Help for Holocaust survivors
10/18/2007

It’s America’s dirty, dark secret. Half of the 175,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States, now in their 80s and 90s, are living out their final days in poverty. Overlooked by society, these frail seniors struggle to keep the lights on and cover basic medical costs. But one organization hasn’t forgotten them.

The Blue Card, a not-for-profit organization, supports these survivors with vital resources to cover medical bills and household repairs. Most of its help has been monetary — the group has distributed $15 million since 1940.

But now, Blue Card is providing a device that could mean the difference between life and death for homebound seniors: they’re distributing Personal Emergency Response System (PERSYS) that can call for help when activated by a Holocaust survivor who falls and can’t get up.

With one click of a device worn around the senior’s neck, emergency personnel are quickly summoned. “When an elderly person receives help right after a fall, they are 26 percent less likely to require hospitalization and 80 percent less likely to succumb to their injuries,” explains Elie Rubinstein, executive director of The Blue Card.

The PERSYS, provided by the Amcest Corporation of Roselle, NJ, have been distributed to 350 frail Holocaust survivors living below the poverty level in the New York Metropolitan area. Already, it has proven to be a lifesaver. In late August, an elderly Holocaust survivor in Brooklyn used his new PERSYS to escape certain tragedy.

As Fred Rosenfeld, president of Amcest explains, “the gentleman wasn’t hurt enough to need an ambulance, but did need help getting up. He fell in the middle of the night on Wednesday and could have been lying on the floor, undetected, for two or three days.”

It’s not the first time that The Blue Card has stepped in to assist elderly Holocaust survivors. Rubinstein notes, “These frail Holocaust survivors have been through unspeakable atrocities and deserve to live their final years with dignity. We regularly purchase medication, or assist with bills to help keep the lights on or purchase needed home repairs.”

Alarming Numbers

There are nearly 1 million surviving Holocaust victims living worldwide, with roughly 175,000 living in the United States. Astonishingly, nearly 87,000 — or half of survivors — live below the national-poverty level with annual-fixed incomes at $15,000 or less. The horrors they endured are considered to be a major reason for their current predicament.

“Holocaust survivors had great difficulty assimilating into American life,” explains Rubinstein. “Many had psychological problems and couldn’t fit into a society that couldn’t imagine the inhumanity they suffered.”

Their children also were haunted by the Holocaust, he notes. “Many children of Holocaust survivors grew up with considerable guilt and psychological baggage. It interferes with their own lives, and many don’t have the resources to provide for their parents now.”