Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
April 2014
Guest Introduction by Menachem Z. Rosensaft      


For decades now, the plight of thousands upon thousands of Holocaust survivors throughout the world has been getting worse and worse. More than 68 years after Allied troops liberated the German death and concentration camps in which millions of European Jews had been ruthlessly murdered, many of those who miraculously survived live precariously in dire circumstances.

The BJPA Readers' Guide: Shoah Survivors provides a wide range of demographic, historical and other sources to place the survivors' plight in its proper context. By definition elderly - the youngest child survivors are today in their early seventies, and those who emerged from the Shoah as adults or adolescents are in their eighties and nineties - they are more often than not in failing health. As World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder has emphasized, assisting them is an "urgent need."

Deprived of the safety net of the families and communities that were destroyed, an appallingly large number - between a quarter and one third of the survivors in the United States and Israel, and a far greater proportion of those in Eastern and Central Europe - also live at or below the poverty line. The meager reparations many but by no means all survivors receive from Germany are utterly inadequate to enable far too many of them to confront their declining years with even a modicum of comfort, let alone security. Thus, they are all too often forced to decide whether to buy food or medication, whether to heat their homes in the winter or get their glasses fixed.

To be sure, they have not been without champions. Greg Schneider, the Executive Vice President of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, more commonly known as the Claims Conference, has long been a staunch and highly effective advocate on their behalf; last year, following negotiations with the Claims Conference spearheaded by former US Deputy Treasury Secretary and Under Secretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat, the German Government agreed to provide close to $1 billion in additional funds for desperately needed home care for survivors; since 1998, US District Judge Edward R. Korman of the Eastern District of New York has mandated the distribution of millions of dollars to needy survivors from the $1.25 billion settlement with Swiss banks accused of retaining and concealing funds belonging to Holocaust victims; and Jewish social services agencies such as Self Help Community Services have dedicated themselves for decades to providing desperately needed support for the erstwhile victims of Nazi German.

On the whole, however, large numbers of survivors still fall between the cracks. Accounts of elderly survivors suffering from debilitating illnesses who do not receive adequate care are heartbreaking. So is the realization that society as a whole, including much of the organized Jewish community in the United States, has failed to adequately step forward to meet the needs of survivors who go hungry, or are cold.

To its credit, the Obama Administration has launched a multi-pronged initiative to address the pressing contemporary medical and social needs of the men and women who had been mercilessly persecuted by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and its accomplices. Earlier this year, Aviva Sufian was appointed as the first ever White House special envoy for U.S. Holocaust survivor services. Her mission, in Vice President Joe Biden's words, is to "reach out across federal agencies to help find the kind of support that nonprofits need to effectively deliver services like home care, transportation, meal delivery and other services to these survivors living in poverty. This will make the government more responsive to a Hungarian survivor in the Bronx who needs a wheelchair or the elderly woman with memories of Warsaw ghetto who needs a ride to the doctor. " In short, the new White House special envoy's mandate is to identify ways to alleviate the misery and despair that individual survivors in the United States are forced to confront on a daily basis.

The survivors have earned not pity or charity but a community-wide realization that we must not abandon or fail them yet again. Simply put, they deserve to live out their remaining years in dignity, and we owe it to them to see to it that they do so. The BJPA Readers' Guide: Shoah Survivors is an important educational and moral resource to help bring this about.


Menachem Z. Rosensaft

General Counsel, World Jewish Congress; Adjunct Professor of Law, Cornell Law School; Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School; Editor of the forthcoming 
God, Faith and Identity in the Ashes, Perspectives of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing)



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