June 21, 2024
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Holocaust Survivors Receive Special Care at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine

(Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ) A Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) program provides free dental care to Holocaust survivors, whose oral health is often compromised because of the neglect and malnutrition they suffered during World War II.

The program, developed through a partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, is funded by a donation from RSDM Professor Dr. Howard Drew, whose parents survived the Holocaust. So far, nearly a dozen survivors have been receiving treatment, but organizers are hoping to let others throughout the tri-state region know that the services are available.

“There’s a great need among survivors to have affordable and accessible dental care,’’ said RSDM Dean Cecile A. Feldman. “They have so much to teach us about humanity and the strength to endure unfathomable cruelty and hardship. As a society we owe them a great debt. They deserve all the compassion and support that we can give them.’’

The Jewish Federations of North America estimates that there are about 80,000 Holocaust survivors nationwide. Many are 85 and older, and as many as one in three live in poverty. Social isolation, poor health and depression are common.

Although some are survivors of concentration camps, many were young children who fled their homelands and took refuge in other nations or went into hiding, where food and medical attention were scarce.

Patient Helen Bright, 85, left her home at age 6 when the Nazis invaded Paris in 1942. She survived the Holocaust by staying with a series of rural families who were paid to harbor Jewish children. One family starved the children in their care, while others weren’t able to meet more than basic needs. Both her father and brother died at Auschwitz. Bright came to the U.S. in 1959 and is now a resident of Livingston.

During the pandemic, her dental problems worsened because she avoided cleanings and other preventive care. When she began treatment, she was in need of two root canals and restorative work. Since her visits began, she’s been happy with the treatment she’s received from students, residents, faculty and staff. “They are not only nice, but I know they are competent, too. I can’t thank them enough. They are wonderful,’’ she said.

At RSDM, survivors are treated by a team of students, residents and faculty who are being trained by the Federation and Jewish Family Service of Central NJ on person-centered, trauma-informed care and issues that face survivors.

Among her providers has been Drew and his son, Alexander, a private practice prosthodontist and faculty member at RSDM. They have established a personal connection with many of the patients. “Every time I work on a survivor, I see my parents in front of me,’’ said Drew, whose mother is 95 years old. “She is a very special person, and so was my father. And all of these people are incredibly special, too.’’

Holocaust survivors interested in treatment at RSDM can call 973-972-5304 to make an appointment.

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