Following the Holocaust, 500,000 Holocaust survivors were absorbed into the State of Israel. Today, 220,000 survivors live in Israel. Within the next 10-15 years, there will be few if any Holocaust survivors living amongst us.
Eshel recognizes that Holocaust survivors – the last living link to this traumatic chapter of Jewish history – deserve the highest quality services to help them live out their remaining years with dignity, comfort and community. Accordingly, Eshel has made it a priority to create and provide such care. Eshel works with Israeli government ministries, municipalities and NGOs to create initiatives that go beyond regular programs for older adults in order to address survivors’ unique needs.
Survivors face a slew of challenges. In particular, the distressing aspects of aging are compounded by the never-ending impact of having lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, and the painful feelings that arise as tragic memories of their youth resurface in their later years. With no forum to share and process these feelings, survivors feel isolated and ultimately experience reduced health and wellbeing.
Holocaust survivors in Israel receive services through Israeli government agencies and NGOs that provide a range of services including material support, medical assistance, housing maintenance, and legal aid. However, when a review of these services revealed a dearth in social and therapeutic services, Eshel chose to hone in on this area and develop initiatives on a national level.
JDC’s programs for survivors thus focus on two primary directions – providing recreational outlets to relieve social isolation and therapeutic frameworks to process memories. Together they offer thousands of survivors solace in their twilight years and reprieve from the burden of their histories.
Holocaust Survivors’ Unique Needs
With an average age of 85, many Holocaust survivors were children when their childhood was robbed by the Nazis. The National Traumatic Child Stress Network, a U.S. Government body, reported “traumatic experiences in childhood have been linked to increased medical conditions throughout the individuals’ lives”. The symptoms found include depressive moods and morose behavior, a guilt complex at having survived while others perished, personality changes and a decline in general health.
The effects of the trauma suffered in their youth is aggravated by the loss of physical and mental faculties as they age. This often renders them homebound, while the mental impairment also affects their ability to communicate effectively.
Advanced age also brings with it a revisiting in the mind, of the traumatic events of the past, together with the associated stress of reliving those experiences.The U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL) has commissioned various studies, which reveal that both the physical and mental deterioration that occurs with aging, is far more pronounced in survivors.
Effective Interventions should therefore be custom designed to meet the special circumstances surrounding aging survivors.