When homecare funding for Holocaust victims in Bulgaria was increased in early 2011, the additional allocations available pushed the service to the top of the priority list for elderly survivors. But because homecare was not part of the Bulgarian family-oriented culture, Jewish community leaders had an uphill battle trying to convince those who needed it most of its benefits.
Though Jews in Bulgaria were not killed or deported out of the country during the war, Jewish men were sent to Bulgarian labor camps and Jewish women and children were sent to ghettos as a result of anti-Semitic legislation passed in 1941. Jews living in the Bulgarian-occupied territories of Macedonia and Thrace were sent to concentration camps; about 12,000 were murdered by the Nazis.
About a decade ago, the Claims Conference had pressed the German government intensively to permit Bulgarian survivors to receive pensions. Diligent Claims Conference research revealed new information about the wartime experiences of Bulgaria’s Jews, including the harsh treatment, malnourishment and exploitation of Jewish men who were forced to work as slave laborers.
Out of an estimated 800 Nazi victims today in the 8,000-member Bulgarian Jewish community, 510 receive services from the Claims Conference. And 336 people – fully two-thirds of those Nazi victims we serve – receive homecare.
Direct compensation payments are made from the Central and Eastern European Fund (CEEF) and from the Holocaust Victim Compensation Fund (HVCF). Beginning in January 2013, CEEF payments increased to €300 per month from €260 due to Claims Conference negotiations with the German government, and are now €320. The Claims Conference negotiates on an ongoing basis with the German government to include additional Nazi victims in compensation programs, increase payments, and provide increased funds for social services.
The Claims Conference supports Shalom, the representative and operational body of all 15 local Jewish community branches in Bulgaria. Shalom operates senior day centers in Sofia and the provinces that provide places where older adults living at home can enjoy social, cultural, and therapeutic activities while receiving the medical assistance they require day to day. The Shalom Nazi victim program also provides a daily nutritious hot meal for its participants at canteens in communities throughout the country. For many Nazi victims who cannot shop or cook, this is the only hot meal they eat during the week. In addition, Shalom provides hot meals to homebound Nazi victims.
As the state is currently reducing its support for medical care, Shalom reimburses Nazi victims for many necessary medications and for medical procedures. Shalom also provides essential medications and supplies for a dental care program.
Homecare is provided in all the functioning Jewish communities for clients who are both isolated and homebound. An emergency assistance program provides short-term help to vulnerable Nazi victims, which eases immediate financial burdens. Categories of assistance often include housing-related costs, emergency medical care, medical products such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, and food.
Beginning in 1998, the Claims Conference provided funding for the construction of the Jewish old-age home in Sofia, which included the purchase of equipment for the facility. In 2001, the Claims Conference also provided funding through the Spanish Government contribution to the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund for the old-age home.