is a well-known fact that Holocaust survivors
who endured the concentration camps suffered agonizing
emotional wounds that, for many, have never healed.
Less well-known is how this legacy has also seeped
into the psyches of many of their children. Bower
(1996) studied 80 Jewish adults born to Holocaust
survivors and 20 Jewish adults whose parents had
not faced Nazi persecution. All subjects were
of comparable age and all had reported experiencing
some type of trauma during their life. At some
point over their lifetime, 29 percent of the offspring
of Holocaust survivors had experienced symptoms
of depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD), as opposed to zero percent of the control
group. This finding suggests that the child or
children of the Holocaust survivor may be at higher
risk for psychiatric symptoms including depression,
anxiety and PTSD through exposure to their traumatized
parents (i.e., they may be vicariously traumatized).
Survivors who develop PTSD in response to Holocaust
experiences may pass on vulnerability to the same
condition to their children. Yehuda et al. (1998)
found that survivors' offspring who were diagnosed
with PTSD typically reported Holocaust-related
thoughts or images as their primary traumas. Personal
experience corroborates this finding. My mother
is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She reports
having early childhood memories of her father's
In addition to PTSD, children of Holocaust survivors
also experience many other symptoms. Holocaust
survivors often develop symptoms such as guilt
associated with being alive (i.e., "survivor
guilt"). Other symptoms include melancholia
and identification with the dead. It has been
suggested that survivors may believe that they
are unable to fulfill the needs of their children
and may withdraw from their children (Fogelman,
1998). However, I must comment that personal experience
suggests an alternative response. I have found
that the survivors I have known have done "everything"
for their children and have deprived themselves
in an effort to provide for their children.
Some data indicate that children of Holocaust
survivors have difficulties with interpersonal
adjustment (Garland, 1993). This may come as little
surprise, since many witnessed destruction of
interpersonal ties and violence of extreme nature.
Such traumatic experiences can lead to difficulty
with social adjustment and difficulty trusting
others. Garland (1993) has commented that "work
has shown that the children of parents who have
carried within them, however silently, the experience
of a destroyed world have much to contend with
growing upůmaking normal separation and individuation
difficult. Children of such survivors have an
intense need to act as redeemers for their parents."
Similarly, Fogelman (1998) found that children
of survivors evidenced problems with communication
and identity conflicts. Mor (1990) found a higher
frequency of separation anxiety and guilt in children
of survivors. My family's experience with separation
anxiety supports Mor's findings. My mother suffers
from separation anxiety and guilt which has been
passed down to her children.
Past studies have focused on survivors of concentration
camps and their offspring without regard to those
Jews who survived many different circumstances.
The research that I have examined inevitably focused
on adults who were children during the Holocaust
and people who were hidden from their persecutors
for the duration of the war. Studies have revealed
that the Holocaust impacted a great deal of the
identity development of child survivors. Many
of the adults studied tended to view their adult
experiences with feelings such as the need to
escape reality, hide, or save others. Garland
(1993) found that child survivors who had experienced
loss, separation, and death of family members
exhibited somatic complaints, difficulties with
the expression of aggression, and pronounced anxieties
about themselves and their children.
The various effects that adults who were child
survivors experience can be attributed to many
aspects of their traumatic exposure. Children
and adults were treated differently in the camps
and consequently their emotional reactions were
different. Children were likely too traumatized
during the war to experience "true"
childhood. They did not know what it was like
to be a child and be taken care of by their parents.
Most of them were taken away from their parents.
Also, because the child's identity had been in
a state of development, their experiences may
have remained buried in their memory (i.e., unconscious).
This may have impeded their ability to empathize
with others and likely negatively affected their
adjustment to their own offspring.
Another area in which there have been many interesting
findings is with survivors who were hidden during
the war. These would include those who actually
hid underground, in the woods, or in closed spaces
such as attics. Many Jews were also sent to live
with Gentile families or in convents or orphanages,
posing as Gentiles or actually converting to Catholicism.
Others were refugees during the war. Magids (1998)
studied differences between the offspring of hidden
child survivors of the Holocaust and the offspring
of U.S. born Jewish parents who did not undergo
similar traumatic events. The survivor sample
in this study consisted of adult children with
at least one parent who was a hidden child survivor.
Surprisingly, findings indicated that children
of hidden survivors were no more or less psychologically
impaired than children of non-traumatized, U.S.
born parents. These results lend support to more
recent sociological research claims that the traumas
of the Holocaust may not have had pathological
effects on all survivors.
Helmreich (1992) interviewed a randomly selected
group of 211 survivors and compared them to a
U.S. born group of 295 Jews. Data suggested that
some of the survivors not only managed to resume
their lives but also tended to be more successful
than other U.S. born Jews of a comparable age.
According to Helmreich (1992), the resilient traits
(such as adaptability,
initiative, and tenacity) that enabled Jews to
survive the Holocaust may have also accounted
for their later success and such characteristics
may have been passed on to their children. It
has been suggested that positive traits in Holocaust
survivors tend to be overlooked and that Holocaust
survivors may actually be more task-oriented,
cope more actively, and express more favorable
attitudes toward family, friends, and work (Leventhal
& Ontell, 1989). In short, researchers have
tended to overlook such positive traits (in the
search for expected and anticipated psychological
In all, there is a tendency to focus on the negativity
that ensues after life-altering traumatic experiences.
My contention is that, although negative traits
may develop after having survived a traumatic
event such as the Holocaust, positive traits also
exist. These positive effects should not be ignored.
Further investigation may best address this observation.
Bower, B. (1996). Trauma syndrome transverses
generations. Science News, 149, (20), 310-311.
Fogelman, E. (1998). Survivor victims of war and
Holocaust. In D. Leviton (Ed.), Horrendous death
and health: Toward action (pp. 37-45). Washington
Garland, C. (1993). The lasting trauma of the
concentration camps: The children and grandchildren
may also be affected. British Medical Journal,
Helmreich, W.B. (1992). Against all odds: Holocaust
survivors and the successful lives they made in
America. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Leventhal, G., & Ontell, M.K. (1989). A descriptive
demographic and personality study of second-generation
Jewish Holocaust survivors. Psychological Reports,
64, (3), 1067-1074.
Magids, D.M. (1998). Personality comparison between
children of hidden Holocaust survivors and American
Jewish parents. The Journal of Psychology, 132,
Mor, N. (1990). Holocaust memories from the past.
Contemporary Family Therapy, 12, 371-379.
Yehuda, R., & Schmeidler, J., & Giller,
E.G., & Siever, L.J., & Binder-Byrnes,
K. (1998). Relationship between posttraumatic
stress disorder characteristics of Holocaust survivors
and their adult offspring. American Journal of
Psychiatry, 155, (6), 841-844.