Born in 1940, Larissa Geltman survived the Holocaust by fleeing with her family to a small town in the Ural Mountains soon after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. She recalls paying a heavy price for being Jewish growing up in the Urals, having been bullied severely in school, “but I never hid my identity,” she proudly says. Today, that Jewish identity—and the caring support Larissa receives from her Jewish community—are literally keeping her alive.
More than 122,000 vulnerable elderly Jews across the former Soviet Union benefit today from critical social services provided by the network of Hesed centers that JDC helped establish over the past two-plus decades and other community organizations. This total includes nearly 56,000 victims of World War II-era Nazi persecution, like Larissa, who benefit from a wide range of services funded by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). The cost of delivering food to Holocaust survivors—a critical component of these services—is supported, in part, by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews’ (IFCJ) newly established Food and Medicine Lifeline for impoverished elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union.
These services have meant the world to Larissa. After graduating from a local university in the Urals with a degree in mathematics, Larissa returned to St. Petersburg for graduate studies, and worked for 30 years at the Russian Geological Research Institute. When she was in her sixties, she contracted a disease that affected her spine and, despite five operations, was left with very limited mobility. But Larissa refused to let her physical difficulties end her career. She used equipment specially designed by her friends to continue working while lying flat in bed.
Unfortunately, Larissa’s health continued to deteriorate. She no longer hears or sees well and struggles to get by on a small monthly pension. Living alone in a one-room apartment, and with no family to turn to for help, Larissa has been dependent since 1998 on the compassionate support she receives from the staff of Hesed Eva. They provide her with 25 hours of home care each week to assist with bathing, cooking, cleaning, and other everyday activities that are now impossible for Larissa to handle alone, as well as food, medicine, and medical consultations.
The unprecedented increase in German government funding secured by the Claims Conference in recent years is vital in addressing the growing needs of survivors as their health and mobility deteriorate with age. This support has enabled the Heseds to significantly expand home care services, increasing both the number of care hours and the number of beneficiaries.
Faina Antonovskaya, 82 and living alone in Tula in central Russia, counts herself fortunate that she does not need home care at present. However, since 1999, she, too, has benefited from Claims Conference-funded assistance, provided through Hesed Neshama.
Faina and her family took refuge in the Orenburg region during World War II, living in a small room at the factory where her father found work. Her mother brought home the family’s sole daily fare of cabbages, cucumbers, and tomatoes from her job at the local collective farm. Returning to Tula at war’s end, Faina graduated from college and worked for many years at a publishing house, retiring in 1987.
Faina’s husband died soon after, and her pension was so small that she needed to find work as a courier in order to make ends meet. She’s too old for that now, so the food, medicines, and medical assistance she receives from Hesed Neshama are what keep Faina going, and allow her to live with dignity.