The day her classmates found her real name written inside her school books, Betty Goldberg was certain the Nazis would come for her.
But the other children in the French countryside kept her secret. The 9-year-old Jewish girl, who lived in Paris before a railroad stationmaster took her in and pretended she was his daughter, survived.
She lived through four years of war without seeing her mother, who hid in a nearby butcher’s home, and without knowing her father’s fate after government-owned trains carted him off to Auschwitz one night in 1941.
Today, resilience is thick in her throat, even as she croons to her robotic cat, Fifi — a recent souvenir from a year in a pandemic and the name of her childhood kitten before the Nazis arrived and upended her family’s life.
But at 88, Goldberg needs round-the-clock care in her Gulfport apartment, where she and her home health aide Dalia can overlook the waters of the bay as Goldberg sings in French, Spanish or Yiddish (she’ll take requests).
Until recently, Goldberg was paying out-of-pocket for the care she receives from aides like Dalia — a service that can cost around $4,000 a week.
“I was afraid I’d die destitute,” Goldberg said.
Late last year, amid the pandemic, more victims of the Holocaust became eligible for aid from the German government — there’s increased funding for services like home care, which is often critical for aging survivors.
“At the end of the war, they thought there were only 300,000 survivors worldwide,” said Cindy Minetti, senior director of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, which helps victims with applications for restitution claims. “Today, there’s still about 300,000 survivors worldwide — they’re people who didn’t necessarily qualify before, or didn’t know they qualified.”
Such assistance can be crucial. About a third of Holocaust survivors in Florida, as in the rest of the country, live in poverty, she said.
As these survivors grow older, they need more help — much of Gulf Coast’s work centers around ensuring they can stay in their homes as they age.
“It’s very traumatic for a survivor to go into an institutional facility like a nursing home, because they lose a lot of agency,” Minetti said. “It can bring back memories of being in ghettos or in hiding.”
The organization receives money from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which negotiates with the German government on behalf of survivors, to help pay for victims’ home health care.
But making sure all eligible Holocaust survivors are aware of these opportunities can be a challenge.
“We make sure our clients know,” said Marlene Wain, a case manager at Gulf Coast. “But when it comes to people who aren’t our clients and would be eligible, it’s hard. We promote things in the Jewish press, we let the synagogues know, but it’s difficult to get the word out beyond that.”
An estimated 1,000 Holocaust survivors live in the Tampa Bay area, according to Wain. The nonprofit organization currently serves about 250 of them across Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Still, that number is growing. “Just in the last month, we’ve had about 10 new clients, because of these new opportunities for restitution for them,” Minetti said.
Broadening the scope of survivors
Since 1951, the German government has paid more than $80 billion to Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, according to the Claims Conference, which distributes these funds to individuals and social service organizations.
Eligibility for reparations has changed over years of negotiations — it now includes Jewish people who were living in areas that the Nazi government invaded but did not conquer, such as the former Soviet Union, and Jews who suffered persecution in places like French Morocco as a result of Nazi occupation. More recently, survivors in “open ghettos” were included, and the limits on the level of income and assets a victim could have to receive services were increased.
“A lot of people, when they think of the Holocaust, think of the survivors as people who were in concentration camps,” Minetti said. “But that’s just one type of survivor.”
Different categories of survivors receive different types of restitution — some are eligible for direct cash payments from the German government, others receive pension as compensation for their persecution. Survivors that are approved for restitution are also eligible for services, such as in-home care and case management.
In October 2020, recognizing the hardship the pandemic had wrought on Holocaust survivors, the German government agreed to again expand eligibility requirements and increase home care payments for elderly Holocaust victims.
Now, Holocaust survivors who lived in open ghettos in Bulgaria and Romania are eligible for direct financial compensation.
The change also increased funding for social welfare services like home health care by around $36 million dollars.
Starting this year, more people like Goldberg, who was featured in a 2017 Tampa Bay Times story about restitution from France for their role in the Holocaust, can receive free home care assistance.
The money has allowed Gulf Coast to offer the service to additional victims. Many survivors are also eligible for additional hours of care due to recent changes.
The level of home care a Holocaust survivor can receive is based on a combination of their persecution status and their health needs. Some elderly victims with complex medical conditions are eligible for round-the-clock free care. Funding from the German government will pay for up to 105 hours of Goldberg’s weekly home care assistance in 2021.
“They decided to compensate the few Jews that were left,” Goldberg said. “But it took them many years. I think they were hoping that everybody would be dead by that time, and they wouldn’t have to give any money.”
Goldberg was reunited with her parents after the war. Her father had survived four years in Auschwitz due to a stroke of luck — a Nazi commander was taken with his tenor singing voice, and threw her father pieces of bread after he performed German songs for the officers.
Once, the commander intervened when another guard was about to shoot him, Goldberg said.
“When we returned to our Paris apartment, everything was stolen,” Goldberg recalled. “My mother and I had to sleep on the floor, but at least we were free.”
The family moved to Brooklyn in 1951, where Goldberg found a good job in an import-export company. Then 20 years ago, after her own daughter moved out of the house, Goldberg and her husband made Florida their home.
Her life has been full, she’s quick to express gratitude — but her memories of her time in hiding are vivid.
“Of course, they can never compensate [me] for — for what I went through,” Goldberg said. “All the agony and fright. I was nine years old, and my father was already in a concentration camp.”
Even with these changes, the funding Gulf Coast receives from the Claims Conference is still not enough to cover all the needs of local survivors, Minetti said.
“We still have a shortfall of about $1 million dollars a year in unmet needs,” she said. “New people come to us every year, and not just when they’re newly eligible or have just found out about us — sometimes, they’re just at the point in their lives where they need help.
“Maybe they were self-sufficient before,” she added. “But the longer you need this kind of care, the less you can afford it.”
The Claims Conference is negotiating with the German government to extend increased funding for home care hours beyond 2021, Minetti said.
To get help
If you live in the Tampa Bay area and have questions about whether you qualify as a Holocaust survivor who can receive restitution from the German government, contact Gulf Coast’s Holocaust Survivor Program at 727-479-1811.
If you live outside the region, you can contact the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany on their website.