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Holocaust survivors get COVID-19 vaccine on Auschwitz liberation day

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Seventy-six years after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, hundreds of Holocaust survivors are getting the coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Survivors that were forced to flee their homes and endure Nazi death camps are now in their 80s and 90s, making them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. 

The Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG), the Jewish Community of Vienna, collaborated with the city's health ministry to honor its survivors with a vaccine drive on Wednesday. According to the IKG,12 doctors, all of whom are members of the organization, are administering the vaccinations to 500 Shoah survivors over the age of 85.

"It is a human duty to commemorate the victims and to thank the liberators, survivors and resistance fighters," IKG President Oskar Deutsch said in a statement. He added that protecting their health is a "Jewish, human and moral imperative." 

An elderly Jewish person arrives at a vaccination center to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against the COVID-19 disease on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. AP Photo/Ronald Zak

"We owe this to them," Erika Jakubovits, the Jewish Community of Vienna organizer of the vaccination drive, told The Associated Press. "They have suffered so much trauma and have felt even more insecure during this pandemic."

The vaccine is not only being offered to Holocaust survivors, but to all members of Vienna's Jewish community over the age of 85, according to the organization. 

A similar event was held on Wednesday in Bratislava, Slovakia, where hundreds of Jewish seniors over the age of 75 received their vaccinations. According to the Jewish community in Slovakia, vaccination drives were held in Jewish villages around the country this week.

A Holocaust survivor receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Health Minister Marek Krajci, right, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Bratislava, Slovakia, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.  Dano Veselsky/TASR via AP

In Israel, more than 75% of elderly people have already been vaccinated, according to a study in the journal Nature.

Earlier this week, Dr. Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, urged all EU members to ensure coronavirus vaccine access to Holocaust survivors as quickly as possible. 

"We have all been lost during the current pandemic, but the survivors of the Holocaust even more so," Dr. Kantor said. "Throughout their lives, they have shown mighty strength of spirit, but in the current crisis, many have sadly died alone and in pain, or are now fighting for their lives, and many others are suffering from extreme isolation."

"We have a duty to survivors, to ensure that they are able to live their last years in dignity, without fear, and in the company of their loved ones."

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