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 Syndrome.
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
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 reminded 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 many 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.