More than 60 years after World War II, many Holocaust survivors in Israel and the US have been found to experience psychiatric problems such as anxiety, emotional distress and sleep disturbances, according to a study published Thursday in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Researchers based in Jerusalem and the US held face-to-face interviews with 145 European-born Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Of these, 55 had been in concentration camps and 36 in ghettos or in hiding, while 54 had fled their countries to escape the Nazis.
Anat Shemesh and Dr. Itzhak Levav of the Health Ministry, Asaf Sharon and Jenny Brodsky of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute in Jerusalem, and Dr. Robert Kohn of Brown University in Rhode Island also interviewed a comparison group of 143 European-born Jewish Israelis who had not been exposed to the Holocaust.
They found that anxiety disorders, emotional distress and sleep disturbances were more frequent among Holocaust survivors than among the control group. However, symptoms of depressive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder were no more common among Holocaust survivors than among the comparison group.
"The Second World War ended in 1945, yet for some - but not all - of those who survived the Holocaust the psychopathological impact seems to have been present over the years, and even six decades later," the researchers wrote. "The reported sleep disturbances are noteworthy and could result from repeated and traumatic imagery or dreams regularly appearing during sleep."
Severe adversity, such as that experienced during the Holocaust, can affect people in different ways as they get older, they noted. In later years, feelings attached to the encapsulated memories of the adverse past events might return, possibly reactivated by other events such as Holocaust Remembrance Day, visits to the extermination camps in Europe, or war, they concluded.
"In older individuals, who often engage in retrospection, past memories might vividly evoke those early years of deprivation, losses and persecution, and as a result repressed or suppressed feelings might emerge," they wrote.