Conference tackles Shoah survivors’ needs for next decade

Holocaust survivors are rapidly dying off and will soon disappear, according to perceptions held by the international Jewish community. But a conference in Los Angeles devoted to caring for victims of Nazi persecution in North and South America, which took place from June 22 to 24 demonstrated otherwise.

Not only are survivors alive in large numbers — estimated at 700,000 worldwide, with about 85,000 in the United States — but they are projected to be a part of Jewish society for another 10 to 15 years, and even longer for child survivors.

“There are survivors. But they’re getting older and sicker, and they need more,” said Greg Schneider, chief operating officer of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which finances most of the social welfare programs for survivors globally.

The Claims Conference sponsored the international seminar, “Caring Across Continents: Working with Jewish Nazi Victims in the Americas,” in partnership with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. It was held at The Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, with 120 social workers and program directors attending from the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America and Australia.

The conference focused primarily on providing specialized communal services for needy and vulnerable Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, a field that has come to the forefront only in the last 13 years. Previously some survivors received — and some continue to receive — only individual compensation, primarily from the German government.

“There was no recognition of the special needs of the survivors,” said Schneider, referring to such services as case management, subsidized home care, emergency-assistance funding and socialization programs like Café Europa, a Holocaust survivors’ support group.

That changed in 1994 when the Claims Conference became the legal successor to unclaimed private and communal Jewish properties in former East Germany and began receiving money from the sale of those properties or compensation for formerly Jewish-owned properties that couldn’t be returned. A year later, the Claims Conference began partnering with Jewish Family Service and other social service organizations in major cities to use those funds to develop programs for disadvantaged survivors.

Currently the Claims Conference designates $125 million a year for such programs, with up to $18 million of that total set aside for Shoah education.

“There’s no fixing what was broken, and everyone here understands that. But you can try to make a difference,” Schneider told the participants, conceding that the needs of the survivors far surpass what the Claims Conference is able to provide.

The conference, the first of its kind held on the West Coast, afforded participants the opportunity to network and share expertise and to hear about new strategies and interventions in such areas as bereavement, dementia and socialization. Additionally, they were able to replenish their own resources in a job that can be psychologically depleting and, for those living in small communities, isolating.

For social workers and program directors from South America, who work with small populations of Jewish Nazi victims, networking was clearly helpful.

“We are all together trying to take care of survivors, quality and quantity,” said Rosa Ana Silberman Jait, program coordinator of Fundación Tzedaká in Buenos Aires.

Much of the challenge lies in the fact that survivors have very different needs depending on their country of origin, where they spent the war years — in ghettoes or concentration camps under Nazi domination or in flight to eastern territories of the Soviet Union — and where they lived after the war.

In a session on working with Jewish Nazi victims from the former Soviet Union, Marina Berkman, director of Jewish Family Service’s West Hollywood Comprehensive Service Center, addressed the fact that the Holocaust was never mentioned by Soviet Union officials until Perestroika in 1985.

“People talked about the heroes of World War II but not about the survivors, so there was a shame,” she said.

And when Jewish agencies dealt with resettling the Russian émigrés in the 1990s, no one asked about their Holocaust history, said Ruth Paley, client services director at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis.

“We played into the conspiracy of silence,” she said.

Now, however, there are Russian-speaking social workers serving this population and a greater understanding of their culture and needs. Still, Berkman said, you could devote a whole conference to this huge issue.

In a session on forming innovative partnerships with government agencies, foundations and other programs, participants were solidly committed to doing whatever it takes to assist survivor clients.

“If they don’t have money for Shabbos dinner, we’ll go out on the street and beg for money,” said Rizy Horowitz, senior coordinator for Nachas Health and Family Network in New York City. “We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again.”

And while begging sounds extreme, the reality is that funding for these programs is expected to end in five years, when the East German unclaimed properties are all sold or restituted.

Claims Conference COO Schneider, however, is hoping that further funding will be available through an agreement with Poland on restitution of individual or private property. While Poland is the only former Soviet Union block country that has not helped Jews recover stolen private property, Schneider reported that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk promised an agreement by year’s end.

In the closing session, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at Los Angeles’ American Jewish University, validated the important responsibilities of social workers in attending to survivors’ intense and often critical needs as they reach the last stage in their lives, the only one ending naturally.

Those efforts include offering care and concern, giving them deep respect for both their personal and historical story and finding ways of bridging the loneliness and isolation that causes what Berenbaum called “death before dying.”

But those obligations clearly extend beyond the scope of committed and often overstretched social service professionals.

In a statement addressed to the larger Jewish community, Claims Conference COO Schneider said, “We judge our parents’ generation that they didn’t do enough. But our children will judge us by how we handle the last chapters, by how we help these people live the last years of their lives with some dignity.”

“That’s our responsibility,” he said.

Community Briefs

Financial Institutions Waive Fees forSurvivors

More than 100 of California’s largest financial institutions have agreed to waive wire-transfer fees charged Holocaust survivors and their families for reparation and restitution payments from abroad.

These payments, mainly from Germany, average $350 per month, and with banks up to now charging a $10-$40 handling fee per transfer, such fees can subtract up to 10 percent of the modest monthly checks.

The announcement that 108 California banks, credit unions, savings and loans and broker-dealers had pledged to eliminate the fees was made by State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who earlier had sent letters to 170 leading financial institutions requesting the voluntary waiver.

Some 140 of these institutions engaged in more than $70 billion worth of transactions with the state treasurer’s office during the last fiscal year.

Much of the impetus for the waiver campaign came from Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. The free legal service organization has represented close to 2,000 indigent Holocaust survivors, said Mitchell Kamin, its executive director.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 survivors live in California, the second largest such concentration in the United States, of whom some 6,000 to 8,000 receive restitution payments. Among the latter, about 40 percent live in poverty, said Kamin.

Angelides and Kamin spoke at a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 4, in San Francisco, held at the offices of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which assists more than 1,000 survivors each year.

A list of cooperating banks and other financial institutions can be found on the Web at — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Sharsheret Head Honored for Fight Against BreastCancer

Rochelle Shoretz, founder and executive director of Sharsheret, an organization linking young Jewish women fighting breast cancer, was recently named a Yoplait Champion in the Fight Against Breast Cancer.

Yoplait will donate $1,000 to Sharsheret, and Shoretz will be recognized in the October issue of Self Magazine and at a two-day awards ceremony in New York City in September.

Since she founded Sharsheret two years ago while in chemotherapy at the age of 28, Shoretz, a former clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has received national recognition for her efforts to forge one-on-one supportive relationships between young Jewish women who have survived breast cancer and those fighting it.

The transcripts from two medical symposiums Sharsheret hosted, “How Do We Care For Our Children? Issues for Women and Men Facing Breast Cancer,” and “Breast Cancer and Fertility” are available at

For information on setting up a link or supporting Sharsheret, or for organizations wishing to partner with Sharsheret to raise awareness about the issues affecting young Jewish women fighting breast cancer, call (866) 474-2774. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Israel Consul General Rotem BecomesAmbassador

Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles is no longer The Honorable Yuval Rotem. His character is as upright as ever, but from now on diplomatic protocol calls for addressing him as “Your Excellency.”

The new title goes with Rotem’s new personal rank of ambassador, an unusual distinction for an Israeli career diplomat. At any one time, no more than 20 professionals in Israel’s foreign service can carry the permanent title and, at age 43, Rotem is the youngest Israeli career ambassador in the world.

Rotem’s promotion was recommended last February by then-Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and went into effect on Sept. 1.

No citation or encomiums accompanied the upgrade. After considerable urging, Rotem allowed that “they must have reviewed my accomplishments and decided to make me an ambassador” and reluctantly acknowledged that the new rank “was a source of satisfaction.”

Among his new perks are a raise in pay and pension benefits, but Rotem sees the most immediate benefit in elevating the status and clout in Israel of the local consulate, whose territory includes Southern California, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Rotem vetoed any celebration of the promotion by his staff but noted that “my mom and dad in Israel sent me some nice flowers.”

Since assuming his present post three years ago this month, Rotem had greatly expanded the involvement and outreach of his office, not only within the Jewish community, but also among the Southwest’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. He is scheduled to leave next summer, but his next assignment is unknown.

So far, Rotem wears his new distinction lightly. When a reporter closed an interview by congratulating “your excellency,” Rotem pleaded, “Come on, get off it.” — TT

Survivor Descendant Convention to be Held in LosAngeles

“Living The Legacy: Los Angeles,” a convention gathering descendants of Shoah survivors and their families, will take place locally for the first time on Sept. 14.

The daylong event will offer symposiums and workshops dealing with survivor offspring issues, such as marrying into a descendant/survivor family, intermarriage and interfamily dialogue.

This year marks the second annual “Living the Legacy: A Gathering of Descendants of Survivors of the Shoah and their Families” convention dedicated to outreach to the Holocaust offspring community. The event is cosponsored by Jewish Family Service (JFS), The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Metro Western Region of The Jewish Federation, and The Morgan Aging with Dignity Fund of The Jewish Federation. The first “Living the Legacy” took place in Chicago in July 2002.

According to organizer Darlene Basch, “Living the Legacy 2003” will expand on the first gathering’s breadth, offering more panels, two art workshops, a returning memoir writing course, a glatt kosher lunch, and the event’s first awards ceremony.

This year’s “Legacy” will also honor Dr. Florabel Kinsler and Dr. Sarah Moskovitz, two Holocaust survivors who each worked extensively in Los Angeles with survivors and their descendants for more than 30 years.

Kinsler, a social worker and psychotherapist, founded and spearheaded the JFS Holocaust Family Project from 1981 to 1993. Kinsler pioneered the founding of the JFS group outreach to children of Holocaust survivors, forming intergenerational dialogues and survivor groups from 1976 to 1993. In 1987, Kinsler began Cafe Europa, a child Holocaust survivors support group.

Moskovitz, professor emeritus of human development and counseling in the department of educational psychology at CSUN, is the author of “Love Despite Hate: Child Survivors of the Holocaust And Their Adult Lives” and writes poetry in English and Yiddish. Earlier this year, she was awarded a grant from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to translate Yiddish poetry in the Ringelblum Archives.

Kinsler and Moskovitz have led more than 25 groups for child survivors under the aegis of JFS, and they believe that such conventions as “Living the Legacy” provide survivors and their offspring with a necessary outlet.

“It’s the value of community,” Moskovitz said. “Any meeting where they can get together and talk, support, eat together and even fight with each other, is like extended family.”

“Living the Legacy: Los Angeles,” takes place on Sept.14, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.For more information, contact Darlene Basch at (323) 937-4974 or via e-mail . — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Federation Gives $100,000 to Bus BombingVictims

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles transmitted $100,000 in grants to two Jerusalem hospitals treating victims of the Aug. 19 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus, which killed 21 people.

The funds are earmarked for the pediatric unit of Hadassah Hospital, and for emergency aid and specialized equipment for Sha’arei Tzedek hospital.

“We have immediately contacted our representatives in Israel to help in any way that we can,” said Jake Farber, chairman of the Jewish Federation, “and we will do our best here in Los Angeles to support the victims devastated by this horrendous incident.”

The Federation adamantly condemned the Sept. 9 double bombings in Israel. “The continued slaughter of innocent Israelis by Palestinian terrorists must end,” Farber said. Speaking on behalf of Los Angeles Jewish community, Farber continued: “As every political, academic and right-minded individual knows, the continuing attacks on Israelis by Palestinian terrorists only makes getting back to the negotiating table that much more difficult. It is only at the negotiating table that this decades-long conflict will be resolved.”–TT

Comfort Women

During World War II, the Japanese army forced as many as 200,000 women and girls from mostly Asian countries to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers and officers. About 80 percent of these “comfort women,” as the Japanese euphemism of the time termed them, were the daughters of mine workers and farmers in Korea, which was under Japanese occupation.

The women and girls — some were as young as 11 years old — were brought to military brothels and forced to serve as many as 30 men each day. Those who refused were beaten, tortured or killed.

After the war, the women kept silent, ashamed of their experience or fearing the reaction of their traditional society. Many are believed to have committed suicide. The first Korean woman to come forward was Bong-kee Pae, who told her story to a Korean newspaper in 1991. Since then, a handful of books have documented what certainly stands out –even among tough competition — as one of the war’s most horrific chapters. Confronted with testimony from about 160 of the estimated 1,000 comfort women believed still alive, the Japanese government at first called the women prostitutes and denied such a practice ever existed. Since then it has paid out about $760,000 in reparations, though it has not formally apologized.

In her new play, “Hanako,” Korean-American playwright Chungmi Kim tells the story of one comfort woman, the title character. Hanako experiences the terrors of life as a comfort woman, the aftermath of shame and alienation, the power of revealing her hidden past.

“Hanako” is emotional, its language and situations often graphic. Though it took decades for Korean society to come to grips with the tragedy of its comfort women, Kim believes Jews sensitive to their own history of persecution will instantly relate. “If anybody can understand this, Jews can” the intense, soft-spoken playwright said during a visit to The Journal offices. “We call this, ‘the Pacific Holocaust,’ along with the Nanking massacres.”

Kim’s previous plays and screenplays have garnered several awards, including first place in the Writer’s Guild West Open Door Writing Competition. Her one-act play, “The Comfort Women,” was a finalist for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in New York. Though born and raised in Seoul, she didn’t hear about the comfort women until 1993. Now she hopes her work will make more people aware of the abuse women are often singled out to suffer during wartime. “Even now in Europe it’s still happening,” she said, referring to reports of rape following inter-ethnic violence in the former Yugoslavia. “I think people really need to learn what this kind of injustice and violence does to people.”

The Korean American Coalition is planning to join with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish organizations to present a special program surrounding “Hanako.” Details will be announced at a future date.

“Hanako” will run from April 7-25 at East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aliso Street, Los Angeles. Tickets are $20-$23. Call (213) 625-7000 for information and reservations.