About 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in
Israel today, many of whom were children during the war. They experienced
persecution, deportation, selection, forced labor, hunger, torture and loss of
families. After the war, these survivors tried to build a normal life in Israel;
they worked hard to provide security for their new families. Not everyone
60 years after the war, the emotional scars of the survivors are highly
Clinical experience shows that about 40,000 elderly Holocaust
survivors still suffer from the late effects of trauma exposure early in life.
Some of these survivors struggled with psychological distress in the distant
past and remained symptom free for decades only to have a recurrence in late
life when they are alone and less busy with work. They now suffer from anxiety,
depression and psycho-somatic disorders as well as loneliness and isolation.
Elderly survivors are also vulnerable to the military tension in Israel.
While there may be only a small proportion of survivors who presumably
suffer from acute mental distress, they are all a population at risk. Many
studies have indicated that because of survivors' inherent vulnerability, latent
anxieties surface when they are exposed to stress. Israeli welfare and health
services have insufficient professional experience in how to assist survivors
and their families.
Because they fear the stigma connected with
emotional problems and as a result of years of silence, Holocaust survivors are
generally apprehensive about turning to mental health services with their
psychiatric problems. In addition, some elderly survivors with special needs
feel estranged within the municipal senior citizen clubs. Moreover, they often
feel uncomfortable using local community services, such as family, health, and
social security. Professionals working in these busy institutions generally lack
the necessary understanding and professional experience to provide substantial
help. Their relation to Holocaust survivors has been described as
"victimo-phobia", analogous to "geronto-phobia" - the aversion to aged clients,
according to Professor Haim Dasberg, one of Amcha's founders.
mid 1980s, the world related to Holocaust survivors with a kind of "conspiracy
of silence." Nobody talked about the Holocaust and nobody asked about it. Today
much of this has changed and there is a general interest in this tragic period
of the Jewish people. Youth are traveling to Poland and survivors are invited to
schools to talk about their experiences. However, while much of the general
attitude towards Holocaust survivors has changed, little attention is given to
their special needs in old age: their need for a safe environment in which they
can continue to mourn their immense losses and find some peace of
In order to overcome the limitations of the existing services,
Amcha was founded in 1987 by a group of devoted Holocaust survivors and mental
health professionals, led by the late Manfred Klafter. Aware of the survivors'
distrust of clinical psychiatry, they decided to focus on non-material,
psychosocial and largely preventive support, rather than on mental health
treatment per se. The goal was to create a framework for mutual aid, memory
processing and grief resolution, as well as a place where survivors and their
families could feel at home and be understood.
Amcha - The code word
that helped survivors identify fellow Jews in war ravaged Europe now stands for
another kind of support system: The opportunity for survivors and their families
to unburden their hearts and share their life stories with another person.
Amcha has steadily expanded over the past years. Today there are 12
centers that operate throughout the country, and various programs are provided
also in many other locations. Over 190 mental health professionals and 600
volunteers provide services to almost 10,000 clients.
earned a reputation around the world for its work, and the integrity,
competence, and professionalism it bring to every project. It has opened its
doors to various survivor communities all around Israel and has established
state-of-the-art mental health clinics, social support networks and home care
services for the aged in these locations. Through its pioneering work, Israel is
today filled with psychosocial support centers that offer services specifically
for Holocaust survivors, in their own language. During Holocaust Memorial Day,
there is a telephone hotline open for everybody and many art and cultural
programs that bridge the gap between the survivor and the non-survivor
population and between the old and the young. Along with the expertise of its
professional staff, the dedication of its volunteers is
Community services that refer clients to Amcha include the
rehabilitation services for the disabled, health agencies, family physicians,
mental health centers, municipal social service units, Social Security services,
old age homes and various other public institutions. In addition, many survivors
come by themselves, or with their children.
But our work continues. We
have not solved every problem, nor eradicated every danger. The most obvious
difficulty is that the age of the survivors is reaching 80 and their physical
and emotional health is deteriorating. In addition, the threat of terrorism and
violence is real and persistent and this may exacerbate the old war trauma of
the survivor. Finally, financial hardship has become very common among the
elderly survivors who live only of small pensions.
Amcha is able to meet
these challenges confidently, from a position of unprecedented strength. We have
the experience, and the resolve, to continue to provide for Holocaust survivors
as long as it is needed. With the help of our friends from Israel and abroad, we
also hope to continue to receive the resources that make all this work possible.