The oldest medical fraternity in the world, the Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity, has created a pro-bono dental service for Holocaust survivors.

In Winnipeg, the service is provided to survivors through Jewish Child and Family Services (JCFS), and survivors qualify for it based on their income.
Dr. Gary Hyman, current treasurer of the Winnipeg chapter of Alpha Omega, has been involved with the fraternity since he graduated in 1970. But, within the last 10 years, he has taken a more active role on the executive of the organization.
“In Manitoba, we probably have 60 or 70 dentists, (in the fraternity)” said Hyman. “Initially, this fraternity was a Jewish fraternity. A lot of anti-Semitism was taking place in the [1940s in the dental schools, so it was formed in response to that. But, subsequently, it’s been opened up to any denomination – basically, just a continuing education type of fraternity. But, we do a lot of fundraising and charity giving.”
This free service to Holocaust survivors was started by the Alpha Omega’s international organization in combination with one of the large dental supply companies, Henry Shine.
“I think Henry, himself, was a Holocaust survivor,” said Hyman. “So, it started off in, I think, seven U.S. cities, and then it went to Montreal and Toronto, and, I think, we were the next city in Canada...and, I think, it went to Calgary as well.
“So, the initial stages are that JCFS, the social workers in the program, identify those Holocaust survivors who are at the poverty level. There are strict criteria.
“Not only Holocaust survivors...There are Russian Jews who qualify as well, because they too were affected by the Holocaust. So, the social workers identify them and subsequently pass them on to the ambassador.
“I happen to be the ambassador. My role is to triage the people to determine what their needs are, and then to find one of the dentists in our fraternity who has the appropriate skills to do that kind of treatment.”
The service is provided completely free of charge, with each individual dentist taking on the complete cost of care.
“My role is to pass it around, so that everybody gets to do a little bit of work,” said Hyman. “If the person is in the North End, then I try to find somebody in that area. I try to find people who are close and who are prepared to do the work. So far, nobody has said ‘no.’”
Out of the approximately 300 Holocaust survivors living in Manitoba, approximately 60 would qualify for the program. And, so far, Hyman has seen or plans on going to see 18 of them (in contrast with the Toronto chapter, which has, so far, only seen three survivors).
“I think they had some issues in Toronto and also in Montreal, implementing the program,” said Hyman. “Here, dentists have all been kind and willing to participate, and people are so appreciative. It’s just phenomenal.”
According to Hyman, the dental needs of this population are high, noting some survivors only have a few teeth left and require extensive and costly work (with costs for each patient being in the $5000 -$10,000 range).
“But, it’s a good treatment and it should improve the quality of their lives,” said Hyman. “These people - none of them, have said anything about the Holocaust itself. They have just been so thankful and appreciative.”
Local survivor, Carmela Finkel (83), is in the process of getting her dental needs met.
“During the Holocaust, I was in Poland, hiding underground for 20 months,” said Finkel. “I was six when the war started and eight when we went into hiding with my parents. My sister was two years older. We were hiding in a dugout under a house that belonged to one of my dad’s workers. We all survived, including my parents. We lost over 100 members of the family, but my immediate family was intact.”
After the war, Finkel and her family lived in a DP camp in Germany for three years before making their way to Winnipeg, where they have some cousins.
Finkel became aware of the dental service through an ad in The Jewish Post & News placed by JCFS.
“I think it’s a tremendous concept,” said Finkel. “It’s a tremendous help for seniors like me. I would not be able to get the service on my income. I’m surviving on an old age pension, so it would have been impossible otherwise. I didn’t even consider it.
“Whoever had the idea of doing this program, I take my hat off. He’s doing a tremendous service for the survivors.”