Haifa is home to Israel’s largest population of Holocaust survivors, and Yad Rosa is working around the clock to help them make it through the coronavirus pandemic.
Shimon Sabag started Yad Rosa 20 years ago, and over the last 10 months, has had to completely change the way the charity helps these elderly survivors. “This is the moment of truth,” Sabag told The Washington Post. “Holocaust survivors see the finish line, but emotionally they are collapsing.”
There are 192,000 registered Holocaust survivors in Israel, and even before the pandemic, many were struggling — a quarter live below the poverty line, the Post reports, and many of the charities tasked with offering assistance are underfunded. The first Israeli to die of COVID-19 was an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and since then, roughly 5,300 survivors have tested positive for the virus and 900 have died, the Israeli government said.
A Bar-Ilan University study found that for many survivors who witnessed diseases like tuberculosis and dysentery sweep through concentration camps, the isolation they are now experiencing is making them remember the past. “They’re returning back to memories of the ghetto, of the camps, of death,” psychiatrist Isabella Greenberg told the Post. “Some of my patients feel that this is like Auschwitz.”
Yad Rosa has changed its services to better assist survivors feeling especially vulnerable now. For those who do not want to travel by bus, volunteers drive them to their appointments and to get the COVID-19 vaccine — they’ve already helped more than 1,500 get the shot. Dozens of volunteers man a call center, where they check in on survivors to see if they need food, medicine, or just a chat. Contractors have made repairs in the homes of survivors, and more than 2,000 people receive daily food deliveries.
Renate Kaufmann, 83, survived the Holocaust in Germany by spending two years hiding in secret spaces. Yad Rosa recently delivered her a wheelchair, and she told the Post she looks forward to being able to go outside again one day, but until then, she must remain patient, just like she was decades ago. “Who is safe?” she said. “There is no safe place in this world.” Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia