Auschwitz is much more than just a part of me — it is all of me. The same holds true for each and every survivor.
As Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated this year on May 6, 60 years after the liberation of the camps, not too many of us are still alive. None of us is a youngster anymore.
For many of us, unfortunately, old age has not brought contentment. For us, time has not been the best medicine. Now in our old age, we constantly and vividly relive our wartime experiences, and have ailments caused by the suffering endured decades ago.
We suffer from physical and emotional distress at higher rates than the elderly population as a whole. Prolonged malnutrition under the Nazis has affected our health, triggering osteoporosis and broken bones, heart problems, impaired vision, dental problems and high blood pressure. There are particularly high rates of dementia and schizophrenia among Jewish victims of Nazism. Many of us are alone as a result of having lost our entire family during the Holocaust.
We survivors are adamant about remaining in our own homes rather than entering a nursing home. To someone who endured incarceration by the Nazis, the prospect of institutionalization is frightening. It triggers memories and even induces panic. Home care, therefore, has emerged as one of our most pressing needs. As we survivors continue to age — we now average about 80 — home care, as well as medical and social services, is both crucial and critical.
Last year, following intensive negotiations with leaders of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, including myself, the German government finally recognized this problem and allocated a direct contribution for this urgently needed home care. Unfortunately, the approximately $8 million was a pitiful amount, a drop in the bucket.
The major portion of the funding for such services is presently supplied by the Claims Conference, through the recovery of unclaimed Jewish property in the former East Germany. Much of the property belonged to Jews for generations. The revenue from these properties, however, is rapidly declining. The Claims Conference is slowly running out of funds, due to the ever-increasing needs of elderly survivors.
Is it too much to ask the German government to provide Holocaust victims with the same medical care and home care given to former German soldiers — not only members of the German army, but also the vicious concentration camp guards and personnel who helped inflict such irreparable pain and suffering on their victims? I have heard German politicians and people from all walks of life express regret and shame for the brutal and inhuman acts committed by their forefathers. However, words are not enough.
Such sentiments bring little solace to survivors in need of medical and home care assistance. It seems to be a bit paradoxical to acknowledge guilt and shame, yet at the same time provide medical care for the perpetrators but not for the victims.
It is high time for the German nation to not only verbally condemn the acts of their forefathers, but also to seize a tangible opportunity to provide meaningful help to the victims of their forefathers’ cruel misdeeds. The present generation of Germans could be an example for history and also a role model to their children. The task they have at hand is to rectify, imperfect as the attempt might be, the inexcusable injustices that prevailed during the Holocaust.
Germany must do more than denounce the events of the Holocaust. Before it is too late, it must turn words into action. The German government should provide the urgent funds for the home care and medical assistance required by needy survivors. Sixty years after the Holocaust, this painful obligation remains pending. Needless to say, it has to be fulfilled at once — while the survivors are still alive.
Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, is a senior officer of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.