The Long-Term Psychological Effects of the Holocaust on Survivors



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The Long-Term Psychological Effects of the Holocaust on Survivors

The Holocaust describes the genocide of European Jews during World War II when nearly six million Jews were killed by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) regime in Germany led by Adolf Hitler. During the Holocaust, Nazi Germany attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish population from Europe. Nazi Germany put all the Jews into ghettos, and then selected Jews for transport to extermination camps by freight train. The majority of them were killed in gas chambers. A smaller number of the Jews were arranged in concentration camps where inmates were used as slave labor until they died of exhaustion or disease. During the Holocaust, because of the overwhelming losses and stresses, fear and anger, survivors blocked out their emotions. After decades of the Holocaust, most of survivors have become elderly. In Shmotkin, Blumstein and Modan's article, they state "Their [survivors] physical and mental status mingles long-term effects of extreme trauma, extensive efforts to reconstruct their lives, and the current aging processes" (223). Moreover, according to Krysinska and Lester, survivors experience neuropsychological disturbances, such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, emotional instability, numbing, and sleep complaints (143). The genocide leaves deep traumas as a mark on survivors of the Holocaust forever and affects survivors’ minds and their daily lives because of the long-term aftereffects of Holocaust traumas. Even though time cannot cure the survivors' traumas, they still have chances to treat their psychological disorders with their family, friend or society's help.

In the comic books Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman, the author Art is planning to portray his father Vladek's life experience as a Jewish survivor during World War II in Europe. Almost all of Art's father and mother's families and relatives died in Holocaust. Art's father and mother Anja were sent to Auschwitz, a concentration camp where they had seen millions Jews killed. They must struggle to survive starvation and disease as well as get through the selections and make their way to safety. Fortunately, they both survive because of luck. However, the horror of the Holocaust experience still affects these survivors' psychologies and emotions in their daily lives. As a result, his mother at last commits suicide after the Holocaust because of her psychological suffering. His father also still suffers from the painful genocide which affects his normal life and the way to raise his child. Art shows many examples of how the Holocaust has affected the lives of survivors for decades. Vladek and his second wife are both survivors, but they also cannot accept each other. His son Art cannot live with his father even some short days because of his behavior and personality. They always argue about their different life attitudes and styles.

Time cannot cure survivors' traumas because the Holocaust leaves deep marks on their minds. The Holocaust is the biggest trauma in survivors' lives and changes their destinies. They lost everything including their family members, relatives, houses, properties, jobs, businesses, social positions and future. Nazi Germany deprived survivors' happiness, health and even their yearning for lives. These traumas stay deep in survivors’ heart and they cannot ever forget the genocide. They keep themselves busy and do not want to talk about that because they do not want to refresh their painful memories. But after decades, more survivors "were ready to speak out and to openly share their memories and their prevailing mental suffering" because "a new social awareness of the Holocaust began to develop in 1960 after the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem" (Kellermann 198). They wanted society to pay more attention to the Holocaust and the suffering survivors. As a survivor said, “For me, the Holocaust has not ended” (Kellermann 197). Elie Wiesel states that "time does not heal all wound; there are those that remain painfully open" (Kellermann 198). Judith Herman writes in her book, "atrocities refuse to be buried" (Kellermann 198). Moreover, in Maus, Art's father Vladek, an elderly survivor, still remembers and tells his experience to his son very clearly. On the other hand, Kellermann describes the Holocaust like "an atom bomb that disperses its radioactive fallout in distant places, often a long time after the actual explosion" (197). No matter how many years pass the event of the genocide, the traumas cannot be erased in survivors' minds. However, even though survivors do not talk about the genocide frequently, the Holocaust still affects their behaviors in their daily lives.

Many survivors usually are economical and keep a lot of useless items at home because of their experiences of starvation and lack of daily items in the Holocaust which became their habits. During the Holocaust, food and daily items were very important things and there were lack for Jews. If they did not store these items, they might die anyway. They used these items in case for themselves or exchanging something more useful in order to be alive. These behaviors already become their habits. They fear that they will be hungry again one day without enough food. They are afraid and do not want to throw away anything that they believe might be useful one day. They believe that these habits can make them feel comfortable and safe. In Maus I, Vladek was stingy with money, food, matches, papers and even toothpicks. All the food on his plate had to be eaten or it would be served to him the next day until it was gone (Spiegelman 43). Vladek stores “old menus picked up on cruises, a pile of stationery from the pines hotel” and plastic pitcher form hospital room…, and would not let her wife threw out (93). “He grabs paper towels from restrooms so he won’t have to buy napkins or tissues” (132). In a similar way, in Kellermann’s article, he shows a typical example that an 80-year-old female always over packed with food in the refrigerator and “refused to discard spoiled food and accused her daughter of stealing" (201). Their behaviors are adapted from survival skills in the genocide which are the key to survival in the concentration camps, and continue on their later lives. They cannot change their behaviors and do not realize the problem of that behaviors. However, these behaviors drive their relationship with their children get further because their children do not understand and accept them.

The physical pain and the fear that a survivor of the Holocaust felt could never fully be understood by anyone other than a fellow survivor, and these experience influence the survivors and the children of survivors’ relationship which is hard to connect. The experience of being in the Holocaust is hard to imagine, so other people include their children cannot image their feelings. Their children may not feel the physical pain and agony as their parents did, but they would feel the psychological effects. The survivors like to compare how hard lives were for them and their children would not understand. At the very opening of Maus I, Artie cries because his friends leave him when he falls off his skates and Vladek tells him, “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends” (6). Most parents would offer words of comfort to their injured child, but Vladek immediately compares the situation to the Holocaust. He even relates all things to the Holocaust, even the way he teaches his child and cements the events in the mind of his son. The events of the Holocaust are never far from Vladek’s own thoughts. This makes Art feel guilty for not having such a hard life. They “weren’t that close” and had not seen each other “in a long time” because the distance among them (11). Another example in Kellermann’s article states a hardship between a female survivor and her daughter. The daughter did not know how to deal with her mother “because of exaggerated hoarding of food,” then had to send her elderly mother to AMCHA (201). AMCHA is the name of an organization created to help survivors and attempts to give survivors and their children an opportunity to unburden their hearts (Kellermann 198). AMCHA is the code word that helped Jews identify one another in occupied Europe (Kellermann 198). The daughter hopes that her mother can get help in AMCHA, so that they can heal their relationship. Therefore, children feel angry and separated from their parents. The Holocaust built a wall between survivors and their children that was so hard to climb. Even though the parents and children both want to heal their strained relationship, they still cannot accept each other.

The Holocaust affects survivors' quality of interpersonal relations because they cannot trust anybody, only themselves. According to Nadler and Ben-Shushan's research, one of the survivor's syndromes would be "the quality of interpersonal relations," which means it is not easy for survivors to believe other people and make best friends, for example, "suspicion and social withdrawal" (287). In Maus, Vladek is always suspicious that his second wife just constant attempts to get at his money and does not love him, and would grab all his property (127). Because based on his experience of the genocide, he believes that everyone in the camps was looking out for their own survival, and not the survival of others. He had seen many examples that other people stole others saves in order to survive. He had the same experience once. He saved food and cigarettes to bribe the guards in order to arrange for his wife Anja to be transferred to Auschwitz. He kept all the saves in a box under his mattress, but one day it was stolen and he was forced to start over again (64). Survivors are not ready to believe somebody because their experiences of the genocide.

Nazi Germany treated Jews as animals not human beings, and that causes the survivors to develop psychological disorders. Nazi Germany treated Jews as slave labors who had to work hard. They took away all of Jews' properties, and arranged them in Concentration camps to work for them. They did not offer enough food and clothes for them. When Jews were weak or sick and lose their abilities to work, they would face to death. The Jews were afraid to be sent to the gas chambers; they were afraid to be given jobs that could not perform; they were afraid to get beat... They were afraid everything that they might face every day during the Holocaust. Even though Jews were angry with the Nazi, they could not complain everything even ask questions. They must constrain their depression and lived like a "living corpse" (Krysińska and Lester 143). These experiences make survivors have psychological problems. "According to data presented by Fishman,' 950 individuals from the 200,000 survivors currently living in Israel, are mental hospital inpatients. In the largest psychiatric hospital in Israel, the Abarbanel Mental Health Center in Bat Yam, 120 of the 562 inpatients are Holocaust survivors suffering from chronic affective disorders, schizophrenia and other psychoses" (Krysińska and Lester 144). The traumas of the Holocaust affect the survivors' psychology. Some survivors must seek to help in order to go out of the genocide's shadow.

Some survivors cannot tolerate the extremely high level of stress, so they choose to attempt suicide. In the concentration camps, the survivors had to bear physical pain and the pain of losing relatives. After the Holocaust, they feel they are guilty that they are still alive, beside most of their relatives and compatriot died. In Krysińska and Lester's essay, they believe with Kepinski's view on "concentration camp imprisonment often led to the onset of dysphonic mood and lowered general life dynamics, distrust towards others, emotional instability and increased arousal" (143). They also argue that "Holocaust trauma may lead to increased risk of suicide" (144). In Maus I, Art shows an example for suicide because of the high stress of the Holocaust. Art's mother killed herself in 1968, and his father and he could not accept the tragedy and her leaving had "not even a note" (Spiegelman 100). His mother was suffering from Holocaust trauma and could not release her high stress. The Holocaust changed her life and drove her to commit suicide.

Even though most survivors understand their psychological problems, they do not want to seek psychological help because they think that they are not psychiatric patients. According to Krysińska, "the majority of survivors are not willing to seek psychological help. Many of them believe that their problems are 'abnormal reactions to an abnormal situation, which makes them normal behaviors'"(154). Some survivors know that their experience of the Holocaust makes them have the abnormal reactions, but they do not think that their behaviors and minds have psychological problem. Moreover, Kellermann states in his article, "Holocaust survivors do not want to be treated as psychiatric patients and show little interest in counseling or psychotherapy" (203). The survivors seem to live a normal life and looked healthy, but their families know of their private and largely concealed suffering. They keep themselves busy and "let them [the Holocaust traumas] sleep" to avoid remembering the painful memories instead to "open their old wounds and reecperience the pain"(204). They do not want to talk about their psychological problems, but in fact, their problems still exist and continue to affect their daily lives. However, if the survivors are not afraid to open their mind and speak up about their problems, it is possible to cure their psychological disorders.

One of the ways to alleviate the survivors' psychological pain is for their families or friends to encourage the survivors to talk and write down the memories, so that they can release the stress and depression. In Kellermann's article, he indicates "most survivors today want to retell their stories if they feel that there is somebody who is willing to listen to them" (204). And he shows us an example, "a woman had insomnia and nightmares for many years...Once she gave testimony and began writing her memories, the nightmares subsided and she slept better. Retelling her story again and again seemed to have helped her" (204-205). In addition, in Maus II, when Art feels that he becomes increasingly overwhelmed about being interviewed for his book, and he cannot walk out from the shadow of his father's experience of surviving the Holocaust, his image begins to transform into a small child. But after he talks to the psychiatrist, this session seems to make him feel better. Even though Art is not a real survivor, he has traumas similar to that of the survivors. When he talks about the stress to somebody, it seems to help him to reduce the pressure. As the survivors' family or friends, people might pay great attention to them and concerned about their feeling and pain. The survivors might have courage to talk about the Holocaust, and express their emotions if listeners are patient to hear about their story. Ultimately, the survivors may feel warm and still have hope, when they are treated like human beings. Their family or friends care about their feelings and pains. While the survivors begin to talk and write about their memories little by little, they can release their stress, cure their psychological disorders, and feel better day by day.

Besides survivors' family and friends, society does provide special help to the Holocaust survivors, so they will not feel alone in the society. Some organizations such as AMCHA and Israel are helpful for survivors to cure their psychological disorders. Besides Isreal is a metal hospital, AMCHA was established in 1987, and it is a good organization to help survivors release their strained emotions in order to cure their psychological problems. While many young survivors become elderly after 40 years of the Holocaust, AMCHA is experience in range of treatment. According to Krysińska, AMCHA has "individual short-term and long-term psychotherapy and counseling, group psychotherapy, open lectures and discussions, referral to and information about other services in the community as well as psychiatric and psychogeriatric consultations. Elderly survivors are offered home visits by volunteers and participation in senior citizens support groups" (155). AMCHA provides individual help and privacy. Their treatments offer to different ages of survivors and their second generation. AMCHA tries to do its best to help survivors and provides intimate services. Kellermann tells us, "As the survivors grow older, AMCHA attempts to develop more innovative treatment approaches and/or psychosocial services to meet the new needs that arise" (205). I believe that if more survivors seek help and AMCHA gets more varied cases for studying, the AMCHA can develop a more effective treatment to benefit the survivors.

Even though the Holocaust ended over half a century ago, the long-term psychological effects still exist in the daily lives of survivors. Some survivors choose to be silent and hide the trauma in their hearts; some survivors cannot release the stress and depression and cure their psychological disorders; and some survivors choose to commit suicide to end their lives with the painful traumas. Because the Holocaust traumas were made by humans, survivors might lose their belief in humanity and society. Survivors' family and friends, or society should be concerned about the survivors and the psychological impacts of the Holocaust help them to address the traumas, release the pressure and get rid of the shadow of the holocaust. I believe that they will defeat the Holocaust trauma and have a better future with their family and friends or society's help.
Works Cited

Kellermann, Natan P. F. "The Long-term Psychological Effects and Treatment of Holocaust Trauma." Journal of Loss & Trauma 6.3 (2001): 197-218. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Octo. 2008.

Krysińska, Karolina, and David Lester. "The Contribution of Psychology to the Study of the Holocaust." Dialogue & Universalism 16.5/6 (2006): 141-156. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Octo. 2008.

Nadler, Arie, and Dan Ben-Shushan. "Forty Years Later: Long-Term Consequences of Massive Traumatization as Manifested by Holocaust Survivors from the City and the Kibbutz." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 57.2 (1989): 287-293. PsycARTICLES. EBSCO. Web. 24 Octo. 2008.



Shmotkin, Dov, Tzvia Blumstein, and Baruch Modan. "Tracing Long-Term Effects of Early Trauma: A Broad-Scope View of Holocaust Survivors in Late Life." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 71.2 (2003): 223-234. PsycARTICLES. EBSCO. Web. 24 Octo. 2008.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor's Tale. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.


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