Israel's 'shame': Holocaust survivors living in poverty

Hadasa Hershcovichi at her Tel Aviv home in January 2015
Hadasa Hershcovichi at her Tel Aviv home in January 2015

in Jerusalem – Seventy years after the Red Army liberated the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, the enduring suffering of Holocaust survivors continues to haunt Israel, where a quarter of the country’s 200,000 survivors of the genocide live in poverty.


A few square meters; it is all Hadasa Hershcovichi has for a home. “I'm not doing well. I caught a cold and my shoulder hurts because I fell in the stairs,” says the 80-year-old Holocaust survivor, with a voice so low one can barely make out her words.

If it weren’t for the warm food and medicine brought by volunteers, Hershcovichi may not have made it through the winter.

Her plight epitomizes what some Israelis describe as their country’s "shame". An estimated 50,000 Holocaust survivors live in poverty in Israel because they fall through the cracks of a complex system through which funds are unevenly distributed.

The Romanian-born Hershcovichi was six years old when her entire family was murdered before her eyes in 1941. She narrowly escaped the Holocaust and, like thousands of other European Jews, emigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1948, the year the state of Israel was created.

Today, she gets about 460 euros a month from the Israeli government as part of a compensation fund for Holocaust survivors. Others who hail from Romania aren’t as lucky: only those who were deported to camps or ghettos during the war are automatically eligible for compensation, while the rest have to argue their case.

Susan Rotem, a volunteer with the Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust Survivors, who regularly checks on Hershcovichi, says the situation is infuriating: “The Israeli government divides the money as it sees fit and apparently it doesn’t consider that Hadasa deserves more help," she said, referring to the 80 year-old by her first name. "There is a lot of bureaucracy involved and it drives me crazy.”

Living in a shack in downtown Tel Aviv

Hershcovichi lives in a shack that sits on the roof of a four-storey building in downtown Tel Aviv. It was a laundry room until residents agreed to let the old woman use it as a home. The windows are patched with newspapers meant to keep the wind out.

Although volunteers fixed her roof last year, it still leaks, as she points out: “look here, mold everywhere.”

“Hadasa is not asking for a lot,” Rotem says. "She just needs a modest apartment in a place where she doesn’t need to climb five flights of stairs to get home.”

She hands over to Hershcovichi a pack of strawberries that she just purchased with her "own money”. Like her, hundreds of members of the association regularly pitch in with time and money to help out poor survivors.

Seven decades after the war, the average age of Israel's remaining Holocaust survivors is 80. “It feels like they are a bother to our government which is just waiting for them to pass away”, Rotem says.




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