Selfhelp's services for Holocaust survivors honor the sacred pledge made by our founders: to serve as the last surviving relative to victims of Nazi persecution. This promise remains our imperative. Our overarching goal is to provide Holocaust survivors with the services they need so that they may live with the comfort and dignity they so richly deserve.
Selfhelp operates the oldest and largest program serving Holocaust survivors in North America, caring for over 4,500 elderly and frail individuals. The defining feature of Selfhelp's program is that survivors are served by professionals who work solely with Holocaust survivors – their caseloads are not co-mingled with other elderly.
Remarkably, we have served this population for 80 years – assisting refugees before the war began, and providing vital care to Holocaust survivors since they began arriving on our shores. As this population reaches their 80s and 90s, we remain a steadfast presence in their lives, enabling them to retain their independence, dignity, and quality of life. Our program operates out of seven community-based sites, with locations in midtown Manhattan, Washington Heights, Brooklyn (2), Queens, the Bronx, and Nassau County.
Holocaust survivors are growing older and frailer and their needs are more complex than ever before. In addition to the myriad problems associated with 'normal aging', many survivors have numerous physical and psychological problems directly attributable to their experiences during the Holocaust. Prolonged periods of starvation and exposure to unspeakable atrocities take their toll on body and mind. Further exacerbating their situation, more than 50% of the survivors living in New York City can be classified as 'very poor' or 'near poor' under Federal guidelines.
Through the steadfast support of The Claims Conference, UJA-Federation of New York's Community Initiative for Holocaust Survivors (CIHS), the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), through the Federal Government's Administration for Community Living initiative, the Jewish Communal Fund, The German Government, New York City and New York State Governments, and the generosity of numerous individuals and foundations, Selfhelp is able to provide these high quality services to the survivors in our care.
Click here to learn more about our Holocaust Survivor Outreach Program, funded by Jewish Federations of North America.
The following is an overview of Selfhelp's network of core services for our Holocaust survivors:
Because the crises experienced by survivors can often be traced back to acute loss, dislocation, and deprivation during the Holocaust, survivors usually require sensitive intake and painstaking case-management on an ongoing basis. Selfhelp's professionals are specially trained and well versed in the psychological impact of the Holocaust, and are experts in accessing a wide range of benefits available to survivors. Case management is the unique relationship between client and social worker that begins with an initial evaluation and development of an individualized care plan that will meet the client's needs most effectively. Each caseworker is a highly-skilled advocate for the interests of the client, making sure that the client receives not only optimal care, but also all entitlements for which they are eligible. Case management services can be accessed in any of our offices or more routinely at a client's home.
Housekeeping service helps to keep survivors in their homes by providing clients with biweekly light housework, shopping assistance, laundry, and chore service. This modest amount of service helps to maintain clients in their home environment. Housekeepers are an essential part of the care team.
Many survivors require more intensive home care services, such as personal and medical-related care, in order for them to remain safely at home. Selfhelp's home care agencies provide a full array of home health services, including personal care and skilled nursing. Depending on client needs, services may be provided on a long-term, short-term, or interim basis (when a client is awaiting eligibility). Services are subsidized by the German Government through the Claims Conference for those who cannot afford to pay for private care.
Survivors with emergency needs they cannot afford can apply and receive grants for onetime expenses like medical and dental procedures, Medigap insurance, rent, utility bills, citizenship fees, air conditioners, food, clothing and other needed items and services. These grants which assist with core life needs are critical in maintaining the survivors in the community.
Recreational and social programs enhance the development of relationships, social contacts and communication, and are an effective way to decrease isolation. Our most popular social programs are Selfhelp's Coffee Houses. These programs are held locally in synagogues and community centers and feature refreshments and entertainment. In addition to the Coffee Houses, we also offer events ranging from Passover Seders and Chanukah parties to trips, and other activities such as discussion groups.
An increasing number of survivors encounter difficulty managing their finances due to impediments ranging from diminished vision and reduced motor function to more serious complications including Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Selfhelp's financial management program assists clients using the least restrictive interventions, allowing them to live as independently as possible. Services range from a visiting bookkeeper who assists with bill paying and checkbook balancing to serving as court-appointed guardian in the most severe cases.
Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors from the Former Soviet Union are the fastest growing population of survivors served by Selfhelp. To address the distinct needs of survivors from the Former Soviet Union, in 1986, Selfhelp opened a dedicated office in Brooklyn.
This population tends to be in poor health and extremely destitute, with the vast majority subsisting almost entirely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because they immigrated to the United States in the late 20th century, when they were middle‐aged or older, many have not learned English, and therefore need services provided in their native language. In America and Europe, many Holocaust survivors were helped financially by reparations paid by the West German government, however survivors from the FSU were less fortunate. It wasn’t until after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s that Russian Holocaust survivors received any monies from the German government.
We offer all the services listed above with a unique understanding of this population and their experiences during and after the war. Each year we provide more than 1,000 Russian survivors with enhanced case management, social programs, and referrals for key services such as legal assistance.
Witness Theater, now in its seventh year in New York, is an innovative inter-generational program bringing together Holocaust survivors and high school students to elicit, expose and memorialize the moving stories of survival. Through a guided drama therapy process, group members explore issues of war, loss and trauma while at the same time forming deep and meaningful relationships that dissolve the barriers between generations.
Students and survivors meet in weekly two-hour sessions over the course of the academic year with a trained drama therapist and other program staff. The project culminates in a staged production: the students portray the personal experiences of the group's survivors, while the survivors narrate their own stories. The production is performed for the community and the student body in each high school location.
The program aims to involve Holocaust survivors in a therapeutic process designed to help them come to terms with their past, and at the same time to instill the memory of the Holocaust in the next generation. The public performances serve as a vehicle for the survivors' testimonies to be heard by many and to witness the special connections made between the generations.
Witness Theater was conceived by Irit and Ezra Dagan and developed by JDC-Eshel in Israel. It was brought to New York in 2012 by Selfhelp Community Services, Inc. This year's Witness Theater Program is a collaboration of Selfhelp, UJA-Federation of New York, Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School, SAR High School and Ramaz Upper School and has received generous support from the Sephardic Home for the Aged Foundation. We would also like to express our thanks to the Jewish Communal Fund and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). Their generous support of Witness Theater in prior years enabled us to continue and expand the program.
Volunteers make scheduled friendly visits to homebound clients to provide socialization and companionship, and a community connection. Volunteers also assist at Coffee Houses and other social events, assist in transcribing Holocaust survivors’ life histories, make telephone reassurance calls, or assist in the office. An important aspect of our volunteer program is Selfhelp’s participation with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, a program through which a young German volunteer provides weekly friendly visits and translation assistance to our clients.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with survivors and other older adults, click here