Many Holocaust Survivors Are Struggling Amid the Pandemic. Here’s How Virtual Gatherings Are HelpingBreaking News
tags: Holocaust, COVID-19, online history, trauma
“Some of the survivors are scared to death,” says Dr. Charles Silow, a son of survivors and Director of the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families of Jewish Senior Life in the Detroit area. He hosts Zoom calls with survivors in places from Amsterdam to Poland. “One of the hallmark symptoms of trauma is the fear of the return of the tragic event, and survivors typically are on guard for bad things to happen. These are scary times for everyone, and I think for the survivors, more so.”
Survivors are affected by the economic damage, like so many others. Of the roughly 36,000 survivors who live in the New York City area — the epicenter of the pandemic in America — nearly 40% are living in poverty. Several organizations are stepping in to help. In early April, the Claims Conference announced the creation of a $4.3 million Holocaust-survivor emergency assistance fund. Over the last two months, the new 333 Charity has helped fund the UJA Federation of New York’s weekly food deliveries to 1,525 survivor households, and some restaurants have introduced a way for customers to donate meals to Holocaust survivors. The Blue Card, a social services organization that serves survivors on or below the poverty line, has been providing food deliveries and direct payments.
But the psychological side of things does set this population apart.
“I’ve been here before,” says Fred Lessing, 84, a psychologist in the Detroit area and a child survivor from the Netherlands, of the war-like atmosphere in the U.S. during the coronavirus lockdown. “Not a day goes by that I’m not crying, and I’m crying about what’s happening here, but it’s triggered off by the past,” Detroit’s Lessing tells TIME. “I feel as though to have merged together my Holocaust past and what’s happening here, and I can’t separate them anymore, and so I cry.” In 30 years of lecturing about his life during the Holocaust, he says, “I’ve never cried about those years” until now.
During The Blue Card’s first tele-therapy conference call for survivors, on May 21, Dr. Eva Fogelman, a psychologist who counsels Holocaust survivors, explained the roots of these feelings. Some survivors are “haunted” by memories of quarantining before resettling in other European countries or in the United States. And news coverage of medical-supply shortages and of cities being overwhelmed by dead bodies may be reminiscent of the lack of medical care during the Holocaust. She’s also observed that survivors have told her they’re less likely to seek needed medical treatment, and more afraid of sickness. “Illness was equated with death,” Fogelman told a participant during the session. “Jews in ghettos saw sick people dying because there was no medical care to be had. In concentration camps, sick people were killed because they weren’t fit for work.”
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