,” she said.

Contact Hody Nemes on Twitter @hodifly


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.