Jews around the world have welcomed this week’s decision by Swiss banks to pay 1.25 billion (b) dollars to survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants.

But in Israel there is anger following revelations that the Israeli government has been withholding some German reparation funds from Holocaust survivors confined to mental hospitals.

The combined funds of the 900-odd patients is estimated to be millions of dollars.

Around 900 of the 360-thousand Holocaust survivors in Israel live in mental hospitals.

Most are there as a result of the traumas they suffered under the Nazis.

Some have accumulated vast sums of money in reparation funds from the German government.

Because of their mental illness, they are wards of state, and their bank accounts are administered by the court-appointed Fund for the Care of Dependants.

Assa Casher, from Tel Aviv University, estimates the total funds may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“Unofficial estimates are of several hundreds of million of dollars being run by this body, and as we can judge from looking at the results it is not run for the best benefit of the patients.”
SUPER CAPTION: Professor Assa Casher, Tel Aviv university

Many have been institutionalised since the 1940s and 50s when they arrived in Israel.

They live like any other mental patient in Israel. But with the benefit of the trust fund life could have been made a little easier.

Avner Elitsur, director of the psychiatric ward, in the Abarbanel hospital, says when a purchase is not exclusively for a patient’s personal use, it is not authorised by the trust.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“Once they discover that the money is for a group of patients and not for individual patients they stop giving the money.”
SUPERCAPTION: Avner Elitsur, director of the psychiatric ward

The Fund for the Care of Dependants is supervised by the government’s General Custodian for Wards, attorney Shmuel Tsur.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“Our policy is that the money of the independents is private money, and the custodian can use it for the welfare of the independent.”
SUPERCAPTION: Shmuel Tsur, General Custodian

But when the hospital recently applied for money to install air conditioners and televisions it was turned down on the grounds that other patients in the room would also benefit.

The hospital director pointed out that all the patients in the room were also Holocaust survivors – but the Trust continued to deny the funding.

The Trust only approves individual items such as clothes and medical treatment.

Now, however, Tsur says he is willing to consider any plans to improve life for the patients.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“I am ready to consider any plan or any suggestions how to use the money of the custodians in order to improve their situation and improve upgrading and making upgrades of the facilities.”
SUPERCAPTION: Shmuel Tsur, General Custodian

But for many of these ageing patients, it is getting too late to improve their lives.

And when they die, the money will revert to the state.

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