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October 9, 2009

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 9, 2009 many survwors now By Dan Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California SAN FRANCISCO--After surviving war, deportation and Auschwitz, 84-year-old Helen Taub never expected to face extreme hardship a second time. When the world and the Jewish com- munity said "Never again" she thought they meant it. Today Taub tries to stuff her medical bills neatly in a letter-size envelope. No go. There are too many. They spill out, cluttering the kitchen table. Taub cannot pay these bills. On her meager fixed income, she can barely afford the Oakland condo she has called home for 40 years. Typical of other survi- vors, she has dental prob- lems (her bridges don't fit) and aural woes (her hearing aids aren't quite right). Her hearing prob- lems actually began years ago, in Auschwitz, when a Nazi camp guard kicked the then-teenage Traub in the head. Suffering from asthma, she can no longer walk around Oakland's Lake Merritt--located two blocks away--as she did for years up until recently. "I go to the doctor," Taub says, dressed in an elegant long-sleeve blouse that covers the numbered arm tattoo she received at the death camp. "He says 'What you went through, it's a miracle you're still OK. You don't look like you're 84.' I say I feel like I'm 100 years old." Support from Jewish Family and Children's Ser- vices of the East Bay helps. A quarterly check from the German government helps. Like all Holocaust survi- vors, the Czech-born Taub is entitled to reparations money, but it's not enough. She knows she is better off now than she was as a girl, eating cockroaches as survival food in the death camps. But suffering from myriad health problems, she faces crushing debt, even poverty. "I cannot take it any- more," Taub says. "Sitting in the house now, I'm very sad." This isn't how it was sup- posed to be for Holocaust survivors. While many older adults face the challenges of ag- ing, a contrite world was supposed to make it up to survivors for the horrors they endured. Those who came to America were supposed to rebuild their lives, achieve success and live out their golden years in dignity. For many, that indeed came to pass. But for a significant number of the estimated 120,000 Holo- caust survivors remaining in the United States, life is a constant struggle. Taub's problems are com- mon, according to Elie Rubenstein, executive di- rector of the Blue Card, a New York-based organiza- tion that assists indigent Holocaust survivors. The Photos by Dan Pine Helen Taub lost most of her family in the Nazi gas chambers. Today, she lives on Social Security and $1,200 quarterly from Ger- man reparations payments, which don't begin to cover her medical expenses. number of referrals coming its way from JFCS and other social service organiza- tions "is significantly up," Rubenstein says. Health problems are a big issue. Like Taub, many survivors need dental care resulting from malnutri- tion and other traumas suf- fered during the war years. Making matters worse, "Many [survivors], when they came to the United States, were afraid to go to the dentist," Rubenstein adds. For them, it was too close to being "strapped in the chair." "Another huge need is a hearing aid," he continues. "It's very expensive, and Medicaid doesn't cover it." Adding to their woes: the recession. Many adult children of survivors "can't provide assistance to their parents anymore," Ruben- stein adds. The Blue Card currently is helping 1,700 house- holds--providing such things as emergency cash assistance, multivitamins, a telephone emergency "lifeline" system and more. The average income for Blue Card grantees: less than $12,000 a year. A United Jewish Com- munities report published several years ago looked at people originally from Europe and the former Soviet Union whose lives were torn asunder by the Nazis and who now live in the United States. It found that 25 percent of such people live in poverty. Factoring in the current recession, many of those survivors and other U.S. residents who suffered Nazi aggression today face increasing illness, isolation and depression. And time is not on their side. Though the number of survivors inexorably declines every year, the fi- nancial, social and medical needs of those remaining increases. As Holocaust program coordinator for Jewish Family and Children's Services of the East Bay, Rita Greenwald Clancy has seen that perverse calculus in action. She serves as Traub's case manager, as well as that of 270 other survivors in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. She says her clients today are worse off than they were several years ago. "People think [sur- vivors] are living well in the United States," Clancy notes, "but expenses are going up. Many have bad health because of what they sustained early. They are at high risk for dementia, for hypertension, and they have high rates of suicide." Anita Friedman, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Jew- ish Family and Children's Services, has seen similar cases among the survivors her agency serves. As much as JFCS strives to help them, she admits some will endure extreme hardship, especially as new state budget cuts take effect. "Benefits are being cut for everybody, not just survivors," Friedman says. "The cuts mean people will get less government- funded home care and food programs. They will cut some of the ancillary services, like dental care. So the Jewish community and we will be asked to provide more." Adult day care programs have also been slashed, with the state paying for only likely can't afford those services, which means family members or others are pressed into caregiver duty, which leads to more family stress--and perhaps results in previously avoid- able institutionalization. "[Samuil] needs physical therapy and occupational therapy at least five days a week," says Anna Borovik, the center's program direc- tor. "It's not a treatment. It's maintenance. A major- ity [of clients] tells us they decline the days they are not here exercising. To get up, shower, dress, and you have a place to go. When you do all that, you feel better." "If not for L'Chaim we would stay at home," Zhenya says, "and who knows what we would do? [Samuil] gets up, knows he has a place to go. Then he is a human being when he comes home. He starts complaining, has pain all over his body." For too many of Borovik's clients, 99 percent of whom are Jewish and who lived through the World War II, she says, "their only domestic partner is pain. It's always by their side." Greg Schneider prefers the term "Nazi victims" to "Holocaust survivors." As executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Samuil Gorodenskiy and his wife Zhenya. Gorodenskiy barely survived the 1941 siege of Leningrad.After coming to the U.S. in 1997, he and his wife now survive on $1,100 a month. three days a week per per- son, down from five days. That's bad news for Samuil Gorodenskiy. The grandson of a rabbi, the shtetl-born Russian barely survived the 1941 siege of Leningrad (he spent months hiding in an under- ground hospital, huddling next to a wood stove to keep warm). After immigrating to the United States in 1997, Gorodenskiy, 90, qualified for Social Security. He and his wife, Zhenya, now live on about $1,100 a month. They had been coming five days aweek to L'Chaim Adult Day Health Center, a JFCS-run social services center located in San Fran- cisco's Sunset District that serves Russian-speaking, mostly Jewish, seniors. Due to budget cuts, the center now limits personal visits for the Gorodenskiys and 200 other clients to three days a week. And that often leads to a domino effect on the system: Seniors who need care now need to be cared for at home, but most Material Claims Against Germany (better known as the Claims Conference), he keeps track of 550,000 elderly victims around the world. Some of them lived through the concentration camps. Some fled Europe as refugees, leaving every- thing behind. Others from the former Soviet Union, such as the Gorodenskiys, spent the war years hid- ing in forests or fleeing eastward. All are Nazi victims. Some are concentration camp survivors. Schneider cares about them all. And he, too, sees their condition worsening. "It is no surprise to us there are Nazi victims fall- ing through the safety net," he says. "Some countries have no safety net. In the former Soviet Union they are in worse condition. But even in Western countries like the United States, there are survivors who fall between the cracks." Formed in 1951, the Claims Conference has Arkady and Anna Golodovsky fled on foot to escape the Germans and hid in the forests. Arkady has renal failure and Anna has liver problems, and their combined monthly income of less than $1,500 cannot pay their bills. negotiated more than $60 billion in German govern- ment payouts to Nazi vic- tims. Some of that is in the form of one-time checks, some in quarterly payments to former concentration camp prisoners, and some in block grants to agencies like JFCS to assist survivors in need. This year, the conference allocated $25 million in the United States for social services, up $2 million from last year. The S.F.-based JFCS was granted more than $600,000; its counter- part in the East Bay, around $120,000. The money helps pay for food, medicine and other bills. But it cannot cover everything. While Schneider salutes the many Nazi victims who did rebuild their lives after the Holocaust, he points to what he calls a "silent majority" for whom an undercurrent of devasta- tion persists. "The extended families were murdered," he says. "Then you have people who were never able to rebuild their lives, who didn't mar- ry or didn't have children. They are far more isolated. They are sicker. Then you have the financial issue. In general you would have generations of accumulated wealth. This is an entire generation that inherited nothing." Schneider says German governments over the decades have behaved re- sponsibly and negotiated payments in good faith. But he also says that soon the money available to the Claims Conference will diminish, in part because much of it comes from the liquidation of looted un- claimed Jewish property, a finite commodity. Arkady and Anna Golodovsky got their Claims Conference checks a few years ago. Each amounted to a little more than $2,000. The money came in handy for the two, who now reside in a subsi- dized Berkeley apartment. A pot of tea rests on a trivet. Anna's just-warmed homemade blintzes fill the air with a sweet aroma. The Golodovskys emigrated from Russia in 1991 to be near their daughter, yet they still embody effusive Russian hospitality. Arkady's oil paintings grace the walls. One land- scape, of a Russian forest scene, stands out for its contrasting pastoral calm and wildness. Perhaps it's of a memory from his days in the forest, hiding from a marauding Nazi army. Arkady and Anna en- dured horrors during the war, when both fled on foot to escape the Germans. Both lost family members, both experienced hunger and exposure hiding in the forests. They survived, only to face the anti-Semitism typical of Soviet life. Com- ing to America as senior citizens, they enjoyed a modest retirement for sev- eral years. Then they got sick. Arkady has renal failure and must undergo dialysis several times a week. Anna suffers liver problems. Both are on special diets. With a combined monthly income of less than $1,500, the two cannot pay their bills. Clancy, at JFCS of the East Bay, tries to help them. "We have a driver for him if he needs a ride to dialysis," she says. "If they need help with medi- cal coordination or doctor communication we do that. And we provide financial assistance. We can do that thanks to the grants from the Claims Conference. But these grants are at risk of being decreased and ending in 2010." "What we have is very good," Anna says in halting English. "What we don't have, we don't know. Butwe are thanks for what we get." Louis de Groot survived the Holocaust by hiding, first in the city then in the Dutch countryside. Besides him, not one family mem- ber survived. At 21, broke and alone, de Groot made his way to the United States. He joined the army, went to college on the G. I. Bill and earned a mas- ter's degree in economics. He prospered, working for IBM for 27 years and rais- ing a family. With all those blessings, he wanted to give something back. De Groot, Hardship on page 23A