Zane Buzby’s day job is as a successful Hollywood television sitcom director, but her real passion lies in her charity organization, the Survivor Mitzvah Project (SMP), which helps provide continuous and direct financial aid to Holocaust survivors throughout Eastern Europe.
Since its inception in 2009, SMP has helped 2,000 survivors in Europe, including people in Estonia, Slovakia, Moldova, Latvia, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine.
Buzby, whose directing credits include “Blossom” and “Charles in Charge,” has dubbed the survivors in Ukraine “The Unluckiest Generation.” The oldest were children during World War I and the Russian Revolution, and they survived only to face the pogroms of the 1920s and the famine of the 1930s. Then came the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. Those who stayed in their home country afterward were caught behind the Iron Curtain, where they experienced the Chernobyl disaster before Perestroika finally arrived.
Today’s conflict between Russia and Ukraine puts them in renewed danger, Buzby believes.
“Now, in the winter of their years, they never imagined they would once again be caught in the political turmoil that for them has always spelled disaster. They are extremely stressed, emotionally and physically. And what is worse, these survivors feel alone once again.”
According to Buzby, who receives many letters from survivors, they are afraid both of the military and social implications of the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as well as its financial cost — many of the survivors have had their already meager pensions cut to nearly nothing. This means they often are faced with having to choose between food, heat for their ramshackle, hand-hewn homes or necessary medication; they can’t afford all three.
“We need to get them more financial aid, in greater amounts — now, while we can — so they can get the food, medication, heat and shelter they need to survive,” she said. “Things are changing already. Banks are tightening up and not releasing funds, not cashing checks, and, for most survivors — who are so poor they live from hand to mouth anyway and have no savings — they can only survive with emergency financial aid,” Buzby said.
“This is the last generation of Holocaust survivors, and we are the last generation to be able to help them,” she said. “In 1939, the world turned its back on these people. Now we can help. We can show them they have not been forgotten. We can be the cavalry, the rescuers. Together, we can write a more hopeful final chapter to the Holocaust — one of friendship, love and kindness. But we have to act now.”