Thursday, April 26, 2012

Time is running out for Survivors in Eastern Europe

Zane Buzby & Eva K. (Belarus)
Scattered across Eastern Europe there are thousands of elderly Holocaust Survivors in desperate need of food, medicine, heat and shelter. Most are sole survivors of their families who were brutally murdered by the Nazis, some are survivors of the killing fields where hundreds of thousands of men women and children were systematically massacred in every town and village on the path of the German invasion, some fought with the Russians or were Partisans in the forests of Belarus, and some were slaves in the Gulag long after the war ended. All are elderly and in dire need of help.
I am a television comedy director by trade, having directed over 200 sitcoms for all of the major networks. During a hiatus between Golden Girls and Blossom, I decided to take a brief journey to Eastern Europe in order to find the birthplaces of my grandparents. In Lithuania, I met the brilliant Professor Dovid Katz of Vilnius University who urged me to stop along my way and visit 8 elderly, isolated Holocaust survivors living in tiny towns and villages in Belarus. He told me to bring food, medicine, reading materials and American dollars. My visit to these people was both life-changing and inspiring.

As soon as I crossed the border, it was as if I had gone back in time 100 years. No cars, only horse drawn wagons, little slanted huts, no shops or restaurants, only endless fields, ancient apple orchards left fallow and the ghosts of millions.
The only sign of what were once thriving Jewish communities for Centuries were markers for mass graves from Hitler’s SS Einsatzgruppen – mobile killing squads - and desecrated cemeteries - tombstones half buried, dating before the time of Napoleon.
And suddenly, a revelation: here and there, the "last of the Mohicans," elderly Holocaust survivors in dire straits, barely struggling to survive.
I returned to Hollywood and the world of comedy but I couldn’t get these people out of my mind. What would become of them? How would they last through the harsh winter? Who could they turn to? I was compelled by a force much greater than myself to take action. I contacted everyone I knew, all of my friends and all of the members of my family and started to collect money and send it on to Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Professor Katz stayed in touch with me and every time he made an expedition to Ukraine, Belarus, Slokavkia, Lithuania to study dialects and languages, he also sought out elderly and forgotten Holocaust survivors and emailed me their names and addresses. My list started to grow. From 8 people it became 35, then 120, and now it has grown to well over 1500 people in 7 countries. With Dovid Katz’s help, and aid from philanthropist Chic Wolk, The Survivor Mitzvah Project was born.
The Survivor Mitzvah Project is dedicated to providing direct financial aid to those elderly and forgotten Jewish Holocaust survivors scattered throughout Eastern Europe who are sick, impoverished, isolated and receive no aid from any other agency. Their families and communities destroyed by the Nazis, they struggle to survive in their few remaining years, lacking the means to buy even the most basic of human necessities: food, medicine, heat and shelter. Most live alone in horrific conditions. Our project, by bringing help quickly and directly to these survivors, helps ensure that they may live out their last years with some measure of comfort, support, and dignity. Your donation goes directly into the hands of an elderly, impoverished, Holocaust Survivor.

~ Zane Buzby

No comments: