Student/Judaic Studies Program
University of Central Florida
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For the 12 years that Germany was ruled by the Nazi Party, a central belief was that there existed in society, certain people who were dangerous and needed to be eliminated for German society to flourish and survive. Over time and locale, these people varied. They included Gypsies, Poles, and Russians, but always and most centrally, the Jews. The Nazis condemned the Jews to death and there was no escape. No action they might take, no change in their behavior or their beliefs, made the slightest difference regarding their death warrant. At every stage of the war, the Germans used their military superiority to crush and terrorize the Jews. Above all was the threat of massive reprisals. Hundreds were shot for the resistance of a single person. Thousands of Nazis and their accomplices combed the cities and countryside of Europe to sniff out Jews, trapping every Jewish person who tried to slip through their fingers. This was a goal to which the Nazis devoted themselves with the greatest efficiency. The Jews were generally abandoned by their neighbors and by the free world. They had no country of their own to which they could turn; and they had no means of self defense. The majority of the populations in which they lived remained indifferent to their fate. Many even helped the Nazis to imprison and deport Jews to the death camps.
Frequently, the question has been asked: Was the Holocaust a unique event, unprecedented in human and in Jewish history? The historian, Jacob Talman, has pointed out the major difference between the Holocaust and all other massacres in human history.
"Never since the dawn of history had the world witnessed such a campaign of extermination. This was not an explosion of Religious fanaticism; not a wave of pogroms, the work of incited mobs running amok or led by a ring leader; not the riots of a soldiery gone wild or drunk with victory and wine; not the fear-wrought psychosis of revolution or civil war that rises and subsides like a whirlwind. It was none of these. An entire nation was handed over by a 'legitimate' government to murderers organized by the authorities and trained to hunt and kill, with one single provision, that everyone, the entire nation be murdered - men and women, old and young, healthy and sick and paralyzed, everyone, without any chance of even one of those condemned to extermination escaping his fate.
After they had suffered torture, degradation, and humiliation inflicted on them by their tormentors to break them down, to rob them of the last shred of human dignity, and to deprive them of any strength to resist and perhaps of any desire to live, the victims were seized by the agencies of the state and brought from the four corners of Hitlerite Europe to the death camps to be killed, individually or in groups, by the murderers bullets over graves dug by the victims themselves, or in slaughterhouses constructed especially for human beings. For the condemned, there was no judge to whom to appeal for a redress of injustice; no government from which to ask protection and punishment for the murderers; no neighbor on whose gate to knock and ask for shelter; no God to whom to pray for mercy. It is in all this that this last campaign of extermination differs from all the other massacres, mass killings, and bloodshed perpetrated throughout history.
The Holocaust visited on the Jews is different from all other earlier massacres in its conscious and explicit planning, in its systematic execution, in the absence of any emotional element in the remorselessly applied decision to exterminate everyone, but everyone; in the exclusion of any possibility that someone, when his turn came to be liquidated, might escape his fate by surrendering, by joining the victors and collaborating with them, by converting to the victors faith, or by selling himself into slavery in order to save his life."1
One important element of the Holocaust was that the Nazi genocidal machine was aimed not only at the destruction of the European Jewish Community, but also at the Jewish seed itself. It was a war not only against the Jews racial existence, but also against the Jewish procreative potential. The very number of individuals imprisoned and murdered in the concentration camp network challenges one's ability to comprehend the enormity of the suffering. The repeated exterminations that had already begun in the ghettos, continued on arrival at the camps and were repeated again and again at every medical inspection. Anyone with any sign of physical disease was eliminated. The suffering and deprivation were enormous. Mortality after liberation from Bergen-Belsen was so great that many of the physically weak died almost immediately after the liberation they had longed for.
On May 8, 1945 World War II ended in Europe. At war's end there were about 10 million people in the Nazi labor and concentration camps, forced labor units, and prisoner of war camps. Among the huge number of newly liberated people who sought to return to their homes, there were only about 200,000 surviving Jews (from a population of about 6 1/2 million), who had neither homes nor countries to return to. The Jews from the western countries of France, Holland, and Belgium – as well as many Hungarian Jews did indeed return to their countries of origin. But the majority of the surviving Jews of Poland and Lithuania refused to return to those lands despite the attempts made by the United States and other countries to persuade them to do so. These Jews had neither family nor friends waiting for them in their original homelands and communities, only unfriendly neighbors who feared that the Jews would ask to have their property returned to them.
At war's end, tens of thousands of survivors found themselves in Displaced Persons (DP) Camps, waiting to immigrate to Israel (then called Palestine). These survivors included Jews from Germany, Austria, Italy, and in particular, Poland, where they no longer found a viable Jewish community, and moreover, the Jews who had survived were still the objects of hate and murder by Polish nationalists. The survivors of the Holocaust were condemned to wait many times for long months and sometimes even years until they were able to immigrate to Israel. Their determination to reach that land and rebuild a homeland was a major contribution of the survivors to the eventual independence of Israel and to the renewal of Jewish life in the Jewish State.
In assessing the impact of the Holocaust on survivors, it needs to be said that no person could have survived Hitler's concentration camps and emerged totally unchanged. The implications to world Jewry and succeeding generations are indeed vast and complex. It is the intent of this paper to focus on these implications in three important areas. First, a brief comparison will be made between the Jews of eastern and western Europe, followed by a more in depth discussion of the situation in Poland, comparing life as it was pre-holocaust with life as it is today. Next, this paper will look at the impact on survivors - both adult and child: the psychological, the physical, and spiritual implications. Lastly, the effects on the second generation of the survivors will be discussed along with the implications to family life.
The Jews of Germany and Western Europe
The Jews of Western Europe, including Germany, did not see themselves as a separate national minority within the countries in which they lived. They claimed to differ from other citizens only in respect to their religion. Their desire was always for the same full and equal rights as the rest of the populations. They felt they were an integral part of each country in terms of nationality. In Germany, nearly two-thirds of the 500,000 Jews were engaged in trade and commerce, one quarter worked in industry, and about one-eighth were in public service and the professions--mainly law and medicine. Prior to World War II, during the Weimar Republic, the socioeconomic position was overwhelmingly middle and upper class. The Jews of Germany had deep ties to the Fatherland. They had lived there for centuries. The following passage may help to illustrate the attitude of German Jews.
"...not with any other nation have the Jews ever lived as closely, nor have they ever identified to such a great extent, as they have with the Germans. They were Germanized not only on German soil, but far beyond Germany's border...The European Jews were not as deeply rooted in any other language as in the German language, and by language we mean spirit...Considering that in spite of the especially difficult hardships which sometimes encumbered life for the Jews in Germany, and to a certain extent continue today, they always remained in Germany, one must conclude that they shared characteristics attracted the Jews both to Germany and to the German spirit, and allowed for the Jews to be viewed as a beneficial compliment to the German nature..."2
In Western Europe, individual Jews achieved high positions in the political arenas of the countries in which they resided. In France Leon Blum was head of the Socialist Party and later became Prime Minister. One of the outstanding figures of the Weimar Republic was Walter Rathenau, who was Foreign Minister of Germany when he was murdered by Nationalist extremists. Many Jewish scholars won Nobel Prizes: Albert Einstein and Sigmond Freud blazed new trails with their scientific theories. Several Jewish novelists and poets--Franz Kafka (Czechoslovakia), Franz Werfel and Jacob Wasserman (Germany), Stefan and Zweig (Austria), were considered to be among the outstanding writers of their countries.
The Jews of Germany were shocked by the rise of Nazism, as were Jews everywhere. After so many years of living under relatively peaceful and prosperous conditions, they found it hard to believe that their position and lifestyle could be threatened. Survivors have given different reasons about why they did not leave. One account which perhaps speaks for many is as follows:
"People have asked me why the Jews of Germany, having read Mein Kampf, were so foolish as to stay on? Why didn't they just leave? I tell them that if you were to tell an American Jew in Cleveland, New York, or Chicago that something might happen, very few Jews would sell their businesses, very few would be willing to leave their homes and friends even to move to California...They would be very unwilling to move to a different country where they would not be able to practice their professions, where they could not speak the language or make a living."3
Furthermore, as Frances Henry asserts, "The ambivalence German Jews displayed in trying to cope with the threat of Nazism relates primarily to their history of assimilation into mainstream German society while at the same time attempting to retain their identity as Jews."4
The Jews of Eastern Europe
Due to the economic depression, social antagonisms, and inferior status of Jews that already existed in Eastern Europe, anti-Semitism was much more apparent. In Poland, Rumania, and Hungary, it was claimed that the Jews were a foreign element in the population who occupied positions that by right belonged to the majority population.
Despite the economic depression and the anti-Jewish policies of the Eastern European nations, the years between the two world wars were also for the Jews a time of awareness of national and religious self-identity, and also of increased cultural creativity. Hundreds of daily newspapers and periodicals were published by Jews for Jews, hundreds of thousands of Jews joined political parties, Jewish trade unions, and Zionist youth movements, and Jewish theaters presented high quality drama. In Poland and Lithuania, He brew and Yiddish school systems existed and thousands of young men studied in the yeshivot, whose quality, particularly in Poland, was recognized throughout the Jewish world.
The Jews of Poland
Before the Nazi Holocaust, three and a half million Jews lived in Poland. Today less than 5,000 remain. In no other country, other than ancient Israel, have Jews lived continuously for as many centuries, in as large numbers, and with as much autonomy as in Poland. For a thousand years, Jews lived among the Polish people, playing a key role in laying the foundations of Polish trade and industry. At the same time, they developed their own unique culture like nowhere else in the world. From Yiddish, their native tongue, sprang literature, music, a vibrant press, and theater. Over the centuries as their roots sunk deep into Polish soil, a way of life developed that blended spiritual values with folk culture. Kabbalistic mysticism and Talmudic rationality became interwoven.
Jews first came to Poland from Byzantium and the Moslem east. "The discovery in Wronki in 1920 of a one thousand-year-old synagogue provided evidence of thriving Jewish commercial settlements in Poland a generation before the arrival of Christianity. Among the earliest Polish coins to be found are many bearing Hebrew inscriptions, attesting to the fact that the Jews had obtained the royal franchise for operating the country's mint."5
Over the centuries, the Jews transformed Poland from an underdeveloped, back ward country, into a commercially and industrially viable nation. They had tapped her natural resources, established her textile industry and other industrial and commercial enterprises, and laid the very foundation of her economy. They were to be rewarded with the country's contempt, and the government viewing them as obsolete. By 1939 one-third of Poland's Jews were dependent upon American Jewish relief agencies for survival. When Hitler conquered Poland, he found every Polish political party, with the exception of the socialist party, committed to anti-Semitism.
From 1939 to 1945, ninety percent of the Jews of Poland were slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis as well as from their own countrymen. They suffered the greatest Holocaust in history. The Poles who aided the Jews during those years were the exception rather than the rule.
After the defeat of the Nazis, the Polish Jews who had survived either by fleeing to the USSR or by hiding in caves and forests, sought to return and reestablish themselves again in Poland and restore their shattered heritage. Returning Jews were met with hostility from Poles who in their absence had appropriated their property, homes, and businesses. On July 4, 1946, in the town of Kielce, a large anti-Jewish outbreak of violence claimed forty-two Jewish lives. Following this, hundreds of Jewish survivors perished in many other violent attacks throughout Poland, which finally convinced most Polish Jews to leave and that immigration was the only option left to them.
Almost twenty years ago, in the summer of 1975, two American researchers toured Poland, traveling to nearly a hundred cities and towns. They spoke to countless people and recorded what remained of what was once the world's most vibrant Jewish community.6 They found that the Jewish population was composed of mostly the elderly and the indigent. In fact, it had completely disappeared from all but a few centers. Everywhere they went were crumbling, decayed synagogues and communal buildings, some of which had been converted to other uses. They found neglected Jewish cemeteries and monuments and thousands of tombstones scattered about, transforming Poland into the world's largest Jewish burial ground. One can only imagine what would be found today in 1994 if the same research were to be repeated.
Of all the cities of Poland, only Cracow was found to have a considerable percentage of its historic synagogues and institutional buildings survive the ravages of Nazism intact. "The city's major synagogues - about one hundred - had been concentrated in the Kazimierz quarter, the former heart of the ancient Jewish community. Today on almost every street there are to be found former synagogues, study houses, or schools which have been either converted to other uses or stand in abandon. The famous high synagogue is still there, but it is now used as an apartment house."7
"Many synagogues and study houses still stand on Jazefa Street, but they have been converted into private homes."8
"The renowned Cracow Yeshiva still stands on Esther Street, but is totally abandoned."9
Of all the synagogues remaining in the Kazimierz quarter, only the Alte Shul on Szeroku Street has been restored by the Polish government. This is Poland's oldest synagogue, dating back to the time of King Casimir the Great in the fourteenth century. But gone from the synagogue is the library of valuable books and ancient manuscripts. Gone are the massive chandeliers and gone forever are the worshipers.
The situation in Cracow is repeated all across Poland. In Warsaw, high rise apartment buildings stand on the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. Not one rabbi was found in the entire country.10 When an elderly Hasidic Jew was asked why repairs were not kept up on the Kehilla building, his reply was "Whom should we repair it for? After us there will be no Jews left in Poland."11 The Warsaw Jewish cemetery had "become an impenetrable overgrowth of trees and bushes, a jungle whose roots and vines intertwine with Hebrew letters and epitaphs."12 Vandals have desecrated tombs, searching for buried gold.
"In Wegrow, the Jewish cemetery has become a soccer field. In Krasnik, Jewish tombs were used to pave a side street, the Hebrew epitaphs still clearly visible."13
Prior to World War II, "Poland had twenty-seven Yiddish dailies and one hundred weeklies. The greatest Yiddish newspaper in the world, Haint (Today) was published in Warsaw. It had over one thousand correspondents and was read by millions of Jews throughout the world. Among its contributors was David Ben Gurion and Shalom Asch."14
"In 1939, Warsaw boasted of six full-time Yiddish theaters and one hundred other Jewish troupes active throughout the country."15
"In Rzeszow, a Galician town, once forty percent Jewish, but where today not a single Jew is to be found, two huge four-pillared synagogues remain. The town officials have converted the structures - one into a museum of Polish art, the other into municipal archives."16
A major concern of many of the elderly Jews was not so much the fate of their beloved synagogues, as what would become of their bodies after death. "Who will be left here to say Kaddish for us?"17
"In Gorlice, the town commemorated their martyred Jews by a small plaque on a wall of the town bakery, seemingly an odd place for such a memorial. On inquiry, it was found to have been the local synagogue."18
Again and again these sad facts were encountered. In town after town prayers said for centuries have been silenced. None of the wooden synagogues, once considered national treasures of Poland, were spared the fires of the Holocaust.
In Poland had been located many if not most of the greatest world centers for Talmudic study, the yeshivot, and no where else in the world had there been a yeshiva like that of the Yeshivot Chachmei Lublin (Academy of the Sages of Lublin). Lublin had been a very special place - the very spiritual heart of Polish Jewry, renowned for its scholars and sages. One of them was so great that he was referred to as the Seer of Lublin.
The great Yeshiva of Lublin was so important in the life of the entire Polish nation that for centuries it rector was appointed by the King of Poland himself. A horrifying account of the wanton vandalization of this center of learning by the Nazis is found in the Deutsche Jugendaeitung (February 1940):
"It was a matter of special pride to us," proclaimed the Nazi narrator, "to destroy this Talmudic Academy, known as the greatest in Poland. We threw out of the building the large Talmudic library and brought it to the market place. There we kindled a fire under the books. The conflagration lasted twenty hours. The Jews of Lublin stood around weeping bitterly. Their out cries rose above our own voices. We summoned a military band and the triumphant cries of the soldiers drowned out the noise of the wailing Jews."19
In 1975, there were only thirty Jews left in a city where before the war 46,000 Jews lived (forty percent of the city's population). The building which housed the Yeshiva survived, but was being used to house the Lublin Medical College. There was no memorial explaining its great historical significance. Future generations of medical students will not know the history of this great building as they carry on its great tradition of scholarship.
Not far from the Academy is a Jewish burial ground. Here rests two of the Academy's greatest intellectual giants and former teachers. Solomon Luriu (1501-1573) and Rabbi Meir Lublin (1558-1616). No one is left to visit their graves.
The Jewish quarter of Lublin - Podzamcze - which was once a maze of courts and twisting alleys, houses of study, and synagogues, was totally leveled by the Nazis. Only the former entrance gate remained. It was still referred to as "The Jews Gate."
In the eighteenth century Hasidism swept onto Poland from the Ukraine. It was the greatest religious revival in the history of the Jewish people. It breathed into Polish Talmudism a new life which is still felt by Jews today the world over. Insignificant towns and hamlets were suddenly awakened and transformed by the fame of their Hasidic Sages, into centers for thousands of pilgrims.
The Zaddik was seen as a bridge between earth and heaven:
"His gift from God was the Noblesse Oblige to elevate his fellow humans rung by rung on the Kabbalistic ladder of consciousness, and this he often sought to do through ecstatic song and dance as well as scholarship. In the great halls of the Rebbe's court, sumptuous feasts - the Rebbe's tish (table) were held, at which hundreds of anxious devotees hungrily consumed each word of the Zaddik along with the delectable food, drinking and circle-dancing late into the Polish evenings."20
The Hasidic towns became centers of poetry, music, and dance; their approaches to life and even their style of dress reflected the personality of the particular Zaddik. The musical power of the Zaddikim remained to the very end, for even on the path that led to the gas chambers, soaring Hasidic melodies were often heard, elevating their singers far above their suffering and earthly hell.
The most popular Hasidic dynasty in Poland was found in a town called of all things, Mount Calvary (Gora Kalwaria), but to Jews it was "Ger," seat of the Gerer Rebbe, known as the emperor of Polish Hasidism. As great as his accomplishments in learning were, so was his humility, and the people loved him for it. The major industry of the town came to be providing for the physical and spiritual needs of the many pilgrims.
The Gerer Rebbe fled to Palestine in 1940, where like a Phoenix, he reestablished his court in Jerusalem. In 1975 not one Jew was living in Gora Kalwaria. The Zaddik's synagogue was being used as a warehouse, his home had been transformed into apartments, and not one Jewish tomb remained in the cemetery. Gone forever is Ger, while Gora Kalwaria sinks again into the landscape, just another insignificant hamlet in Poland.
And so across the forests and fields of Poland, dozens of hamlets, whose names were once whispered in reverence and awe as gateways to the heavens, have sunk into the anonymity of the Polish countryside. In almost all of the towns where Jews once formed the majority as well as in most cities, there was not so much as a small plaque to remember the tragic fate of the citizens who once lived there; citizens with a thousand-year history of significant contributions to Poland.
A wave of revulsion spread across Britain and the United States as news of the death camps became known. Colonel Gerald Draper, a British military officer recalled the state of the survivors at the time of liberation in the following account:
"Men and women clad in rags, and barely able to move from starvation and typhus lay in their straw bunks in every state of filth and degradation. The dead and dying could not be distinguished. Men and women collapsed as they walked and fell dead."21
In April 1945, at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, British battle-weary soldiers familiar with the horrors of war, were shocked as they never thought they could be by the sights that confronted them. The following is yet another account: "The inmates had lost all self-respect, were degraded morally to the level of beasts. Their clothes were in rags, teaming with lice, and both inside and outside the huts was an almost continuous carpet of dead bodies, human excreta, rags, and filth."22
Medical teams set to work to save those who could be saved, but even as they were surrounded with kindness, care, and food, it was not enough. Hundreds died as a result of the richness of British army rations. Not being used to such food, their digestive systems couldn't cope. Some were so deteriorated that there was nothing that could be done to save them. British doctors would mark a red cross on the foreheads of those who they thought had any possibility of surviving.
Another British soldier, Peter Combs, sent the following account of the conditions at Bergen-Belsen in a letter to his wife:
"The sight of these affects one profoundly, for while there is still life and movement, we are interested in their salvation mentally and physically. The conditions in which these people live are appalling. One has to take a tour around and see their faces, their slow staggering gait and feeble movements. The state of their minds is plainly written on their faces, as starvation has reduced their bodies to skeletons. The fact is that all these were once clean-living and sane and certainly not the type to do harm to the Nazis. They are Jews and are dying now at the rate of three hundred a day."23
From the survivors' point of view of those first few days of liberation at Bergen-Belsen, Fania Fenelon gives the following description:
"A new life breathed in the camp, Jeeps, command cars, and trucks drove around among the barracks. Khaki uniforms abounded, the marvelously substantial material of their battle dress mingling with the rags of the deportees. Our liberators were well fed and bursting with health and they moved among our skeletal silhouettes like a surge of life. We felt an absurd desire to finger them, to let our hands trail in their eddies as in the Fountain of Youth. They called to one another, whistled cheerfully, then suddenly fell silent, faced with eyes too large, or too intense a gaze. How alive they were, they walked quickly, they ran, they leapt. All of these movements were so easy for them, while a single one of them would have taken away our last breath of life. These men seemed not to know that one can live in slow motion, that energy was something you saved."24
On the same day that the British entered Bergen-Belsen, American troops entered yet another camp at Nordhausen, where hundreds of slave laborers were found in conditions the United States signal corps recorded as "almost unrecognizable as human." The Americans and the British listened in horror as every liberated prisoner recounted stories of past atrocities.
A journalist, Robert Weltsch, who had been editor of "Juedische Rundschau" before the war and had immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1938, returned to Germany in the fall of 1945 to cover the Nuremburg Trials. On November 27, 1945, he recorded the following in his paper:
"All of Europe is in a heap of rubble and is in chaos. The Jewish people were thrown into this fate and have suffered more than any other people. But a remnant lives. And this remnant is s shrill witness against Nazi barbarism...Most of them spent years in concentration camps. All of them tell the same horror stories. It would take an entire book to describe these people, their types, their fates, the condition in which one finds them. Among them are intellectuals, simple village people, Lithuanian truckers, women, and young people who arrived in the ghettos at the age of 10 or 12 and then went into the concentration camps. Some escaped from Auschwitz, they have a five digit number and a triangle tattooed on their right forearm - the sign they were fated to be gassed or cremated...the old German Jewry no longer exist, all the well-known people have vanished, the synagogues and institutions are destroyed...Germany Jewry has vanished."25
Following the liberation of the camps, the Jews who survived suddenly found them selves faced with perplexing questions. Where now? For them to go back to Poland, Hungary, Germany made no sense, nor did they want to go. The streets were now empty of Jews, and it was a world without Jews. To wander about their former homes, lonely and homeless and always with the tragedy before their eyes, and to meet again and again a for mer gentile neighbor who would open his eyes wide in surprise that he was still alive. One survivor describes liberation as the "beginning of something unknown, disturbing, painful. I knew that all my loved ones at home and at school were dead. At age 16 I felt lost. Who was I? What should I do? Where should I go? Where could I find a place called home?"26
As thousands of Jewish survivors came into the DP camps, public opinion in the United States was aroused by the despairing situation. President Truman set up a special commission to investigate. They demanded the immediate entry of 100,000 of the survivors into Eretz Israel. At the same time members of the kibbutzim sent teachers and doctors to organize and try to psychologically heal the survivors.
The long range psychological effects of the Holocaust on the mental health of survivors are indeed multitudinal and complex. There can be no doubt that profound shock enveloped those arriving at the death camps. What had once been only rumor was, in fact, truth. Shock was followed by apathy. Martin Wangh asserts that "recovery from these two states could occur only by a means of psychic splitting. This meant that some form of denial or 'psychic numbing,' 'derealization,' or 'depersonalization.' had to take place."27 Also, in general, the senses became heightened, and one lived as a hunted animal, always on the alert for danger. Any aggressive, vengeful impulse had to be constantly suppressed, thus a paranoid attitude could become deeply rooted. Apathy was a period filled with extreme danger, any new arrival, who was already exhausted from the dehumanizing conditions of his transport or the ghettos, who remained in shock for any length of time, would surely be killed. And if he retreated into himself for too long, he would be shunned by other prisoners, and would be thus deprived of their support.
One way survivors coped with the prolonged horrors of the holocaust was to sustain the hope of reuniting with their families. Upon liberation, however, most of them were confronted not only with the discovery that their family members and friends had perished, but also sometimes with the horrible circumstances of their deaths. Many survivors, when physically able, returned to their home towns only to find their property destroyed or taken over, their pre-war neighbors indifferent or hostile, and their communities obliterated. Some continued their search in DP camps and elsewhere in Europe for several years. While some did find a few surviving relatives, others either never discovered what happened to their loved ones or learned that every single Jewish person they had ever known before the war had been murdered. Unable to fully comprehend their tragedy or to express their grief or rage, the survivors still had to undertake the task of rebuilding their lives. As they began these new lives, living conditions were often cramped and poor. There were few clothes and household goods available and food was rationed. Interesting and well-paying jobs were hard to come by. Most of the young refugees found themselves in menial factory or office jobs, or in domestic work.
A frequent occurrence were marriages that seemed to disregard all ordinary criteria. Recreating a family and bringing a child into the world was a concrete attempt to compensate for their losses, to counter the massive disruption of their lives and to undo the dehumanization and loneliness they had experience. Many survivors gave birth in DP camps as soon as they were physically able. Almost without exception, the newborn children were named after those who had perished. The children were often viewed as a symbol of victory over the Nazis. They were the future.
Uprooted, dislocated, and robbed, most survivors decided to leave Europe and find a safer place to live and rebuild their lives. Most of those who had survived the war adhering to Zionism went to Israel. Others, who had relatives in North America, went there with the hope of recreating an extended family.
In the United States, in addition to the difficulties shared by most immigrants, the majority of survivors encountered a unique cluster of negative reactions and attitudes. Most arrived as penniless refugees and received initial financial aid from relatives and Jewish organizations. The survivors were provided with very little help, however, in emotional rehabilitation. Their war accounts were too horrifying for most people to listen to. In addition, bystanders' guilt for having knowingly neglected to do anything to prevent their fate, led many to believe that survivors were pointing a finger at them. Reactions such as "that's in the past," "let bygones be bygones," "be grateful and happy for getting to America," or "look at the positive side of things" led most survivors to keep silent.
The initial reaction of silence proved detrimental to the psychological well being of the survivors and to their families and to their integration into their new cultures. The silence intensified survivors' sense of isolation, and formed yet another obstacle to the mourning process. This silence, imposed by others, proved particularly painful to those who had survived the war determined to bear witness. The only option left to survivors, other than sharing their Holocaust experiences with each other, was to withdraw completely into their newly established families. It has only been within the last 10 to 15 years that people have wanted to hear, but now many of the adult survivors have already passed away.
A syndrome is a group of signs or symptoms that occur together and characterize an abnormality. After World War II, the medical profession in many countries started to be confronted with survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. It took several years before a unified scientifically based view of their problems could develop. In 1961, William G. Nielderland, foremost psychoanalyst in the field of treating survivors, coined the term Survivor Syndrome. He came to realize that the symptoms affected not only survivors, but their families as well. The predominant symptoms included an inability to work, and even at times to talk. Anxieties and fears of renewed persecution, such as fearing uniformed police officers, were apparent. 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 presented symptoms involving thoughts of death, nightmares, panic attacks, and various other psychosomatic symptoms. Marital problems would combine with disinterest in life, people, and sometimes even in reality. This complex of disturbances that constitutes Survivors Syndrome can be summarized as follows:
As is noted from the above definition, the symptomatology can range from mild psychological disturbances to the very severe. Other well known psychologists in the field of treatment of survivors agree with this definition -- Chodoff, Krystal, Hoppe, Korany, and Barocus.29
In defining who is a survivor, Dr. Joel E. Dimsdale gives the following definition: "A survivor is one who has encountered, been exposed to, or witnessed death, and has himself or herself remained alive."30
Five psychological themes in survivors have been described. The first is the death imprint, which is related to anxiety about death. Involved here are images not just of death, but of grotesque and unacceptable forms of death. For many survivors, the imagery can include many forms of memory -- the smoke or smell of the gas chambers, the brutal killing of a single individual, or simply separation from a family member never seen again. The survivor can feel stuck in time, unable to move beyond the imagery.
The second category is that of death guilt. Death guilt is epitomized by the question "Why did I survive, while he, she, or they did not?" Before this happens, however, the imagery mentioned previously has already taken shape. Part of the survivors' sense of horror is the memory of their own helplessness and inability to act in ways they would ordinarily have thought appropriate (save people, resist, etc.), or even to feel appropriately (rage, compassion, etc.). Death guilt begins in the gap between the physical and the psychological. That is one reason for the recurring imagery in dreams and in waking life. Within the imagery is the survivor's sense of debt to the dead and responsibility to them. The irony is that survivors are likely to feel more guilty than do the perpetrators. The sense of guilt can be especially strong concerning the death of close relatives or friends. Guilt need not always be pathological as can be seen in the writings of Elie Wiesel, who wrote of the transformation of death guilt and debt to the dead, into that of responsibility in his One Generation After and Night.
The third category of the survivor syndrome is that of psychic numbing or the diminished capacity to feel. Psychologists have come to recognize psychic numbing as a necessary psychological defense against overwhelming images. However, this can easily out live its usefulness and develop into withdrawal, apathy, depression, and despair. The most extreme cases were apparent in the musselmen in the camps. Many survivors describe having survived by losing "all feeling." In Hiroshima, survivors have made similar comments such as "I became insensitive to human death."31 In numbing there is a separation of image and feeling.
A fourth category has to do with survivor sensitivity to or suspicion of counterfeit nurturance. The survivor feels the effects of his or her ordeal, but frequently resents help that is offered because it is perceived as a sign of weakness. Following the death immersion experience, the survivor's sense of a counterfeit universe may well continue. This sense seems confirmed when they realize that others view them as in some way carrying the taint of the Holocaust -- as persons to be feared and avoided as though they were contagious. They may in some cases inwardly accept this social response and feel themselves to be tainted. These conflicts can lead to patterns of distrust in human relationships, mutual antagonism, and the sense that much of the world around them, even life itself, is counterfeit.
The fifth and final category is the survivor's struggle for meaning. Survivors of Nazi death camps have been called "collectors of justice." They seek something beyond economic or social restitution. They seek something closer to acknowledgement of crimes committed against them and punishment of those responsible in order to reestablish at least the semblance of a moral universe. The impulse to bear witness, beginning with a sense of responsibility to the dead, can readily extend into a mission. For many survivors, the mission took the form of involvement in the creation of the State of Israel.
Where death occurs on the scale of the Holocaust, survivors are denied not only the physical arrangements of mourning, such as the grave, the remains, and the service, but also the psychological capacity to absorb and to feel their deaths and to complete the mourning process. This aborted mourning can create for the survivor's existence, a "life of grief." The survivor may be especially vulnerable to various kinds of psychological and bodily disturbances.
The conditions of the camps defy description. Any attempt to do so can only be a gross understatement. The nutrition was worse than inadequate; the results being the well-known musselmen: skeletons covered with skin -- living corpses. It became virtually impossible to tell the prisoners apart, the border between life and death became obscured. If deaths from the gas chamber and crematoriums are not included, mortality was still extremely high from multiple infections, frost bite, injuries from atrocities, disease of the respiratory tract, diarrhea, and first and foremost - chronic malnutrition and the diseases associated with it. Clothing and housing were inadequate beyond words. Lice and scabbies infections were rampant, along with many other infectious diseases such as typhus.
After liberation, those diseases that were readily apparent were treated as best as could be done. However, amongst some survivors diseases and defective conditions had slowly developed that nobody expected. They were not always dramatic, and the survivors never dramatized them. The connection between their sufferings in the camps and later illnesses was not obvious and doctors knew little about it. Physicians had never had the opportunity to see and examine resurrected corpses. The experiences in the camps were beyond any reach of their imagination, and the results of their experiences were therefore also completely unknown and unexpected. "The symptoms most frequently described were increased fatigability, failing memory, an inability to concentrate, restless ness, irritability, emotional liability, disturbance of sleep, headaches, and various vegetative symptoms. Anxiety and mood disorders were other aspects of the syndrome found in many of the investigated survivors. Slowly a general agreement as to the existence and disabling effects of this syndrome evolved."32
From the general somatic point of view, there is one very predominate syndrome doctors began to notice and that was "premature aging." The general impression in practically all the physicians dealing with these patients was that they looked "older than their age." Other somatic diseases affecting several body systems were often apparent in the same patient. What was most often seen was at least two types in one patient.
Diseases of the digestive tract were the most common, involving more than a third of the patients, with tendencies toward diarrhea and peptic ulcers being the most frequent. Peptic ulcers were most common in those who had shown signs of emotional disturbance after the war. The second most common group of somatic disorders was cardiovascular diseases. Most researchers are of the opinion that a higher incidence exists, particularly coronary disease, cerebrovascular diseases, and other manifestations of arteriosclerosis. This would be consistent with the frequent findings of premature aging and the atrophy of the heart muscle due to undernourishment during captivity.
Diseases of the respiratory tract have only been recorded in 30% of the survivors. The general impression was that these former prisoners had developed a reduced resistance toward respiratory infections.
As far as other diseases are concerned, cases of kidney stone and arthrosis deserve attention. Both of these conditions are found frequently among prisoners from concentration camps and have been regarded as consequences of the decalcification of the skeleton due to the lack of calcium in the diet.
The Holocaust has meant for the Jews, facing up to the most painful of realities...What it means to be a Jew. One of the central dilemmas after the Holocaust is to decide whether or not to remain a Jew. The Holocaust had threatened the Jewish people with near extinction.
One of the earliest psychological reactions experienced by Jews upon learning about the Holocaust was intense conscious and unconscious anger directed at the non-Jewish world. The Holocaust was seen as the result of gentile assault and indifference. It is especially painful, because for thousands of years, Jews have been persecuted by the gentile world. Since the Emancipation (about 1815) the Jews of Western Europe in particular, expected to be treated as everyone else, with all rights protected under the law. Jews felt and still feel enraged because their expectations of a decent world, where everyone is shown respect and given equal rights, were shattered into pieces by the most civilized people in the world -- the nation of poets and thinkers.
Following the Holocaust there has been a near irreversible rupture in Jewish-Christian relations. In previous anti-Semitic regimes, the Jew could convert, assimilate, or flee his persecutors, but during the Holocaust there was no escaping the executioner. The world's silence smashed any Jewish belief that Gentiles could and would restrain them selves from a total expression of hate. "Some Christian theologians have written that in order for any true dialogue and reconciliation to occur between Jew and Gentile, there first must be a ruthless self-scrutiny on the part of the Christian world regarding its behavior during the Holocaust, which includes a severe challenge to 'Christian theology.'"33
Central to the post-war experience of all survivors was the need to find purpose in what had happened and to thereby establish a viable belief system. A few such as Elie Wiesel, found meaning in their lives by using their creative resources to search for a purpose or simply to transmit the horror of what happened to an unknowing world. Others accomplished the same goal by relentless pursuit of Nazis, thereby reaffirming their belief that justice existed even in this experience. For still others, the establishment of Israel as a national state is considered a good and meaningful outcome. However, "For most survivors, the search for purpose led to unending reliving of the past horrors, or blanket denial and displacement. For these survivors there is no God, or even a belief system that can sustain them during periods of crisis."34
Theologians have struggled with the question of "where was God?" His silence has raised some painful questions, the terrible reality that God's chosen people were nearly completely wiped out while He remained silent. The problem of faith after the Holocaust is clearly an individual decision and every Jew must face the problem and let his conscience be his guide. Never before has there been such despair that such a question should be raised.
For ten months before the Second World War, there was an organized movement by Jewish organizations within Europe to move Jewish children out of Nazi Europe. The children were bundled onto trains, waved goodbye to their parents, and set off across Germany and Holland to ferries which took them to England. These were the ten thousand children of the "kindertransport." Only a few spoke English, most had no family or friends in England, and most never saw their families again. The following is an account of one of these child survivors:
"I came over at the age of three and a half. I still don't know where I belong. I was brought up in the Midlands. I went to a Christian school. I was no longer considered German. I was not considered English. I certainly was not Jewish -- my Jewish background was not nurtured. I am neither German nor English. I am neither German nor Jew. I would like to know what is my identity?"35
Following the war, more child survivors were brought over from Europe. Children who had survived mostly in hiding and even less so in the camps. The memories of these child survivors include tragic scenes of separation from their parents, a range of experiences of hiding and living incognito with Christian families or institutions, unbelievable cruelty and suffering at the hands of peasants as they wandered around the countryside, orphaned and abandoned, suffering hunger and freezing weather. Some remember their imprisonment in the death camps. In the camps, the children played lining people up and sending them to the gas chambers. They were excellent observers and understood the nature of danger and death. If needed, they could remain hidden for long periods in a dark unaired area without moving or uttering a sound. It should be noted that the mere existence of child survivors is a miracle, since in the Nazi extermination program the old and the children were their first priority.
At the time of liberation, the very young did not know their names, countries of origin, or even their native language. Through the efforts of international agencies, those whom no one claimed were sent to live with families abroad in foster or adoptive arrangements.
Problems encountered with the children were multiple. Most had no papers; the very young did not know their birth dates; age had to be determined from X-rays to establish approximate age by looking at bone structure. At the dinner table, children who had been used to being hungry and hiding food, would snatch and grab food and stuff it in their pockets. Many had trouble sleeping, fearing SS men would come and kill them in their beds. Others believed that the kindness being shown to them was really a Nazi trick.
Loss of identity among the children was a major problem. Parents had dressed little children in Nazi uniforms, put crosses around their necks and sent them into hiding. The essential facts about the children who hid from Nazi persecution are not fully known. In Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and the Ukraine, Jewish communities were in surroundings so hostile that no large scale attempts at hiding were possible. A few children were hidden by non-Jewish families, schools, and convents. How many survived and continued to maintain their false identity? How many were placed so young that they did not know their true identity? How many ever returned to identity as Jews? The parents, the relatives, the communities who might have retained or passed on such knowledge were destroyed.
In Western Europe, the situation was "relatively" more fortunate. "In Holland eleven hundred children were successfully hidden by the efforts of organized students; in Belgium the number was thirty-three hundred."36
It is hard to imagine any act more difficult for a parent than making a split-second decision to send a child into hiding totally on his own. Where ever they were separated from their families, it was common for children in hiding to begin to identify with their Christian benefactors. They learned not only to hide Jewish origins from suspicious outsiders, but also to reject those origins themselves. Many began to see Christians as their only real protectors. When a parent who had survived came to claim a child, it was not uncommon for the child to refuse to go with the person whom he saw as having abandoned him. "Heart breaking scenes were common. Many children reacted with bitter tears, hunger strikes, by running away, and with threats of suicide when faced with leaving rescuers and being returned to Jewish surroundings. Some spat at the mothers who had come to claim them."37
As one reads through page after page of interviews with child survivors, one senses the continuing burden of loss the survivors feel for the parents they never knew; a hunger for some link with the past through family connections; for traces of themselves buried in childhoods they dare not remember. Even as adults, they dare not risk shaking their only real ties of belonging by seeming ungrateful or disloyal in asking the adoptive parents for crucial answers and information about what is known about their origins, or the address of a relative of the family or origin.
The loss of parents in early life means loss of the very nucleus of one's own identity. Memory becomes clouded....Is the woman of my earliest memory my mother or someone else?
"This unusual phenomenon of searching for a parent who will always be younger than one's self was so common among survivors that in the sixties there was a popular Yiddish song (with words by Kalman Friedman), the refrain of which was An alter zun zucht zein yungeh mameh... 'An old son seeks his young mother, and at every life marking event, such as their own weddings, or their children's births, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, there is for all survivors the vivid, jarring encounter with those dead who should have been there.'"38
Clearly, losses that occurred very long ago continue to reverberate deeply through out life. Child survivors of the Holocaust are now entering old age.
Survivors in Old Age
Fifty years have almost passed, and of those who remain and are in old age, economically they represent a wide range, including the rich. However, there are also those whose golden age includes the experience of poverty. Some never established families in the post-war years and are truly alone in their final phase of life. Survivors have no models for aging. They have not seen their parents grow to an old age. Mother and fathers were often killed in their forties and fifties. While the Nazis meant to eventually annihilate all Jews, parents of the current survivors were condemned to death specifically because their middle age made them too old even for slave labor.
In the ghettos and camps, health took on a particular significance and disease usually meant an automatic death sentence. These feelings may still persist. Illness, hospitalization, or institutionalization may reawaken Holocaust-related feelings of helplessness.
As advanced age and declining health now bring survivors into contact with medical and geriatric institutions, there is a need for understanding of the particular issue that comes from the trauma each of these individuals have experienced in their earlier lives.
In helping survivors with problems related to aging, one must be aware of the unique meaning of family to this group. Family is a loaded concept for survivors because of the total or near total destruction of all members. There are unique bonds in the Holocaust families.
"Children have often been perceived by survivor-parents as the meaning for survival and the reason to be. In turn, the second generation is known to have experienced intensive conflict in breaking away because of guilt in imposing pain on parents who had suffered such cruel and multiple separation. No wonder illness, institutionalization or death of an aging parent may elicit in the son and daughter a set of complicated grief reactions that are related to the ever present issues of loss and mourning that binds and transcends generations of Holocaust victims."39
The need to bear witness is characteristic of many survivors, especially in the elderly who are aware of their advancing age and enraged by current trends to minimize, universalize, and even deny the Holocaust. Survivors are eager as never before to speak out. Volumes of survivor memoirs are now being collected that remember the dead, give them a name, a face, and a place in an effort to rescue them from oblivion and to ensure that they will be remembered as individuals with an identity, and not as an amorphous six million. In committing to paper detailed descriptions of their annihilated families and communities, survivors bind the living to the dead and hope to leave a legacy to their children and the following generations.
Children of the Survivors
In the second generation a whole new group of issues comes to light. A whole complex of emotions surround the birth of each second generation child of a survivor. Many women were justifiably fearful that they would not be able to bare children because of what they had experienced. Not to have a child was considered the ultimate defeat. Once born, these children were bound to be special. A child was tangible evidence of not only one's own survival, but also the Jewish people, and therefore, incredibly precious. For many parents, the child represented the ultimate defeat of Nazism...A life had been created against insurmountable odds. For others the birth was a profoundly religious event and was a precious gift of God.
In the postwar world, the parents held high hopes for their children. Yet as precious as they were, the parents held ambivalent feelings towards these children. The world had proven to be a dangerous place for children, especially for Jewish children. One and a half million children had died in the Holocaust. For the survivors, an intense personal war continued in which the ultimate victory would be obtained through the success and survival of their children.
Psychological Responses of Parents
It has been traditional within Jewish families to invest everything in the children. Children have always been highly valued. The mother, in particular, has always had a very important role in the upbringing of her children, transmitting to them from birth, foundational values of their heritage and of their own self-worth. But what of the mother who suffers from the Survivors Syndrome? And for that matter, the survivor father as well? Because of their own difficulties, there was often severe impairment in their ability to respond appropriately to their growing child, set limits, encourage curiosity, and accept normal robust activity in their children. The experiences of the parents in the Holocaust resulted in their viewing the child as a reversal of their own encounter with death and destruction. Consequently, the child was often "over valued and invested with meanings that were different from his own resources and abilities. He had placed on him expectations which far exceeded his own."40 The child's accommodation of the parents wishes was a critical ingredient to the parents own psychological survival.
Parents responses to their children varied. Some parents were simply unable to in vest emotionally in their children. Many of these parents were preoccupied with mourning their own losses. Many were emotionally spent. Resources they may have formerly been able to use in a catastrophe through extended families, were not available to these parents. "In addition, discipline was either very rigid or chaotically ineffectual and rarely related to the actual needs of the children. Therefore, the children tended to respond in turn with disruptive and sometimes even explosive behavior."41
Other parents expected their children to be representatives or reincarnations of those who were lost. "The survivor's child was not treated as an individual, but as an object, a possession to provide meaning to the parent's empty lives. The child was expected to vindicate all the suffering they had endured."42
Many of the survivors had been married before the war and some even had children. As it is traditional in Judaism to name children after deceased relatives, new children were often named after deceased children from the prewar family. One such child gave the following account:
"My father was married before the war. His wife and his children died. My mother was married before the war. Her husband and her children perished during the war. They met after the war in a DP camp. They got married and they had a son -- me. But I know that when ever they look at me, it is not me they see."43
Such children live not only their own existence, but also the existence of their deceased brother, their sister, parent, or grand parent. They often felt as if they were filling some one else's shoes or living with a ghost. Because of this, they were "often rigidly disciplined to achieve the parent's idealized version of the deceased relatives. Children who actually did embody many of the imposed characteristics were seen as a princeling and given no restrictions. The other siblings were then compared to the princeling and made to feel inadequate."44
The parents' needs had been repressed or denied to such a great extent during the war that after the war their neediness overflowed. The parents' needs consequently be came to them more important than the needs of their children. Many times it was as if the psychological needs of the parents depended on the conformity of the children. The need to restore lost relatives, coupled with the fear of experiencing another loss caused many parents to over invest in their children.
Psychological Responses of Children
In a study done in 1975, thirty years after the Holocaust, all the children of survivors had known of their parents survivorhood for as long as they could remember. "Not one child could remember a time when he did not have at least a dim awareness of his parents' experiences of persecution."45 Most children, however, had only fragmentary knowledge of isolated details. Some parents had withheld all information about their experiences in the past, while others had constantly repeated stories about their past from the time their children were little. However, even these parents did not communicate a coherent picture about their lives before and during the Holocaust.
The responses of children to their parents' Holocaust accounts included "isolation, denial, horror, guilt, anger at the world, and anger at the parents for subjecting them to the horrors of the past."46 Most children were extremely hesitant to question their parents directly and seemed to feel that to do so might cause their parents harm. Some children reported that knowledge of the parents suffering was very painful for them and produced in them a need to distance themselves. At the same time, many children were in awe of their parents ability to endure in the face of the seemingly overwhelming conditions of the concentration camps.
On interviewing the children, certain themes began to emerge as characteristic of the parent/child relationship. "These themes were the unavailability of the parents for their children's emotional needs, the extremely controlling and overprotective behavior of parents, and the induction of guilt feelings in the children."47 The most outstanding feature of all was the parent's inhibition of their children's separation. The parents communicated the idea that the only thing of value left in their lives was the children. "The positive aspects of the parent/child relationship's were that no child doubted his parent's love and all children saw their parents as consciously having their best interests in mind."48
In being exposed to the Holocaust, children of survivors were exposed to nothing less than the stress of having to confront a cataclysm themselves. For these children, whose parents were still living with the scars of the Holocaust, the knowledge of the past must be considered to be traumatic. The constant stressful presence of concentration camp imagery and evidence of their parents suffering constituted a prolonged, day-by-day exposure. That is to say "exposure to their parents' state of having been traumatized was for at least some children of survivors, psychologically close to their having been in a concentration camp themselves."49
The Pre-Holocaust Shtetl Family
One cannot consider the impact of the Holocaust on the children of survivors with out looking at its impact on the Jewish family and culture. Survivors brought to their families, not only the results of their persecutions, but also the remnants of their lives prior to the Holocaust.
One of the foundations of the shtetl family was the unshakable conviction in the love and devotion to their children. A mother's love was manifested by her involvement in every aspect of her child's welfare. Such love made necessary her intrusion into every aspect of her child's life. Parental love was also expressed by parents' unqualified willingness to sacrifice for their children. However, such sacrifice was not meant to be shrouded in silence. Rather, the children were to be constantly reminded of all the parents had sacrificed on their behalf, as well as their willingness to give up; their own lives for the children.
A typical expression of parents, when any misfortune, no matter how great or small, befell the child, was "Oh, it should have happened to me." Children had rigidly defined obligations. Corporal punishment was an accepted mode of parental retaliation for children's misdeeds. But in the final analysis, family bonds were strong, and a three generational household was a normal and expected family group.
Post-Holocaust Families Contrasted with Shtetl Families
Family life in the shtetl took place in the context of a closely knit community. The family life of survivor families, even those who had resettled in exclusively Jewish-American communities, tool place in the context of the family's isolation from others in every day affairs. The extension of this contrast is that the shtetl family socialized its children for participation in a community, while the survivor family raised its children regard less of and often in opposition to the demands of the outside community. However, the similarities between the patterns of the shtetl families and those of survivor families are striking. The features of parental intrusion, over protectiveness, control, sacrifice, and withholding of praise, are all quite similar.
There are, however, significant contrasts between the shtetl families and the families of survivors. For example, "the parental education of children to the nature of the world with its exclusive emphasis on the dangers and evils of the world and the parents' exhortations that the children guard all of their resources lest they are stolen, are in marked contrast to the shtetl values of generosity and charity."50
Following the Holocaust, parents who were transplanted to the United States and Israel found themselves confronted by a culture that was essentially different. "The position of survivors children was to be caught between the simultaneous impacts of parents trying to impose the old way, and the new demands of the world around them. The dilemma of the survivor's children was the following: On the one hand, their parents' demands and prescriptions were inappropriate in the new world; on the other hand, adherence to the demands of the new culture precipitated the displeasure and condemnation of parents. Thus, caught between the two worlds, the children had difficulty giving their fidelity to either."51
The Psychology of Survivor Families
Psychologists have classified post-Holocaust families into four major categories: Victim Families, Fighter Families, Numb Families, and families of "Those Who Made It." Many times families may also exhibit aspects of more than one type.
This type of family has been described as the following: "The post war home atmosphere of survivors where dominant identity was that of the victim was characterized by a pervasive depression, worry, mistrust, and fear of the outside world, and by; a symbiotic clinging within the family."52 These families were so concerned and preoccupied with survival that they would hoard food and money for fear that another Holocaust could occur. Children of such families were often trained to be survivors of future Holocausts. They were admonished by their parents to keep a low profile, not to stand out in a crowd. Guilt over the parents' well being was one of the main means of control used by the parents. Children often left their parents' homes later than other American young adults, and when they did they remained in close contact with their parents. Many children in this type of family were extraordinarily driven to succeed academically and professionally in order to make it big for their parents.
The term fighter was chosen for this type of family to convey either the way such survivors described their physical or spiritual roles during the Holocaust--as active strugglers for resistance and survival in the ghettos or concentration camps--or the posture they adopted after the war to counteract the image of the victimized Jew. The home atmosphere of fighter survivors was permeated by an intense drive to build and achieve. Illness was faced only when it became a crisis. Pride was fiercely held as a virtue: "The only one who can do it for me is me." Relaxation and pleasurable feelings were viewed as superfluous and a waste of time. Confidence and self-assertiveness, the ability to withstand stress and to overcome obstacles were highly encouraged and praised. Families of fighters, like victim families, did not trust outside authorities. Unlike victims, however, they permitted and encouraged aggression against and defiance of outsiders. Family members were "never again" to let another Holocaust catch them unprepared. Instruction to the children was clear..."Stand of your own two feet and make it big! Scare them if you like, but don't let them know if you are scared! Never give in...Never give up, no matter what!"53
In numb families both parents were frequently the sole survivors of their individual families, which before the war had included a spouse and children. The unspoken rule in these families was "no agitation." The parents always seemed to be in a state of shock and resignation. Rarely did their children know the specific details of their parents' life histories, yet they had the feeling their parents were marked by the past. In most numb families, the parents protected each other and the children protected the parents. While clinging to each other and never fighting with each other, the parents not only excluded the children, but also often neglected them. The children often viewed the parents as old, distant, and withdrawn. The children frequently adopted outside authorities and peers as family in an attempt to seek identification models and to learn how to live.
Those Who Made It
Many survivors in this group were motivated by wartime fantasy and the desire to "make it big" if they were ever liberated, in order to be the ultimate defeat of the Nazis. Some were motivated by a powerful need to bear witness. Single mindedness and persistently they sought higher education, social and political status, fame, or wealth. As with other survivor families, they used their money primarily for the benefit of their children, rather than for their own enjoyment. To all appearances, this group has more completely assimilated into American society than the other survivors. Some who married other survivors right after the war, eventually divorced them. Consequently, this is the only survivor group of the four which has a high rate of divorce. Those who later remarried almost always married non-survivors. The survivor's role was in these families the dominant one, and the other family members took subordinate positions. His or her ambitions became theirs. In these families, whose goal was to make a big name, at least one child was driven to follow the same path. Some survivors in this group devoted much of their careers and their money and political status to demand commemoration of and acknowledgement of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust, with dignity for its victims. They used their Holocaust experience to help others to understand the roots of genocide, to find ways to prevent its reoccurrence, and to help victimized populations in general.
Children of Survivors
Second generation children are now parents themselves. Thought they were born after the war, they are heirs to the Holocaust and the bridge between two worlds. Many bear the names of grandparents, whom they have never net. For them, the Holocaust is not an abstract, historical phenomenon. It is their past, their parents lives, their grandparents deaths. They are intimately involved. For the second generation the six million is not merely a statistic. It is their families, it is their parents, their brothers and sisters and millions of other Jewish brothers and sisters.
Their very existence symbolizes the indestructibility of the Jewish people. Therefore, the birth of each one is precious and gives meaning to their parents and is for them victory over those who had sought to destroy the Jewish people.
Most of the children of survivors grew up to become successful. They overcame the pain and the nightmares. Today they are lawyers, teachers, physicians, philanthropists, and professors. "Sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors are among the nations high achievers academically and in the professions. Many have chosen human service careers as a response to the inhumanity suffered by their people and a wish to help other victims of injustice and oppression."54
There can be no doubt that the Holocaust changed the face of the Jewish people. The large Jewish communities of Poland that were also centers of Torah study and Jewish thought are gone forever. In 1900, 81 percent of all the Jews in the world lived in Europe. Today, only a few sparse communities remain – the Jews have ceased to be a European people altogether.
In looking at the current demographic picture of Jewish communities throughout the world, most Diaspora Jews have improved their economic situations as compared to their previous conditions in Europe. However, there has been a drift toward assimilation and away from traditional Judaism. Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews is on the increase, and less importance is given by this generation to providing a Jewish education for children and youth. In the past Yiddish was a common language that united many Jewish communities in the Diaspora. This is gone. At the beginning of the century, there existed in countries such as Russia, Rumania, Lithuania, and Poland where the masses of Jews spoke Yiddish and wrote prose and poetry, an extensive literature. This was an "important unifying and consolidating force in Jewish society."55 Also, the focus of Jewish identity was located within the various Jewish communities themselves and they were the source of their own nourishment. Today, except for the ultra-orthodox, Israel now provides the focus of Jewish identity and national consolidation.
Often it is said that the passage of time helps ease the pain and can diminish the extent of the grief over loss of relatives and community. But it can also be said that time creates perspective and thus accentuates the historic significance of these events. Almost fifty years have passed and what has been learned? Germany, Poland, and other nations in whose midst the Jews lived for hundreds of years, must ask themselves why the majority of the populations gave silent agreement to Jewish deportations. Neither those nations, nor indeed the entire free world which may have been far from the scene of those events but were not lacking information, resources, and power, are exempt from responsibility. For the Jewish people the Holocaust constitutes a lesson in history which is a permanent part of their lives. The course of Jewish history has finally left Europe. The future lies in a contest between the American Jewish community and the Israeli Jewish community.
The United States
Following the war, Jewish immigrants who came to the United States were strongly encouraged by their relatives to abandon their European culture, language, religious practices and so on, and to suppress the memory of their experiences. This was no doubt a result of the guilt American relatives felt over not doing more to sufficiently aid the rescue of the European Jews. They were encouraged to look to the future – that this was more important than the past. Denial, however, proved to be ineffective. In the 1950's, when the children of survivors were of age to be Bar Mitzvahed, painful memories were stirred when survivors and their children became acutely aware of the absence of many relatives at these celebrations.
In the 1960's, the civil rights movement had a peripheral effect on Jewish identity. Jews realized that total assimilation into American culture and the relinquishment of their Jewish identity, religion, culture, and language was not a constructive way to satisfy their need to find meaning in the Holocaust and to experience rebirth of their lost communities and loved ones. To compensate for the lack of knowledge and denial of the Holocaust by Americans, and also because of the fact that Christians have not come to terms with the reality of the Holocaust, survivors began to actively shoulder the responsibility for teaching about the Holocaust to the population at large. In 1965, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Organization (WAGRO) organized the first annual formal Holocaust commemoration at Temple Emanuel in New York. Since most Americans have little knowledge of world history and only bits of distorted information about the Holocaust, WAGRO and other survivor organizations have become influential in sponsoring and supporting university curricula and museums including the American Museum of the Holocaust in Washington, DC, that teach Jewish history and Holocaust studies.
For the most part over the last two hundred years, the Jews of America have enjoyed peace and freedom of religion. America is known for its technology, quality of civilization, its compassion and justice. The Jews of America have thrived and done well here – they have become a strong community. Yet even here, the Jews fear...Could it happen again? It remains to the corridors of time as to the eventual outcome of the American Jewish community.
There can be no doubt of the connection that exists between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. Following the Holocaust, "denial, avoidance, and repression served the nation's collective ego effectively for a time. Zionists felt a need to eradicate the image of Jews as passive sheep."56 This repression was needed to preserve their hope and enthusiasm in order to rebuild an Israeli society, which helped liberate survivors of the negative identity that had been placed on them. Repression and denial permitted Zionists, survivors, and Israelis to focus all their energies on the rebuilding of the land. The rebuilding, reshaping, and rebirth of Israel was a realization of the survivors' fantasies of the rebirth of lost communities and relatives. The victorious battles leading to the birth of a new country, however, could never compensate for the lost battles of the survivors in their pasts.
The inability of survivors in Israel to confront the real destruction they had experienced and truly mourn their losses, functioned to keep survivors from feeling true identification with the Sabras – the other Israelis. In an attempt to bring national unity, David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, instituted a national Day of Remembering – Yom Hashoah [Day of the Holocaust on the 27th of Nissan, twelve days after the first day of Passover. It also coincides with Yom Hagvurah (Day of Heroism)] – Remembrance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The mourning of survivors and Sabras on a national level has reciprocal qualities. Those Israelis who have not personally experienced the Holocaust are given the opportunity to mourn loved ones. For survivors, Yom Hashoah is not only a day of public mourning and remembering, it is also a day of celebration of their survival and rebirth.
Another event that had a powerful effect on helping the survivors assimilate within Israel was the Eichman Trial. "The trial produced profound nation wide changes in the relationship between survivors and other Israelis."57 It had a great influence on the break down and isolation between these two groups. Before the trial, the other Israelis had felt mostly superior to the survivors because they had been active fighters. Also, second generation survivors often felt ashamed of their family background. "But the trial helped Israelis to finally understand the absurdity of the question: 'Why didn't they fight back?'"58 A leading psychoanalyst and theoretician, the late Dr. Hillel Klein, has pointed out:
"The Eichman Trial brought to public awareness the positive experience of solidarity, camaraderie, and the strength of life forces in the ghetto in the face of death. The trial provided and opportunity for national catharsis. In the sharing of grief and anger, those who had not personally known the Holocaust became aware of the historical facts and no longer clung to the stereotype of survivors as "sheep"..."heroes" or "holy men." The process of consciously dealing with this traumatic material served to (further) weaken the need for denial and distortion."59
Another event which renewed the possibility of annihilation of the Jewish state and had the same effect as the Eichman Trial was the Yom Kippur War. Israelis began to feel a common bond with all Jews and began to realize they shared a common destiny. The in tense response of Israel to the repeated attacks by its neighbors, and the desperate courage of its soldiers finds its explanation in the Holocaust experience. The slogan "Never Again," points clearly to this motivating force. "The Eichman Trial and Yom Kippur War were pivotal as a catalyst in the integration of survivors into the Israeli community."60
As a result of the strong work ethic and with the idea of looking forward to the future built into the national collective ego from its birth, survivors have experienced few identity problems as is found in the Diaspora. However, within the family there are problems in communication between parent and child, as is also seen in the Diaspora. The parents over protected their children, especially the first born, who were seen as the ultimate in the continuation of life as well as the resurrection of lost loved ones. Children, in turn, protected their parents by avoiding asking questions.
It is nevertheless astonishing, the amazing adaptation of Holocaust survivors and their families. Within Israel, the perpetuation of European culture into Israeli culture has been important to the task of maintaining the dignity of survivors. Also, the resurgence of the study of Yiddish, a language once frowned upon, demonstrates a true acceptance of the survivors. The re-creation of the Shtetl and the exhibits in museums of European culture (e.g. the exhibits of European Model Synagogues at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv) are also indicative of the growing affection for survivors, and of an acceptance of the history they brought with them.
It took nearly forty years before survivors and liberators began to talk. It took time for people to overcome and to speak of the horror they endured and saw. Now with old age upon them, they are speaking for the benefit of their children and for their grandchildren. At no time in recorded history have victims engaged in such massive efforts to leave a record. They have set it down in an unprecedented volume of memoirs, testimonies, and oral histories. Television miniseries have been produced: War and Remembrance, Holocaust, the nine hour movie documentary Shoah, and the recent release of Schindler's List, to name a few. The writings offer invaluable information about the economic, social, and familial conditions of life in the cities, towns, and villages before the war. Now with their numbers diminishing, their children grown up, their social position secure, it has become important to disclose what was done and suffered and what was lost. By testifying, survivors continue to deny victory to those who sought to destroy them and to the power of forgetfulness. Everything depends on who transmits their testament to future generations and on who writes the history of this period.
In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the need to teach the Holocaust as part of the required school curricula for all children. Florida recently passed such a Bill. All people must be taught that a human being is unique and valuable. No human being is replaceable. The importance of words must be taught – less than twenty years elapsed between Hitler's Mein Kamph and the Final Solution. The world must learn never to be neutral, never to be silent when other people's lives or dignity are at stake. Neutrality never helps the victim, it always helps the executioner. With the Allied victory in 1945, the Holocaust became history; increasingly distant; remote and forgotten. Nearly 75% of the current world population was born after the Second World War. For these multitudes, it is not a question of memory, it is a matter of learning.
We are the generation that has the responsibility to make sure that the Holocaust will be remembered; that the world that was will be remembered by this and future generations. Whatever we record, restore, or transmit will become public record. Whatever we decide to ignore, to discard, or to overlook will disappear.
The following is taken from the testimony of Phillip K. (T-1300):
"...If we were not an eternal people before, we are an eternal people after the Holocaust, in both its very positive and very negative sense. We have not only survived, we have revived ourselves. In a very real way, we have won. We were victorious. But in a very real way, we have lost. We'll never recover what was lost. We can't even assess what was lost. Who knows what beauty and grandeur six million could have contributed to the world? Who can measure it up? What standard do you use? How do you count it? How do you estimate it...? We lost. The world lost, whether they know it or admit it. It doesn't make any difference. And yet we won, we're going on."61