New Israeli help for Holocaust survivors

( AP ) - The prime minister unveiled a new package of financial benefits for Holocaust survivors Monday, raising welfare payments for Israelis who became refugees during the Nazi genocide in Europe more than six decades ago.

The announcement followed criticism of the government for not doing enough to help the 240,000 Israelis who survived the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. Today, many of the survivors are elderly and needy.

The package presented by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raises government stipends for the some 80,000 Israelis who fled their homes ahead of Nazi forces and became refugees. Known as the "second circle" of Holocaust survivors, most are from the former Soviet Union and moved to Israel in the 1990s.

The new benefits follow a package announced in August for the "first circle" of survivors - those who lived under direct Nazi rule, in ghettoes and concentration camps.

Olmert said the new aid was "an important moral step" that would correct a grave oversight on Israel's part.

"The state never gave those who survived the Holocaust the attention and resources it put into memorializing those who died in the Holocaust," Olmert said.

The package totals $373 million. Two-thirds of that will go to raising welfare payments for all needy senior citizens, including survivors, while the remaining third is intended more narrowly for survivors.

On top of the increase in welfare handouts, recipients will also be granted new monthly stipends ranging from under $40 to $125, depending on their age and economic situation.

Since August, needy survivors from the "first circle" were guaranteed allowances of $284 a month, with the exact sum also linked to age and income.

Noah Flug, a Holocaust survivor who chairs a consortium of survivors' groups, said the new benefits would make life easier for the one-third of Israeli Holocaust survivors who are poor.

"This is the first time an Israeli government has given serious treatment to this important and painful subject in our history," Flug said. "For years we talked about those who died and forgot about those who went through seven circles of hell and stayed alive."

Before the first of the new benefits were announced in August, survivor benefits were calculated by complex regulations depending on country of origin, where claimants were during the war, when they arrived in Israel, whether they received German government reparations, and other criteria.

Anger at the government's treatment of survivors erupted over the summer. Many elderly survivors charged that Israel had never done enough to support them and that they lacked money for basic necessities, and hundreds of survivors and their supporters demonstrated outside parliament.

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