JFS striving to help St. Louis Holocaust survivors age with dignity


Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Irina’s son, Aleks, was always close to his mother. When she was admitted to hospice in 2021, Irina was started on a liquid diet and her nutritional supplements were very expensive and not covered by hospice. Additionally, Irina began having incontinence issues and hospice did not cover the cost of essential supplies, like hygiene wipes, necessary to keep her clean. Irina nor her family (who asked that their last names not be used for privacy reasons) could afford these items on their own. Irina is a Holocaust survivor living in St. Louis. Many survivors and their families are left to navigate tough situations like this, not realizing help is just a phone call away.

Jewish Family Services

For more than 150 years, Jewish Family Services (JFS) has been dedicated to helping seniors in the St. Louis Jewish community age with dignity. Some of these seniors are among the estimated 50,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States. More than one-third of them are estimated to live in poverty.

“In 2020, we began seeing an increase in the volume of calls from Holocaust survivors in the St. Louis region who were trying to access benefits through Claims Conference and Blue Card,” said Bethany Goff, director of JFS’ Older Adult Services. “They faced an uphill battle.”

Bethany Goff, director of JFS’ Older Adult Services.

This battle is because many of these programs that offer much-needed services to St. Louis families like Irina’s require an intermediary to register and process each survivor’s request for support.


“As we began to see the increased need, JFS stepped in to advocate for Holocaust survivors,” said Goff.

The programs

Holocaust survivors were persecuted by the Nazis and underwent major traumatic experiences. As they age, many become vulnerable and are plagued with modern-day consequences of surviving, including poor nutrition and minimal medical care.

As a result, Claims Conference was founded in 1951 to negotiate compensation and restitution for those persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. This global organization helps Holocaust survivors access in-home support services to help them age safely at home.

Additionally, The Blue Card was founded to provide assistance to Holocaust survivors living in the United States who are in need of financial support for medical and dental care not covered by other insurance or benefits.

Each program requires applications and assessments to be completed. Survivors are unable to access these benefits on their own; Claims Conference and The Blue Card require a case manager from an authorized Jewish organization apply on behalf of the survivor.

JFS and its Older Adults Services Team is where the survivors can find this help.

The Older Adults Services Team

Luckily for Irina and her family, she was already working with JFS. Aleks immediately contacted Irina’s JFS case manager for support.

Anna Hale, the Holocaust Survivor Benefits case manager.

“Since Irina is a Holocaust survivor, her JFS case manager had already connected her to Claims Conference for much-needed in-home assistance. After learning about her son’s concerns, the case manager applied for financial assistance through The Blue Card, and a program called “Family-to-Family,” which connects survivors with sponsor families who provide them additional financial support,” said Anna Hale, the Holocaust Survivor Benefits case manager.

The process to receive approval can be emotionally draining and the case managers are trained to help Holocaust survivors and their families as the process unfolds.

To apply for the program, Holocaust survivors are required to recount their stories.

“Irina tried to recount her life in a ghetto, but it was difficult for her to communicate. Her son, Aleks, stepped in to share his mother’s story,” said Hale. “Emotions were high as Aleks described the atrocities his mother witnessed. Part of my role includes providing emotional support to the family of survivors like Irina, who struggle to process the real-life trauma their family members experienced.”

As a result of the case manager’s intervention, Irina was paired with a sponsor family. Additionally, Hale worked closely with Irina and Aleks to apply for the United Way’s 100 Neediest Cases, which provides financial assistance to St. Louis families and individuals struggling to make ends meet.

Now, they are spending the final days of Irina’s life cherishing the memories they have made together.

How to get help

Over the years, the number of survivors JFS has assisted continued to climb. In 2022, JFS connected 177 survivors to nearly $4 million dollars in eligible benefits. Currently, JFS has a dedicated Holocaust Survivor Benefits Coordinator/Case Manager to directly support the St. Louis community of survivors.

If you or someone you know is a Holocaust survivor in the St. Louis area, JFS encourages you to reach out for support. For specific questions about Holocaust Benefits, contact the JFS Holocaust Survivor Benefits Coordinator at 314-812-9335.

For other older adult resource information or general questions, contact ElderLink at 314-812-9300.