US resolution to aid Holocaust survivors won't help

By Paul Berger, December 9, 2010
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Finding a consensus in Washington is nothing short of miraculousthese days.

So it was noteworthy that a resolution to support care programmes for Holocaust survivors was approved by a unanimous 407-0 vote in the House of Representatives last week.

The resolution, which comes at
a time when North American organisations warn they have insufficient funds to care for survivors, was
lauded by members of the US-Jewish community.

But the absence of a single dissenting vote in the House underlines what little effect, in real terms, the resolution may have.

As Elie Rubinstein, executive director of survivor organisation The Blue Card, told me this week, "We would like to see how the government can find money for survivors - that this is not just a nice piece of paper." Ms Rubinstein may be disappointed.

The nonbinding resolution does not come up with additional funds and will not change the status of Holocaust survivors an iota. At least that is the way it was described by Stephan Kline, associate vice president of the Jewish Federations of North America, which provided much of the research behind the resolution.

However, Mr Kline, quite rightly, pointed out that the resolution will help by publicising the plight of survivors who today are among the most vulnerable in society. "Resolutions, by design, are intended to raise awareness," Mr Kline told me.

Now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many survivors face increasing health problems. The resolution urged the administration to provide services through existing programmes and to develop new programmes to care for them in their homes.

With this step behind it, the JFNA and other groups can now push the administration for more concrete demands.

But what of the survivors themselves? In New York at least, some are still reeling from the effects of a $42.5 million (£27 million) fraud perpetrated against the Claims Conference. Many survivors - the Claims Conference will not reveal exactly how many - have received questionnaires in the post asking them to resubmit documentation that they last used ten or 15 years ago.

Headlines about a Congressional resolution are only likely to add to the confusion. Esther Finder, a member of Generations of the Shoah International, said she had received calls from a handful of US survivor groups wanting to know what the resolution means.

She said survivors were being asked to write thank you letters to Congressmen. But, she said: "We are not sure what we are thanking them for."

    Last updated: 1:32pm, December 9 2010