holocaust survivors

Polish Jews captured by Germans during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The youngest Holocaust survivors are now in their late ‘70s, and the challenges that come with aging mean their needs have never been greater. That’s why the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has agreed with the German Federal Ministry of Finance to provide $1.4 billion in direct compensation and social welfare services for survivors across the globe.

The agreement will bring the overall compensation that Germany has paid in Holocaust reparations to over $81 billion.

More than 128,000 Holocaust survivors will receive annual payments for the next 4 years of $1,370 per person for 2024, $1,424 for 2025, $1,479 for 2026 and $1,534 for 2027. The agreement also provides tens of millions for Holocaust education.

As the number of people who witnessed the Holocaust first-hand goes down every year, the greater the need to keep their memories alive to prevent it from happening again.

The beneficiaries of these payments are primarily survivors from the former Soviet Union who escaped the clutches of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile execution squads of the Nazis tasked with annihilating whole Jewish populations. These units killed over 1 million Jewish people, mainly through mass shootings of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at a time.

claims conference, holocaust, holocaust survivors

Claims Conference Delegation for negotiations with the German government

via Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

Nearly $105.2 million in compensation will go to home care programs to address survivors’ increased needs through 300 social welfare programs in 83 countries. These agencies will provide in-home care, food packages, medical needs and transportation for survivors in need.

“Every year, these negotiations become more and more critical as this last generation of Holocaust survivors age and their needs increase,” Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference, said in a press release. “Being able to ensure direct payments to survivors in addition to the expansions to the social welfare services we are able to fund is essential in making sure every Holocaust survivor is taken care of for as long as it is required, addressing each individual need.”

The reparations agreed upon by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the German Federal Ministry of Finance are a continuation of 71 years of the historic Luxembourg Agreements. The agreements were the first time in history that a defeated power compensated civilians for loss and suffering.

auschwitz-birkenau, holocaust, nazis

Train tracks leading to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

via Dieglop/Wikimedia Commons

The atrocities of the Holocaust are beyond any measure of compensation, but the agreements highlight Germany’s commitment to take responsibility for Nazi atrocities.

“I am inspired that, as shown by the extraordinary results we have achieved this year, so many decades after the end of World War II, far from waning, the German government and its people continue to feel a deep responsibility to provide additional care to Holocaust survivors,” Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, Special Negotiator for the Claims Conference Negotiations Delegation, said in a press release.

“It has been nearly 80 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and the need to negotiate for survivor care and compensation is more urgent than ever,” Eizenstat continued. “Every negotiation is a near-last opportunity to ensure survivors of the Holocaust are receiving some measure of justice and a chance at the dignity that was taken from them in their youth. It will never be enough until the last survivor has taken their last breath.”

Solomon Moshe was only 4 years old when Hitler's armies invaded his home country of Greece.

He recalls spending his childhood fleeing from house to house with his mother — never having friends, never having a home, and constantly seeing the fear in his mother's eyes.

Before long, 60,000 Greek Jews would be murdered in World War II, nearly 80% of the country's Jewish population. Moshe moved to Israel in 1956 to try to start a new life.

On Monday, May 2, 2016, Moshe got to celebrate becoming a bar mitzvah, finally, at the ripe old age of 79.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

For Jewish people, the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies are incredibly important.

Typically occurring around the age of 13, the ceremonies are holy events for friends, family, and communities that mark a coming of age in Jewish culture and a confirmation of faith. There's also usually a big party.

This week, 50 people, including Moshe, traveled to Israel to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvot. All of them are in their 70s and 80s.

All of them are Holocaust survivors.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

To be born in Europe in the 1930s meant being born into a world turned upside down. Adolf Hitler's Nazi party invaded or occupied over a dozen countries and systematically murdered an unfathomable number of people, including 6 million Jews.

Even those who survived the horror of the Holocaust had their lives taken from them in other ways — from childhoods tainted by memories of fear and despair to families permanently torn apart.

The survivors were invited to host their ceremonies at the Western Wall in Jerusalem — one of Judaism's holiest sites — by the Israeli government.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

They wrapped themselves in talits (Jewish prayer shawls) and affixed tefilin (small leather boxes containing sections of the Torah) strapped to their foreheads and arms.

They recited special prayers and read holy passages, all two days before Yom HaShoah, Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As they left, Israeli soldiers gathered to pay their respects.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

"I am not embarrassed to say that I was moved to tears," recalls Moshe. "Soldiers were saluting us like we were heroes."

It's impossible to set right the wrongs of World War II.

Millions were killed, and those who survived still feel the effects of the war today. A coming-of-age ritual might seem like a small gesture, but it's a deeply significant one.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

During the war, being Jewish was a crime punishable by death. Millions of families had to hide and suppress their faith for fear of being persecuted and sent away.

For these survivors, being able to become a bar or bat mitzvah now isn't just a gesture of kindness or a ceremony of faith. It's an act of healing.