The Holocaust was a tragic point in history which many peoplebelieve never happened. Others who survived it thought it shouldnever have been.
Not only did this affect the people who livedthrough it, it also affected everyone who was connected to thosefortunate individuals who survived. The survivors were lucky tohave made it but there are times when their memories and flashbackshave made them wish they were the ones who died instead of livingwith the horrible aftermath. The psychological effects of theHolocaust on people from different parts such as survivors ofIsrael and survivors of the ghettos and camps vary in some ways yetin others are profoundly similar. The vast number of prisoners ofvarious nationalities and religions in the camps made suchdifferences inevitable.Order now
Many contrasting opinions have beenpublished about the victims and survivors of the holocaust based onthe writers’ different cultural backrounds, personal experiencesand intelectual traditions. Therefore, the opinions of the authorsof such books and entries of human behavior and survival in theconcentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe are very diverse. The Survivors of the Holocaust: General SurveyBecause the traumatization of the Holocaust was bothindividual and collective, most individuals made efforts to createa “new family” to replace the nuclear family that had been lost. In order for the victims to resist dehumanization and regressionand to find support, the members of such groups shared storiesabout the past, fantasies of the future and joint prayers as wellas poetry and expressions of personal and general human aspirationsfor hope and love. Imagination was an important means ofliberation from the frustrating reality by opening an outlet forthe formulation of plans for the distant future, and by spurring toimmediate actions. Looking at the history of the Jewish survivors, from thebeginning of the Nazi occupation until the liquidation of theghettos shows that there are common features and simmilarpsychophysiological patterns in their responses to thepersecutions.
The survivors often experienced several phases ofpsychosocial response, including attempts to actively master thetraumatic situation, cohesive affiliative actions with intenseemotional links, and finally, passive compliance with thepersecutors. These phases must be understood as the development ofspecial mechanisms to cope with the tensions and dangers of thesurrounding horrifying reality of the Holocaust. There were many speculations that survivors of the Holocaustsuffered from a static concentration camp syndrome. These theorieswere proved to have not been valid by research that was doneimmediately after liberation. Clinical and theoretical researchfocused more on psychopathology than on the question of coping andthe development of specific adaptive mechanisms during theHolocaust and after. The descriptions of the survivors’ syndrome inthe late 1950’s and 1960’s created a new means of diagnosis inpsychology and the behavioral sciences, and has become a model thathas since served as a focal concept in examining the results ofcatastrophic stress situations.
After more research was done, it was clear the adaptation andcoping mechanisms of the survivors was affected by the aspects oftheir childhood experiences, developmental histories, familyconstellations, and emotional family bonds. In the studies andresearch that were done, there were many questions that were askedof the subjects: What was the duration of the traumatization?,During the Holocaust, was the victim alone or with family andfriends?, Was he in a camp or hiding?, Did he use false “Aryan”papers?, Was he a witness to mass murder in the ghetto or thecamp?, What were his support systems- family and friends- and whatsocial bonds did he have? These studies showed that theexperiences of those who were able to actively resist theoppression, whether in the underground or among the partisans, weredifferent in every way from the experiences of those who werevictims in extermination camps. When the survivors integrated back into society after the war,they found it very hard to adjust. It was made difficult by thefact that they often aroused ambivalent feelings of fear,avoidence, guilt, pity and anxiety. This might have been hard forthem, but decades after the Holocaust most of the survivors managedto rehabilitate their capacities and rejoin the paths their livesmight have taken prior to the Holocaust.
This is more true for thepeople who experienced the Holocaust as children or young adults. Their families live with a special attitude toward psychobiologicalcontinuity, fear of separation, and fear of prolonged sickness anddeath. The experience of the Holocaust shows how human beings canundergo extreme traumatic experiences without suffering from atotal regression and without losing their ability to rehabilitatetheir ego strength. The survivors discovered the powers withinthem in whatever aspect in their lives that were needed. Survivors of Ghettos and CampsThe Jews, arrested and brought to the concentration campsduring WWII were under sentence of death.
Their chances ofsurviving the war minimal. Their brutal treatment on the part ofthe camp guards and even some of the other prisoners influenced theJews. The months or years already spent in the ghettos, withcontinuous persecutions and random selections, had brought some toa chronic state of insecurity and anxiety and others to apathy andhopelessness, even though passive or active resistance had alsooccured. This horrible situation was worsened by overcrowding,infectious diseases, lack of facilities for basic hygiene andcontinuous starvation. When the people were transported to the concentration camps,they lived in horrible conditions such as filth and lack ofhygiene, diseases and extreme nutritional insufficiency, continuousharassment, and physical ill treatment, perpetual psychic stresscaused by the recurrent macabre deaths- all combined to influencedeeply the attitudes and mental health of camp inmates. Observations and descriptions by former prisoners, some of whomwere physicians and psychologists differ drastically.
Somedescribed resignation, curtailment of emotional and normalfeelings, weakening of social standards, regression to primativereactions and “relapse to animal state” whereas others showfeelings of comeradeship, community spirit, a persistant humanityand extreme altruism- even moral development and religiousrevelation. Afer liberation, most of the Jewish camp inmates were too weakto move or be aware of what was happening. Prisoners were notrestored to perfect health by liberation. Awakening fromnightmares was sometimes even more painful than captivity. In thebeginning of physical improvement , the ability to feel and thinkreturned and many realized the completeness of their isolation. Tothem, the reality of what had happened was agonizing.
They livedwith their overwhelming personal losses whose impact is beyondintellectual or emotional comprehension. They also clung to thehope of finding some family member still alive in the new DISPLACEDPERSONS’ camps that were now set up. Many of the people admitted tothose camps lost all sense of initiative. After the war, organizations such as THE UNITED NATIONS RELIEFand REHABILITATION ADMINISTRATION, THE JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEEand the International Refugee Organization were founded. Theirwork was useful but their methods were not suitable.
The ex-prisoner, now a “displaced person”, was brought before boards setup by different countries which decided on his or her worthiness tobe received by that country. Most survivors tried to make theirway to Palestine. Then Israel was founded and they integratedquickly into a new society. The majority of the people adaptedadequately to their changed life, in newly founded families, jobsand kibbutzim, many however still suffered from chronic anxiety,sleep disturbances, nightmares, emotional instability anddepressive states. The worst however were those people who went tothe United States, Canada, and Austrailia, some of them withextreme psychological traumatizations. They had to adjust tostrange new surroundings, learn a new language, and adapt to newlaws, in addition to building new lives.
After the survivors received compensation from the West Germangovernment, they were examined by specialists in internal andneurological medicine. In most cases, no ill effects directlyattributable to detainment in camps were found. The reason forthis was because the repeated selection of Jewish victims forextermination in ghettos, on arrival at the camps, again at thefrequent medical examinations, in the sick bays, and at everytransferment that all those showing signs of physical disease hadalready been eliminated. Many survivors described themselves as incapable of livinglife to the fullest, often barely able to perform basic tasks.
They felt that the war had changed them and they had lost theirmuch needed spark to life. Investigations show that the extremetraumatizations of the camps inflicted deep wounds that have healedvery slowly, and that more than 40 years later, the scars are stillpresent. There has shown to be clear differences between campvictims and statistically comparable Canadian Jews: the survivorsshow long term consequences of the Holocaust in the form ofpsychological stress, associated with heightened sensitivity toanti-semitism and persecution. The survivors, normal people before the Holocaust, wereexposed to situations of extreme stress and to psychictraumatization.
Their reactions to inhuman treatment were “normal”because not to react to treatment of this kind would be abnormal. Survivors of IsraelThere were few studies done, following the Holocaust that weremade in Israel of the psychological effects of the Nazi persecutioneven though the number of survivors was high as time passed,research increased and in 1964, a comparison was made betweenHolocaust survivors now in Israel and non-Jewish Norwegians whoreturned to Norway after being deported to camps. The resultsshowed that the Jewish survivors suffered more from the totalisolation in the camps, from the danger of death, which was greaterfor Jews, and from “survivor guilt”, than did the Norwegians. Italso showed that most Israeli survivors were suffering fromsymptoms of the so called survivors syndrome, but were active andefficient, and often held important and responsible jobs and socialpositions. Another study, of Israeli Holocaust survivors in kibbutzim(collective settlements), revealed that survivors who could notmourn their losses immediately, after the war began mourning andworking through their grief when they adjusted to life in thekibbutz.
The study also indicated that many Holocaust survivorshad a low threshold for emotional stress. This was brought outduring situations that reminded them of the Holocaust- especiallyduring the EICHMANN TRIAL, when they had to testify against Nazicriminals, and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. These were thetimes when they suffered periods of depression and tension. Studies made in Israel more than 30 years after WWII did notshow significant differences in the extent of psychological damagebetween people who were in hiding during Nazi occupation and formerconcentration camp inmates.
The only difference that was found wasthat the inmates experienced more pronounced emotional distressthan those who survived the occupation outside the camps. The research done on the elderly Holocaust survivors in Israelindicated that they encountered particular difficulties inabsorption because of the serious problems they had to overcome(loss of family and of the social and cultural backround they hadknown before the Holocaust). The community in Israel tried toprovide them with personal and professional care. Nevertheless, tothose survivors who immigrated to Israel when elderly it was moredifficult to adjust than the younger survivors. There was also a study done in the University PsychiatricHospital in Jerusalem 40 years after liberation.
It revealed adifference between hospitalized depressive patients who had beeninmates of Nazi concentration camps and the match group of patientswho had not been persecuted. The camp survivors were morebelligerent, demanding, and regressive than the control group. Oddly enough their behavior may have helped their survival. Despite the many hardships and difficulties faced by thesurvivors in Israel, their general adjustment has beensatisfactory, both vocationally and socially.
In the end it hasbeen more successful than that of Holocaust survivors in othercountries. When looking at it from a general point of view, thesurvivors, for the most part have shown to be as strong as humanlypossible. Not one person who hasn’t seen what they saw canpossibly imagine how they feel. Many people are greatly affectedby things the survivors would consider menial.
There is no otherway they are supposed to act. These people were lucky to havesurvived but there is no doubt that there have been times whentheir memories have made them think otherwise.