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Boldface Aid for Shoah Victims

Blossom director Zane Buzby offers financial support to a group of tragically overlooked Holocaust survivors

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Zane Buzby with Eva Semyonovna, 85, at her home in Grodno, Belarus. Semyonovna was orphaned during the Holocaust. She is diabetic and lives alone. (Courtesy Zane Buzby)
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“My pension allows me to buy only bread and milk … and I am already an old and ill person,” Raisa Kivovna, from Uman, Ukraine, wrote in a letter to Buzby. “My legs almost don’t work; I practically crawl around the apartment. … My entire health I gave to my country, which now has no need of me. I have been accustomed to hunger since childhood. I wanted, at least in old age, to live in a human way.”

Why not leave Eastern Europe and build a new life in the West? Some are too frail to move, others refuse to abandon the birthplace of their ancestors, and still others have long been afraid to leave in case a long-lost sister or uncle came back. “They just stayed, hoping for someone—anyone—to appear,” Buzby said.

“It’s tragic that there are survivors living below the poverty line, lonely souls in remote villages,” said Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in L.A., which hosted the Survivor Mitzvah Project last year for a benefit at which actors, including Ed Asner and Elliott Gould, gave dramatic readings of the survivors’ letters. “It’s a great mitzvah, what Zane is doing.”

These days, Buzby spends much of her time poring over a massive spreadsheet on a computer in her basement. Scrolling through the database, she can point out who needs a walker, whose sister is in the hospital, who takes care of a handicapped adult son. She recently bought a new set of pots and pans for an elderly woman whose home was burglarized. When necessary, she sends money to pay for a Jewish gravestone.

The Survivor Mitzvah Project operates on small grants and donations from individuals and family foundations. Last year Buzby traveled to Europe three times and distributed about $425,000 to the survivors in her care. Corresponding with 2,000 people is a complex and time-consuming operation, but Buzby has help from three part-time employees and a volunteer Russian translator. She has received close to 10,000 letters over the years, which she dutifully scans, translates, and preserves in plastic sleeves tucked into rows of overstuffed binders in the organization’s modest downtown office. There, the walls bear framed pictures of the people Buzby has met. Their faces tell the story of their circumstances: wrinkled cheeks, glassy eyes, leathery skin. But the photographs tell of newfound friendship and community, too: a hand on a shoulder, a kiss on the forehead.

Warmth pours from the survivors’ handwritten pages: “Your letter for me is like a little ray of sunshine in the darkness.” “You have become like a close relative and closest friend to me.” “I can’t believe there are such nice people in the world.” “Now I am not alone.”

Buzby is now directing and producing, with partner Conan Berkeley, a documentary called Family of Strangers, highlighting the stories of those she has met on her many trips overseas. She hopes to finish it soon; she knows the clock is ticking for its subjects. “We weren’t around in 1941 to help these people, but we can do something now,” Buzby said. “We can save the life of a survivor. When are we going to have this opportunity again?”

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sonia waterwindstars says:

I am very familiar with this wonderful one-of-a-kind organization. Although the word “organization” correctly applies, the group of people making it work is very small and dedicated. Zane is a ball of energy and well of deep concern for each and every one of the survivors who are helped. The human link between the helpers here and the survivors there quickly becomes very personal through the exchange of letters and photos in addition to the financial assistance offered. If our grandparents or great-grandparents had not had the foresight, funds. courage and pure luck to emigrate from Eastern Europe when that was still possible, we are the ones who would need help and friendship — that is, if we had survived, and it’s a big if, the Shoah.

What about UJA? they claim to help Jews all over the world! They collect lots of donations – they should participate in this project for sure!

What a kiddush Hashem. Kudos to you Zane for highlighting such a worthy cause.

Zane Buzby is truly one of the Good People. As a funder of her special work for the past few years I know exactly how passionate she is about what she does and how much this quest costs in terms of time, energy and personal sacrifice. What is most confounding to me is why it is so difficult to raise both awareness and funds for these elders who have been through so much and for whom time on this earth is quickly passing. Know that a sum as modest as $25 or $50, or even $100 can mean the difference between having medicine, some warmth in the harsh winters most experience…the simplest things we all take for granted. Look at some of the amazing films Zane has produced as she trudges along in these remote and desolate towns where so many live in abject poverty–they are remarkable in their simplicity and their starkness.
This is a mitzvah that each of us could perform with very little personal cost–truly one of the best returns on an investment.

Such a shame and such a mitzvah.

I don’t think it’s the only fund that does this work. I used to contribute to Action for Post-Soviet Jewry (when I was employed). They used to promise aid to individuals in need.

shelbypanayotou says:

my best friend’s mother makes $74 hourly on the computer. She has been unemployed for 8 months but last month her check was $16000 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on  Fab99.c­om

Fernanda says:

Why isn’t the German People paying for all this? It blows my mind how they remain immaculate without any gilt for what they caused.

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Boldface Aid for Shoah Victims

Blossom director Zane Buzby offers financial support to a group of tragically overlooked Holocaust survivors

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