Thursday, 13 December 2012

Zoltan Zinn Collis

I was saddened to hear of the death of Holocaust survivor Zoltan Zinn Collis on Monday last. Zoltan was one of the last surviving Holocaust survivors and he settled in my home town of Athy. Zoltan Zinn was born in Slovakia in 1940, son of a Jewish labourer and a Hungarian Protestant woman. His father was suspected to have died in Ravensbruck in 1945. He had two sisters and one brother. His youngest sister died at age one and a half years old in transit to Bergen-Belsen. At a talk in our youth club, Zoltan recalled that a Nazi soldier, realising that the infant was dead, took her from her mothers arms and threw her out of the carriage. Zoltan's brother Aladar developed TB and died in Bergen-Belsen in 1945. On April 15th 1945 Zoltan's mother died, this was the same day that the Red Cross had come to save them.
The head of the Red Cross at this time was an Irish doctor called Bob Collis. Dr. Collis was accompanied by a Dutch nurse Han Hogerzeil (who was later to become his second wife) and called Dr. Collis to look at "the most enchanting scrap of humanity" she had found. It was Zoltan, who, upon meeting Dr Collis promptly informed him in German "My father is dead, you are now my father". Dr Collis kept his word to Zoltan and took him, his sister Edit and three other children back to Ireland without travel documents. Homes were found for the three other children and according to Zoltan, two of these children became the first legal Irish adoptees. Zoltan and Edit stayed with Doctor Collis. 

Zoltan began talking about his experiences in 1995 when the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust was marked. He spoke in schools, universities, youth clubs etc. all around the country hoping to ensure that we "never forget". I remember when Zoltan visited our youth club in Athy a number of years ago. It was something else to see our normally boisterous members transfixed and so silent that one might have heard a pin drop. Just silence and the quiet tones of Zoltan, this man who most of us had seen around our small,sleepy town telling his extraordinary story.
As one of the last handful of Holocaust survivors in Ireland he said he felt a strong obligation to speak to people about the 12 million that died. He was very eager that he didn't want to sound like "a saint or something" but determined to get these stories out there for other people who weren't so lucky. He was very conscious that when he mentioned it that people might think 'Oh not the bloody holocaust again'. He was also very conscious of the events going on in  Darfur or Sri Lanka, the Bosnian conflicts, Lebanon, Palestine and that precious little had changed in the world today and that something was very wrong in the world when someone like George Clooney had to plead with the UN  to do something in Darfur.
That night in the youth club, no one was thinking 'not the bloody Holocaust again', that night was emotional, extraordinary and alongside the horrific subject matter was interspersed Zoltan's wit, particularly when talking about himself. This wonderful man, small in stature and physically transformed by TB, stood in front of us and told us his story.

Zoltan wrote the book Final Witness: My Journey from the Holocaust to Ireland, and I would highly recommend picking up a copy.

Zoltan Zinn Collis died on Monday 10th December 2012 aged 72, survived by his wife Joan, sister Edit , brother Robbie, his daughters Siobhán, Caroline, Nichola and Emma, grandchildren Tony, Adam, Molly and Cillian, great-grandchildren Chloe, Tori and C.J. relatives and friends.
He will be sorely missed in our little town.

Finally, definitely, at last
Zoltan Zinn Collis

Friday, 7 December 2012

Targeting the most vulnerable

I'll get back to writing about SPUC next week, but in light of Ireland's Budget, I feel the need to focus on some of the points that will hit people, particularly the most vulnerable, hardest.

The targeting of people who have a disability hits particularly close to home for me.
The Respite Care Grant is paid to those caring for someone with a disability, this grant is paid to more than 77,000 families in the country, 20,000 of whom receive no other support from the state for providing full-time care for a family member. It is used by carers to buy home care or pay for residential respite care, in order to give them a break from their caring role. Mostly during the recession it has been used to pay bills or buy other necessities for people. The annual grant has been cut by €325 to €1,375. Many carers work 24/7, 365 days of year. Carers reduce the cost of caring for the government. They free up beds in hospitals and nursing homes and they reduce the costs of medical personnel. They assist with the medical needs and psychological needs of loved ones. They provide  900,000 hours of care daily, carers save the state €4 billion every year. They are often praised, and rightly so, as unsung heroes. Unfortunately praise and rhetoric don't pay the bills! The government talk out of both sides of their mouth on this, they sing the praises of carers on one day and then cut their meagre incomes the next. It is sickening that Pat Rabbitte refers to this €325 decrease as a "modest" cut, but then I assume €325 would be a modest cut on his salary.

Along with the Respite Grant cut, a number of weeks before the budget, the HSE cut the gluten free product allowance for Coeliacs. Gluten Free breads, pastas and cereals are more expensive and those on low incomes could avail of them by medical card or through the Drugs Payment scheme. It is worth mentioning that people with certain disabilities are more prone to Coeliac Disease. During this run of cuts, other medications were also targeted. Two medications prominently used by older people were taken from the scheme. Glucosamine,which deals with wear and tear of the joints in osteoarthritis patients and Omega 3 triglycerides ,which are beneficial in conjunction with cholesterol-lowering drugs, and are often prescribed by cardiac doctors. In my own family, both my sister and my mother have Coeliac Disease, my mother is also my sister's carer. Gluten free food costs, on average, four times more than their ordinary counterparts. That €325 cut is starting to appear less and less "modest".
As well as taking foods off the medical cards and Drug Refund schemes, to add insult to injury, for those (un)fortunate to still retain their medical card the prescription charge has been trebled. James Reilly,who once said he wanted to abolish the prescription charge, raised the charge from €0.50 to €1.50. This may not sound like much to most people but to put it in perspective, a person covered by a medical card, who previously paid no more than €10 a month, will now be liable for up to €19.50 per month. It was also revealed that the nursing homes support scheme — a Fair Deal that began providing financial support for people assessed as needing long-term nursing home care is also being changed. Currently, the loan is paid after death with a levy of up to 15% on the person’s estate over three years. The levy is now being increased to 22.5% over the same period.

I know there was some good natured cribbing about the price of wine etc. on Budget Day but please remember all those who have been hit so hard that wine and beer are the least of their worries.
Unlike the government, don't forget that this government promised :"to ensure that the quality of life of people with disabilities was enhanced and that resources would be allocated reach the people who need them".
I challenge any government minister to walk a mile in their shoes!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

What SPUC thinks? Part one

I wrote about the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) last week, detailing their involvement in Ireland and highlighting that (like almost all other 'pro-life' groups) that the majority of  their followers are US based, thanks to Geoff's Shorts. While doing my research on SPUC I couldn't help but note that they have some strange ideas about many issues so I felt they deserved another post or two.

SPUC's attitude to equal marriage rights
SPUC are unsurprisingly anti-same sex marriage, citing the various platitudes that we've come to know and hate during their campaign. They strive to create a difference between 'real' marriage and 'gay' marriage. Most reasonable people know there is no difference. However, SPUC maintain that they have to protect 'real' marriage in order to protect the unborn, citing that their statistics show that unborn children are "four or five times more likely to be aborted outside of real marriage". Now aside from the slur that same-sex marriage isn't 'real' marriage according to SPUC, could someone also enlighten me as to how same-sex marriage could lead to more abortions? If two men get married then, by virtue of their biology, neither of them could get pregnant, accidentally or otherwise, and therefore are highly unlikely to procure an abortion. Likewise,unless in the case of a tragic incident, if two women marry they would only find themselves with child after a long and carefully considered process, making it highly unlikely that they would seek an abortion; far less likely than a heterosexual woman in a traditional marriage who had gotten pregnant by accident.
I'm inclined to go with George Carlin on this one "Leave these f**kin people alone for chrissake!"
SPUC's campaign against marriage rights can be read here, although personally I would much prefer if you read Jason Wakefield's piece on The 31 arguments against gay marriage (and why theyre all wrong)

SPUC and contraception
Most people agree that abortion and contraception are fairly obviously linked. Most reasonable people agree that access to contraception and access to adequate sex education are vital in decreasing abortion rates. This is where the majority of pro-life groups divert. Religious pro-life groups like SPUC are vehemently opposed to contraception and what they refer to as 'explicit' sex education. 
Is this what they mean by explicit sex education?
Now to a certain extent I can accept if someone believes that contraception is wrong. However I loathe the false information regarding contraception that gets spewed from pro-life groups such as SPUC. SPUC have launched a "Safe at School" campaign, which sounds nice and all - I mean everyone wants children to be safe at school,right? However rather than being a campaign against bullying or how to be careful when crossing the road SPUC seem to view the teachers as the main danger. According to SPUC children as young as five are being "primed to become sexually active". Now in the past I have been involved with teaching sex education to secondary school students and let me tell you it's about as awkward for the teacher as it is for the students. I take the approach of giving clear facts,open and frank discussion but I certainly have never 'primed' any student to become sexually active. This is where SPUC start diverting again. Teenagers are curious about sex and the majority will have lost their virginity at or before the age of seventeen. Most parents and educators agree that the best thing we can do for them is to equip them with the facts and knowledge that will keep them safe.
SPUC are obviously against teaching students about contraception and alongside their opposition they begin to lie. According to SPUC many contraceptives, such as the contraceptive pill and the IUD coil, are abortifacients which is blatantly untrue. Education for Choice rightly ask "Is a young person ‘safe at school’ if they are deterred from using contraception for fear they may be causing abortion? Is a young woman who is told using contraception won’t be necessary following abortion ‘safe at school’?"

Since I haven't blogged this week, and since researching SPUC is quite head wrecking, I'm running this as a part one and will continue on with some more on SPUC soon.