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international holocaust remembrance day

Fewer than 170,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel as numbers dwindle due to advanced age 

Not many know that some 36% of Israeli Holocaust survivors are from North Africa

Rama Reiss Kremnicer, a Holocaust survivor, stands next to a painting that is part of an initiative in which students created paintings inspired by Holocaust survivors' stories, as Israel marks its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Ashkelon, April 8, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Some 165,800 Holocaust survivors – the majority of the total number of survivors – live in the Jewish state, according to a Labor and Social Affairs Ministry report that was released on Wednesday ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Jan. 27 marks the day that the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp in 1945. Some 6 million European Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, representing more than a third of the Jewish people at the time. 

Some 90% of the Holocaust survivors are now 80 and over. Last year,  15,324 Israeli survivors died and 98 Holocaust survivors immigrated to Israel. 

Of the survivors, 60% are women and 64% of the survivors were born in Europe, mainly the former Soviet Union republics and Romania, but also smaller numbers from Poland, Bulgaria, Germany and Hungary. 

While the epicenter of the Holocaust was in Europe, some 36% of Israeli Holocaust survivors are from North African states such as Morocco and Algeria, which at the time were controlled by the pro-Nazi French Vichy regime. Israeli Holocaust survivors also include smaller numbers from Iraq, Tunisia and Libya, where local Jews suffered under Nazi-inspired racial laws and were sent to labor and concentration camps. In perhaps the most infamous case of Nazi era anti-Semitic persecution in the Middle East – known as the Farhoud – hundreds of Iraqi Jews were killed and wounded in a pro-Nazi regime-instigated pogrom in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in June 1941. 

The majority of Israeli Holocaust survivors have lived in the Jewish state since the 1950s. However, more than one-third arrived with the post-Soviet Jewish immigration wave to Israel in the 1990s. 

The United States is home to the world’s second largest number of Holocaust survivors numbering approximately 80,000 in 2021. One-third of them live in poverty according to The Washington Post. In the New York metropolitan area where around 50% of all U.S. Holocaust survivors are located, 40% reportedly live in poverty compared to 10% of average Americans aged 65 or older. 

The 82-year-old Holocaust survivor Sami Steigman, who was born in Romania and now lives in Manhattan, stressed the financial challenges for many Holocaust survivors in the U.S.

“I am part of the one-third of U.S. Holocaust survivors in poverty. When I speak about the challenges I faced in the Holocaust, I also speak about another challenge I’ve overcome: homelessness,” Steigman said. 

The poverty rates among Israeli Holocaust survivors are similarly high and many are struggling financially to make ends meet. Following negotiations between Jerusalem and Berlin, the German government agreed in October 2021 to transfer an additional 20 million shekels (approximately $6.3 million) of financial assistance to 3,700 Israeli Holocaust survivors who are eligible for German state pensions. However, the Israeli government has largely failed to alleviate the high rates of poverty among Israel’s dwindling number of Holocaust survivors. 

Israeli Knesset speaker Mickey Levy is scheduled to address the German Bundestag parliament in Berlin on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will be the first time in history that a Knesset speaker is addressing the German parliament. 

During his visit to Berlin, Levy is expected to meet with the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. Levy is also scheduled to visit the historic Wannsee house outside Berlin where the Nazi leadership met on Jan. 20, 1942 and decided to implement the destruction of European Jewry. 

The Jewish state’s own official Holocaust remembrance day, Yom HaShoah, is scheduled for late April. However, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, usually marks the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 with various events to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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