Shoah refugee fails to get UK charity’s help

By Anna Sheinman, September 28, 2012
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Holocaust survivor Ruth Babat

Holocaust survivor Ruth Babat

A Holocaust refugee who is a British citizen has been refused help by the leading British charity in America.

Ruth Babat, née Schillaj, was born in Frankfurt in 1933. Her parents fled Nazi Germany in 1937, settling in Golders Green, north London.

The family joined Hendon Synagogue and Mrs Babat, who was brought up in London and received her certificate of naturalisation in 1947, recalls that her father, Markus, received multiple awards for his work as a UK special envoy for food importation during the Blitz.

Ruth Schillaj married American Norman Babat, and moved to New York in 1959. Now 79, she lives in the city with her husband and adult son and has fallen on such hard times that she has turned to charity for help.

Social security of $2000 per month and $200 of food stamps is, she says, not enough. “Our rent is $1,500. The only reason I don’t go hungry is because I like bread, and bread is cheap. But I’m very frightened.

“I have no savings, I can’t afford medication, and I have no burial arrangements.”

The Babats turned to the St George’s Society, created in 1770 to “assist fellow countrymen in distress”, which today provides a monthly stipend for around 70 people from the UK or the former Commonwealth. But the Society turned Mrs Babat down.

John Shannon, its executive director, said: “Currently the rule is that you have to be born in the UK [or Commonwealth]. We could extend that to people who are naturalised British citizens, but we have a high caseload right now. We’re not looking for more British people to help”.

Mrs Babat said: “I was told by the St George’s social worker that to help ‘all these people’ [British naturalised citizens] would be to ‘open the floodgates’.

"I was extremely offended. Am I a half Brit? A partial Brit? I could have given up my British passport, but I never did, because I consider it my home.”

But Mr Shannon expressed surprise that Mrs Babat had contacted the JC: “For a potential beneficiary to be rejected and then go to the press in London? It makes you ask if this is the sort of attitude that we’re looking for in our beneficiaries.”

The society counts many influential figures as its patrons, including Jewish businessmen Lord Saatchi and Sir Martin Sorrell.

Sir Martin did not respond to requests for comment while Lord Saatchi said: “This is a matter for the St George’s Society”.

Last updated: 1:17pm, October 18 2012