Today is Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day. How can we talk to our kids about the Holocaust today? How can kids honor and support survivors year-round?
This is more important than ever: According to a survey released this week, 31 percent of Americans and 41 percent of millennials believe that 2 million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust. (The actual number is around 6 million.) But a majority of Americans, 58 percent, believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.
Masha Pearl runs The Blue Card, which provides ongoing support for medical care, rent subsidies, food and other basic needs to indigent Holocaust survivors. The Blue Card has distributed nearly $35 million to Holocaust survivors, and 100 percent of annual contributions made by individuals go directly to survivors.
Holocaust survivors have particular financial and social needs as they age, Pearl says. She says the majority of Holocaust survivors living in the United States today find themselves below the poverty level, trying to get by on less than $23,000 a year.
“It isn’t spoken about, but their needs are different. Because many fear institutionalization, it’s critical for them to stay in their homes,” she says. So they need friendly visitors, rides to medical appointments and companionship.
This brings its own set of costs: Many also need help affording medication as they pay for household utilities.
“I spoke with a survivor who was keeping heat down below 60 degrees. It was either that or affording medication,” she says.
Due to physical trauma and prior malnutrition, many are also at increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
How can you help?
The program is especially designed for middle-school students, but students of all ages and people celebrating a simcha, or special occasion, are also eligible. Participants learn about the Holocaust through the eyes of Anne Frank; then they begin individual projects such as personal interviews or videos diaries with survivors. Kids finish their projects by donating a portion of the monetary presents to help needy Holocaust survivors served by The Blue Card.
It has a strong benefit for survivors, says Pearl, many of whom are isolated.
“The meeting between survivor and the young individual provides socialization. Those that are survivors today are in their 80s and 90s. Some are over 100. Their needs are growing exponentially as they age, and they have limited family networks,” she says. “We’re losing them. The younger generations become beacons of those survivors.”
In fact, an estimated 75 percent of survivors live alone, and many of these seniors have difficulty performing the routine activities of daily life. And the window of opportunity to meet these survivors is closing fast as they age.
“This will help give voice to a generation that will largely be lost to us in the next 10 to 20 years,” she says.
To learn about volunteering opportunities, make a donation online or arrange for a bequest in memory of a loved one, visit The Blue Card.