First Time Ever: U.S. Awards Millions to Aid Holocaust Survivors

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) -

Twenty-three Jewish services organizations, including agencies in greater Washington and Baltimore, will receive $2.8 million to help aging Holocaust survivors, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) announced Tuesday.

The money is part of a five-year, $12 million government initiative to provide support to survivors, and when combined with matching funds, the awards announced Tuesday will result in more than $4.5 million for the agencies.

It is the first time in history that the U.S. government is providing money for social services specifically designated for aging Holocaust survivors.

The Jewish Social Service Agency of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Services of Baltimore are among the recipients; the amounts of individual grants were not disclosed, but they range from $15,000 to $475,000.

Of the more than 100,000 survivors in the United States, almost a quarter are 85 or older, and one in four lives in poverty. Experiences during the Holocaust such as malnutrition, torture, and severe mental stress have had lasting effects, and as survivors age, they are at greater risk than the general population for poor physical and mental health, depression, and social isolation.

“They’re much frailer, both psychologically and physically,” said Todd Morgan, vice chair of the JFNA Fund for Holocaust Survivors. “They don’t have the family structure like many of us. Many lost brothers and sisters. Many live alone in a one-bedroom apartment. … These are the forgotten people.”

The U.S. government has provided money to Holocaust survivors in the past, but this is the first time the money addresses issues of aging. The funding stems from an initiative announced in 2013 by Vice President Biden.

For some survivors, such acts as going to the doctor or applying for government funding can trigger a traumatic response, Morgan said. “They don’t want to come up and put their name on a list. They say, ‘They’ll round me up again, I’ll die right away.’ ”

The Jewish Social Service Agency of Greater Washington serves 430 Holocaust survivors from the former Soviet Union. There the average age is 85, and 85 percent of them are scraping by, at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The grant money will help train and coordinate caregivers in a culturally appropriate fashion – through the lens of what survivors experienced, said Todd Schenk, the agency’s chief executive.

Survivors are particularly averse to moving to institutions such as nursing homes, he reflected. “In general, people would prefer to live in their own homes as they age, but if you have an experience like imprisonment, concentration camps, displacement, and government forces that were very often villains, the prospect of institutionalization carries a very different flavor.”