Faced with continuing COVID hardships, Holocaust survivors, including those in Canada, will see a rise in their benefits from Germany.
The increases were announced this month by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or the Claims Conference.
They result from the organization’s most recent negotiations with the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors.
A statement from the Claims Conference to the CJR notes that there are currently 1,600 survivors in Canada who receive pensions from Germany that are administered by the Claims Conference. The current benefit of €513 (CAD $800) per month will increase to €580 (CAD $900) a month as of Jan. 1, 2021.
The most recent negotiations also resulted in two supplemental payments, each of €1,200 (about CAD $1,860), for survivors eligible under the conference’s Hardship Fund. The payments will be made in each of the next two years, for a total of €2,400 (CAD $3,725).
The Claims Conference estimates that approximately 5,000 Holocaust survivors in Canada will be eligible for supplemental payments under the Hardship Fund.
Additionally, the German government will directly provide to spouses of so-called BEG payment recipients who died after Jan. 1, 2020, and do not get a BEG spouse pension, a “transitional payment” of up to nine months. Some residents of Canada qualify for this program.
As for funds the Conference allocates to Jewish social service agencies in Canada for the welfare of Holocaust survivors, “we are assessing needs now and will have a final result by year’s end,” said a spokesperson.
For 2020, the Conference allocated over CAD $37 million for homecare, food, medicine, transportation, programs to alleviate social isolation, and other services. The recent negotiations resulted in a €30.5 million increase (approximately CDN $47 million) over last year in funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors.
“These increased benefits achieved by the hard work of our negotiation’s delegation during these unprecedented times will help our efforts to ensure dignity and stability in survivors’ final years,” said Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference.
The COVID pandemic “has adversely affected the elderly, and survivors have faced an onslaught of health, emotional, and financial hurdles,” the Conference stated in a recent news release.
The Conference estimates that approximately 240,000 survivors will be eligible for these additional payments. The largest populations reside in Israel, North America, the former Soviet Union, and Western Europe.
In the negotiations with the Claims Conference, the German government agreed to expand the categories of survivors receiving direct compensation. Specifically, Germany accepted the results of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum regarding “open ghettos” in Bulgaria and the report from Yad Vashem on “open ghettos” in Romania, which together recognized 27 specific places as ghettos, thus enabling survivors of those places to receive compensation payments.
Representatives from the Israeli consulate in Toronto and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem travelled to northern Ontario last week to honour a Dutch family that sheltered Jews during the Holocaust.
Reinerus and Cornelia Hulsker were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations at a ceremony held in New Liskeard on Oct. 16. The couple’s daughter, Nora Visser, accepted the posthumous honour.
In 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, David (Dik) Biet, a Jew, was sheltered in the Hulsker home, while his wife and infant daughter were hidden in the home of a former work colleague, Jos Asselbergs.
Visser, who was between 10 and 13 years old during the war, transported documents between the houses, said Jonathan Allen, executive director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
“I was scared when I went to the other house,” Visser told CTV News at the ceremony. “I thought they might see me. It felt like a long walk.”
In 1945, Biet was captured while visiting his wife and daughter, who were in hiding at the Asselbergs, and the family was deported to Westerbork, a transit camp. The war ended before they could be taken to a concentration camp, Allen told the CJR.
“It is quite emotional when you hear the story of what the family did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, at the risk of their own safety and the safety of their families,” Allen said.
As a descendant of Holocaust survivors and an Israeli diplomat, Galit Baram, Israel’s Consul General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada said she was “grateful for the opportunity to share the remarkable story of the Hulsker and Asselbergs families.” Baram said ceremonies such as this “have tremendous educational value, especially since even today, 75 years after the end of World War II, with the horrors of the Holocaust so well documented, there are still many reported cases of antisemitism even in the strongest of democracies.”
The ceremony recognizing the courage of Visser’s parents was delayed several times due to COVID, and was finally held at St. Paul’s United Church in Visser’s hometown of New Liskeard.
In attendance were Carman Kidd, the mayor of New Liskeard, and local MPP John Vanthof.
Visser was interviewed at the ceremony about her experiences during the war by her granddaughter.
“A lot of details of the story came out,” Allen said. “I’m not sure how much she had shared of this in the past” with her grandchildren.
Receiving the award was “a great honour,” Visser said.
Next month, members of the Asselbergs family, who moved to Calgary after the war, will be honoured as Righteous, Allen said.
The Righteous Among the Nations project was established by Yad Vashem in 1963 to honour non-Jews who assisted Jews during the Holocaust. To date, the award has been granted to more than 27,000 recipients.
When Erin Sade was in Grade 6 she was given the opportunity to learn about any charitable organization that interested her. She chose the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) and in subsequent years she dedicated much of her spare time to helping other young people learn about the Holocaust.
Fast forward seven years and Sade, now 18, was one of seven Canadian recipients of the 2020 Diana Award. Named for the late Princess of Wales, the accolade honours young people for their humanitarian efforts and social action. Sade was nominated for her commitment to Holocaust education.
The virtual 2020 ceremony held last month was hosted by the Vamps’ James McVey and included celebrities like the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) and actor, Dame Emma Thompson. About 180 people worldwide received the award this year.
Sade, a recent graduate of Havergal College – she will be on her way to medical school in England later this month – said she was thrilled to win the Diana Award.
She was nominated by Ellen Schwartz, creator and executive director of Project Give Back (PGB), the organization that ran the education program that spurred Sade’s involvement with CSYV, when she was in Grade 6.
“I owe her [Schwartz] so much,” Sade said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “She did everything to nominate me…She has so much kindness. She is so dedicated to the [PGB] program and the students she brings it to.”
Through her connection with CSYV Sade participated in the Twinning Program, which encourages youngsters to dedicate their bar or bat mitzvahs to a specific young Holocaust victim. Sade’s “twin” was Lily Friedman, who died in Auschwitz just shy of her 12th birthday.
“Yad Vashem pairs you with a child who died before their bar or bat mitzvah,” Sade explained, noting that she was able to discover information on Friedman because her sister had survived the war.
The twinning was “a beautiful experience,” Sade said, noting that her own middle name is Lilly. “Having that little connection made it feel more real. That was an empowering experience.”
She said after her bat mitzvah, she was motivated to learn more about the Holocaust and to increase awareness of Nazi atrocities by helping to educate other students, particularly non-Jews.
She encouraged students to participate in the Ambassadors of Change Program, also run by the CSYV, in which high schoolers get the opportunity to connect with Holocaust survivors in small groups.
She would also represent the CSYV through class presentations at various schools in the GTA. She would create and distribute booklets with the personal histories of individual Jewish youngsters from the Holocaust era.
The students would each receive a booklet and then they would find out about the fate of the individual child they had learned about. Each booklet had a QR code that the students could scan with their phones to see if the child had survived or perished during the Second World War.
“That part of the presentation always got through [to the students] the most,” Sade said, pointing out that most of the children they learned about did not survive.
She said she also arranged for Holocaust survivors to speak at Havergale, something that had never been done before.
For Sade, the Diana Award brought to mind another prize she received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau four years ago.
In 2016, the Yad Vashem society created the Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award in honour of Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. The award was to recognize individuals showing dedication to Holocaust education. Sade was one of three recipients.
“It was insane,” she recounted. “They didn’t tell me that Prime Minister Trudeau was going to present the award. I was starstruck the entire time. “You realized that the work that you’re doing actually matters. It was an amazing feeling.”
Anti-Israel groups have hijacked student governments on many campuses. Their aggressive, often malicious rhetoric and programs are bigoted and hateful, causing Jewish and pro-Israel students to feel marginalized. Although bigotry against Israel is often considered free speech, it is actually hate speech and antisemitic, at least according to the IHRA definition. It should be socially unacceptable on every university campus in Canada. It is not civil discourse, and far too often, it shuts down any kind of dialogue about the complexities of the Middle East conflict.
These groups are loud, angry, and their demonization of all things Israel contributes to making campus a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The relentless propaganda of the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement to delegitimize Israel has led to overt acts of antisemitism. Although BDS motions are generally toothless and university administrations may disavow them, the damage to student life is real.
From 2012 to 2014, the BDS movement passed 11 anti-Israel resolutions on campuses across the country. Since then, Jewish campus organizations have worked together to defeat such campaigns at 11 universities. Even as we continue addressing challenges on campus, we must become more proactive. We must empower students to educate new audiences, make friends, and create alliances.
We have to bring student leaders to Israel and Israel to students! Working for StandWithUs Canada, the game-changing Israel education organization, I recognized that our community can do more to overcome antisemitism and ignorance on campus.
That is why earlier this year, I asked students who went through StandWithUs Canada’s Emerson Fellowship, which equips student leaders to proudly bring Israel to their campuses while challenging misinformation about the Jewish state, to reach out to student government presidents, executive members, journalists, and influencers on their campuses across the country to offer them an in-depth tour of Israel and the Palestinian Authority – from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Ramallah.
The trip was funded by two wonderful community philanthropists, Tammy Brown and Tamara Fine, their friends, and other members of the community who shared our vision.
StandWithUs Canada led its first campus mission to Israel, called InSight, this past February. I felt so privileged to lead the delegation of 14 prominent student leaders from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, St. John’s, and Winnipeg on a life-changing and educational 10-day adventure.
We started in Jerusalem, where we arrived in time to see the beautiful celebrations at the Western Wall on Shabbat. We toured Yad Vashem, where we learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Student leaders mentioned that they had never learned anything about the Holocaust during any of their school years. I watched the students learn, become emotional, and even shed tears.
We went to Ramallah and Ariel to hear from Israelis and Palestinians, the people on both sides of the conflict. Participants met with students from Ariel University in the West Bank, and asked them what life is like in their community. Later in the day, the students went on a tour at the Achva factory, where they sampled warm halva straight from the mixer.
The group visited Save a Child’s Heart to learn about the humanitarian organization that offers life-saving heart surgeries for babies from the Middle East and North Africa. One day ended with dinner in Usafiya, a Druze village in the north of Israel, at the family home of a student ambassador for peace.
We visited the SodaStream factory in the Negev, where participants saw Palestinians and Israelis working side by side in peaceful coexistence. SodaStream’s facility in the West Bank had been a major target of BDS, and we heard from Palestinian workers about how this anti-Israel campaign endangers their livelihoods.
We visited the Gaza “envelope” – communities and towns that border or are very close to the Gaza Strip, including Sderot so the students could understand the real threat of Hamas terror, with missiles often raining on these places and families driven to bomb shelters with just 15 seconds to find safety.
We heard from Danny Tirza, the architect of the security barrier that was built to stop terrorism from the Palestinian territories during the second intifada. We learned about other security threats Israel faces as well, along with the difficult choices the Israel Defense Forces must often make during emergencies. Participants gained a deeper understanding of how complicated the situation is, and our conversations became more nuanced.
A highlight of the trip was the Ethiopian cultural centre, Beteh, in Tel Aviv. Bettae was created by former StandWithUs employee Ashager Araro. It showcases Ethiopian food and culture. The students learned the story of Ethiopian Jewry and gained a deeper understanding of Israeli society.
Towards the end, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, considered by Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. To cap off this amazing trip, we toured Jaffa and the Peres Centre for Peace, went to the beach, and enjoyed the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv. The students got to see Israel as a complex and vibrant country, a place with a rich and diverse culture, and a home to people who found countless unique ways to make the world a better place.
In the end, this trip resulted in a whirlwind of emotions for everyone. On departing Israel, hearts and minds were more open, more reflective, and more connected. “Though each participant was different, as a group we shared one important trait: Curiosity,” one student wrote. “I was absolutely inspired by the open-mindedness of my peers, their desire to learn, and ask uncomfortable questions.”
I’m very excited about the relationships and partnerships we are building with many diverse campus groups and student leaders from many backgrounds. The more we can build understanding about Jews and Israel, the more allies we will have in the fight against hatred and antisemitism.
Rebecca Katzman is the Campus Director for StandWithUs Canada. She is also an alumna of the 2015-2016 StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellowship. For more about the fellowships and help fighting antisemitism on campus, contact Rebecca at: email@example.com