The world's biggest desolation that caused the murders of millions of Jewish people took place during WWII. The Holocaust orchestrated by the Nazi Empire destroyed millions of lives and created questions about humanity that may never be answered. Many psychological effects caused by the Holocaust forever changed the way the Jewish people view the world and themselves. The Jewish people have been scarred for generations and may never be able to once again associate with the rest of the free world. Further, these scars have now become the looking glass through which the survivors and their children view the world. Through narrow eyes, the survivors relate everything to the experiences they endured during the Holocaust. Likewise, these new views on the world shapes how the survivors live, interact, and raise a family both socially and spiritually. Some survivors are scarred so deeply they can not escape the past feelings and images of terror; they call this Survivor Syndro! me.
A Survivor is one who has encountered, been exposed to, or witnessed death, and has himself of herself remained alive. The symptoms affected not only survivors, but their families as well. The symptoms included an inability to work, and even at times to talk. The Jewish people fear that it may happen again. Also a fear of uniformed police officers because of their position of power became very common. There were also many feelings of guilt for having survived when others had not. "Why am I alive?" Why not my sister and brother...my whole family?" The survivors had thoughts of death, nightmares, panic attacks, and various other symptoms. Disinterest in life, people, and sometimes even in reality played a huge role in marital problems and suicide.
There are five main categories of Survivor syndrome. The first is the Death imprint, which is the idea of not only death itself, but of all forms of torture and gruesome images of death. For many survivors they can recall the smell of smoke and the voices of the tortured. Some survivors are trapped in time; mentally they are unable to escape the torture that they had witnessed. In other words, they are unable to move beyond the imagery and are stuck in time. The survivors are mentally scarred with images they can never escape or share. The inability to sleep or work is a direct consequence of what they endured in the death camps. The second category is where the guilt of death is found. Here is where the survivors feels remorse for the loved ones they had lost and ask "why them and not me". The survivor remembers feeling helpless at times of need, "why didn^t I resist" or "how could I have saved someone." The survivor can not escape the feeling of debt to the lost and feels guilty. Some survivors have been known to feel guiltier about the Holocaust then the actual Perpetrators . Guilt is the most common feeling among survivors and is passed to children each generation. To cope with this guilt there are many support groups that are opening doors wide for the Jewish people to come and be set free from the needless guilt. Yet many survivors have shut themselves out from the rest of the world and have lived lives of solitude because the guilt is too much for any one person to carry . This guilt is a direct cause of the Holocaust and because of it, the Jewish people will never be the same. The third category is psychological numbing. This has been determined by psychologists as a "necessary psychological defense against overwhelming images." This defense is only good for a short time because after long term numbing the survivor can feel withdrawal and depression. Many survivors numbed themselves to all emotions and became insensitive to death. The fourth category is suspicion and paranoia. The survivor is always on guard watching out for another Holocaust to flare up and take hold. Consequently if in need of help, a survivor may not take the hand of someone there to help, in fear it may be a Nazi trick and a sign of personal weakness . The ridicule the survivors suffered made them paranoid and unable to place trust in any one. Accordingly, survivors feel that when they accept your help, they show their personal weaknesses and are opening themselves up to be persecuted. They also feel as if tainted by the Holocaust they no longer belong. Likewise, they feel feared and hated by others, hence, they feel distrust in all human relationships and feel everything around them is fraudulent. The fifth and final category is the search for meaning. They are on a mission to find meaning in their lives and punish those who persecuted them. This search for meaning is what created the state of Israel after the war. Hundreds of thousands of people that were lost and had no place to go, no money, no identity, and no one to trust but each other formed a nation where they could be accepted. After being turned away from every other nation time and time again they formed the state of Israel. This was no easy task. The Jewish people had to fight for their "promised" land and sacrifice a lot to get it.
Survivor syndrome is complex and manifests itself in many different ways. Regardless of what syndromes a person shows, he or she is affected in the same ways. They can no longer interact with the rest of the free world as they did before. In addition, they will always remember the persecution as well as the paranoia and feel full of grotesque images from their past. As a result, survivors are unable to work effectively in a society. Furthermore, the Survivor will unintentionally pass their experiences on to their children through actions and feelings towards every new experience that presents itself. Subconsciously the parents implant feelings and ideas into their new families that never would have existed before the Holocaust.
The pre-Holocaust family was simple. The children were valuable to the parents and were groomed to be like the mother or father of the child. Mothers placed children extremely high in value, and that value was returned from the child towards the mother. At the age of 13 the child would take on the role of the parents as a young adult. Not too long after the child turned 18, he or she would be married and live comfortably working for the family business. Children were well educated and most were financially secure. The children would be raised to follow the proud Jewish religion and learn to only accept those around them who were also of the faith. The Holocaust changed all of that. Families were torn apart. Rarely would more then one member of a family survive. Therefore, families had to be rebuilt starting with nothing. Rebuilding was not easy for the Jewish people because everything they knew about the world had changed and they were no longer accepted by anybody.
Just after the Holocaust had ended and Jewish Survivors found their way back to the towns, they returned only to find everything they had once owned seized by the Nazi empire and their Christian neighbors who they had trusted. This made the Jewish people feel abandoned and worthless. Because of these feelings, it was exceptionally tough to find the will to start a new family. However, for the Jewish people to completely triumph over the Nazis, they had to restructure. This means beginning new families and having children. The survivors had not expected this task to be so difficult but they found it very hard to stay together with someone that was also part of the Holocaust. Thus, divorcees were high and suicide was higher. In addition many survivors could not cope with living with what they had witnessed. To make things easier many found they had to marry outside of the Jewish religion because both partners in the marriage would not be as tormented by the memories and remind! ed every day of the pain they had endured. This would in turn make raising a family and joining society again much easier. The Jewish survivors found marriages to be very hard to maintain but what was even harder was raising children.
Children of survivors became a difficult task because of the exceeding amount of pressure placed on the child to replace the lost loved ones taken away because of the Holocaust. The survivor's child was no longer a child or individual but was a relic of the past, an object to fill the parents empty lives. The child was supposed to vindicate all the suffering the parent had endured. Furthermore, the parents put unusual amounts of stress on a child forcing undeserving discipline, molding them into a lost loved one. In addition the discipline was not necessary for the child's development and was often not related to any of the child's needs but of those from the parents. Therefore the children tended to be a little unbalanced. One child of a survivor said "My father married before the war. His wife and his children were lost. He met his wife in a DP camp and got married. They had a son--- me. But I know every time they looked at me, it is not me they see. Children who suffered this fate often felt inadequate. More over, they felt like their needs could not possibly be more important then the needs of their parents, so they remained silent. Even though the silence hurt, children did so understanding why they were so important to their parents.
Survivors were also affected spiritually. Many Jewish people after the Holocaust were deeply wounded with the thought that during their time of need they had to walk alone. "Where was God?" "Did God let this happen?" were all questions that needed to be asked after the Holocaust. His silence raised questions about the reality of a God. Why would God just sit by and silently watch his chosen people be nearly wiped out? The unanswered questions forced many to no longer believe, and abandoned the faith they had been following because of feelings of betrayal and neglect. For these survivors there is no God. What of the child survivors who were so young that when it all ended they had forgot their religion altogether? They had no one to answer their questions or guide them on a spiritual path. Similarly, lots of Jewish children had been hiding with Christian families and had adopted the Christian religion over time. Furthermore, after witnessing an event such as the holocaust m! any threw away the Jewish religion in fear that it might happen again, and if it did, they might not survive. The Holocaust could very well have destroyed the Jewish religion all together. It caused many people to question their faith and look for answers elsewhere before returning to Jewish customs and religion.
Unquestionably being involved in the Holocaust caused many psychological effects forever changing the way the Jewish people view the world and themselves. They now have been scarred by the past and compare everything today to those scars. There is no doubt that a person who was involved in the Holocaust will react differently to a situation than someone who had not, because they have been affected so deeply. The Jewish people have not yet healed from, and may never heal from the holocaust. They have been affected in family life, social life, spiritual life, and in so many other ways that survivors could never in all likelihood return to an old way of life. Instead they will be forced to adopt a new one, though they will continue to carry the weight of the Holocaust on their shoulders. Nevertheless they will move on, and try to adapt to the every day struggle placed upon them.
The survivors of the Holocaust
May 28th 1999
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