Holocaust survivors shocked by Israel's rules for aid
In effect, people seeking compensation must locate forms more than 40 years old, a nearly impossible task.
By Dana Weiler-Polak • Ha'aretz
The Finance Ministry's bureau on Holocaust survivors' rights recently announced it would expand the list of medical conditions it recognizes as having been caused by Nazi persecution, but this step might not provide much comfort.
For a condition to be recognized, and disability assistance paid, a survivor must file a request along with medical forms to the committee examining queries. In effect, people seeking compensation must locate forms more than 40 years old, a nearly impossible task.
Among the conditions to be included are heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
The new criteria will consider a survivor who began experiencing an illness within the first 10 years after World War II as fully eligible for compensation, while one whose symptoms began 20 years after will receive partial recognition. Someone who began suffering from an illness 30 years after the war will receive no recognition at all.
Yitzhak Walster, 79, is one of the founders of Dishon, a moshav in the Upper Galilee. Today he suffers from high blood pressure and a heart condition, and has undergone several extensive procedures to treat both.
Walster, classified as a disabled Holocaust survivor, completed the necessary document and attached medical forms. He hoped the conditions he described would raise his disability level from 37 percent, allowing him greater government assistance and the ability to buy the medications he needs.
"I contacted the authority, but my request was rejected on the pretext that 'the stated diseases began more than 40 years after the end of the war, and therefore no causal link was proved between them and your persecution,'" Walster recounted.
"When I got the answer I couldn't believe it. What, I had to prove to them that the illnesses began in the '50s as a result of the war? Why even talk about support and assistance for survivors if they don't even intend to give practical help, but only to make things difficult?"
Walster filed a petition to the Haifa Magistrate's Court, which the law allows within 30 days of receiving a rejection from the authority.
At first, Walster contacted his health maintenance organization, Clalit, but was told his medical file was opened only in 1975. Then, too, he suffered from high blood pressure, but given that 30 years had passed since the war, he expected the authority to reject his application.
Walster later contacted the Israel Defense Forces, after recalling that he had had his blood pressure checked during his 1945 enlistment to the pre-state military forces. But the army told him it could take several months for the documents to be provided to him, while he had only a month to file a petition.
"Our problem here in Israel is that people have begun to think it's normal that everyone wants to cheat and steal, so institutions that should be providing assistance automatically are protecting themselves," Walster said. "It's an absurd situation in which people who really need aid are being harmed."
For its part, the Finance Ministry said, "The authority for Holocaust survivors' rights does not set the rules or criteria. An expert committee was set up for that.
"In many cases in which the findings are unclear, the authority takes the initiative to contact individuals to help them exercise their rights."