April 6, 2013 – The end of an era is upon us—the last and the youngest of the Holocaust survivors are dying. These survivors are part of a unique patient population with particular needs who require a new protocol to address their singular challenges.
I am proud to share with you Caring for Holocaust Survivors with Sensitivity at End of Life: A Guidebook for Clinicians, an important educational resource created by Metropolitan Jewish Hospice and Palliative Care (MJHS) in New York and supported in part by Targum Shlishi (additional support came from the MJHS Foundation).
This guide helps train health care professionals, professional caregivers, and community leaders to deal more effectively and compassionately with Holocaust survivors and their families at the end of life. There is an urgent need for this resource: survivors and their families can pose unique challenges, and unfortunately many health care professionals are not aware of the lingering effects of Holocaust trauma on the survivors and therefore lack the tools to deal most effectively and compassionately with this population.
Under the able direction of Toby Weiss, director of Cultural Diversity and Jewish Programming, MJHS has developed this guide rooted in the core Jewish values of compassion, dignity, and respect. We as Jews all share a personal, moral, and professional obligation to care for Holocaust survivors through their final journey, honoring their lives, managing their pain and suffering, and bringing comfort to their families. Caring for this special community is a tremendous privilege and allows us to bear witness to a generation of people whose pain and survival is a legacy from which we must continue to learn.
This is important work, and it is our last chance to do right by the survivors of our people’s greatest tragedy. As I have written in the past, the Jewish community holds a particular responsibility in view of the faults of our history—we were not there to stop the killings, we were not there to bring the murderers to justice, and we were not there to fully honor the memory of the millions who lie nameless in unmarked mass graves. At the very least, let us be there to help the remaining survivors pass away as peacefully as possible.
As we transition from the era of personal memory of the Shoah to a historical narrative of the Holocaust, we must reach out to the survivors and their families with compassion for what they have been through; let us approach this difficult moment with respect for their resilience and tenacity, with appreciation of the meaning and awareness they have bestowed through their memories, and with empathy as they pass through the end of their lives.
Please share this guide with doctors, nurses, other health care practitioners, professional caregivers, community leaders, the families of survivors and anyone else who will find this material helpful or of interest.