Visitors at Yad Vashem 370.
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Contrary to public opinion and some academic reports, University of Haifa
researchers maintain that the second generation of Holocaust survivors share
their parents’ trauma from the Nazi era only in “special and extreme
After conducting studies for the past 20 years at the
Israeli university and at Leiden University in the Netherlands, researchers have
published their conclusions in the Journal of Loss and Trauma.
that there is no difference in the amount of psychological and physiological
suffering in the second generation compared to their counterparts who are not
the children of Holocaust survivors. The only group that do “inherit” trauma are
those whose parents endured “extreme situations” during the Holocaust, wrote
Prof. Avi Sagi-Schwartz of Haifa and Prof. Marinus Van-Isendoorn and
Prof. Bakermans-Kranenburg in Holland.
Also participating was Dr.
Ayala Friedman, who studied the subject as part of her doctoral work.
team decided to look at the physiological situation of the second generation and
not just psychotrauma because they thought that maybe they had been missing
something, because psychological trauma is easier to measure, Sagi-Schwartz
Thus they measured differences in the production of cortisol by the
body. This “stress hormone” is released in reaction to day-to-day stress to warn
the body. The hormone is usually at a higher level in the morning and declines
as the day turns into night. They studied 32 women survivors who lost both their
parents in the Holocaust, and their daughters born in Israel. The control group
that did not live during the Holocaust included 33 women who came on aliya a
short time before the rise of Nazis and their daughters who were born in
Among the survivors, higher levels of cortisol were measured
during routine days compared to that in women who had not gone through the
Survivors also were found to dissociate at least temporarily
between certain traumatic experiences and other feelings of which they were
aware. But the second generation showed no differences in cortisol levels or
dissociation from their counterparts with no Holocaust experience.
researchers did find high levels of cortisol in second-generation women if their
mothers were found to have extremely high levels of dissociation.
instead of generalizing about the second generation, the researchers said, or
even about the third generation, “we must find the unusual groups who in certain
conditions could have inherited traumas from the Holocaust, and then we can try
to help them,” said Sagi-Schwartz.
Prof. Danny Brom – head of the Israel
Psychotrauma Center of Jerusalem’s Herzog Hospital – told The Jerusalem Post
that he agreed with the University of Haifa findings. “There is not more
psychopathology in the second generation compared with their peers. There may be
some psychological characteristics, but not more psychological pathology,” said
Brom, who knows the three researchers and was born in Holland.
children of Holocaust survivors who remained post-traumatic for many years after
World War II may be more prone to suffer from emotional difficulties, such as
being inflexible in relationships, overprotective of or apathetic to children or
preoccupied with the Holocaust, he said. Organizations for Holocaust survivors
such as Amcha, in which Brom has been involved, also help members of the second
“But theirs is not a public health issue, as trauma in the
second generation is not common. The third generation is even less affected.
Amcha treatment is provided to half of people with home visits, as the very
elderly cannot easily leave their homes,” Brom added.
Such patterns are
not exclusive to Holocaust survivors but also found in survivors of terrorist
and missile attacks; this can also affect their children.
But there is a
lot of resilience, despite what they’ve been through, Brom said.