A new Israeli study shows that the trauma of the Holocaust left an intergenerational mark on families, manifesting in how the adult children of survivors cope with stress, particularly as it relates to caring for their elderly parents.
Psychology researchers have long disagreed over whether the trauma of the Holocaust has permanently transferred into the offspring of survivors. Some argue that the children of Holocaust survivors exhibit impressive resilience and do not differ in major health markers — such as symptoms of depression and anxiety — from the general population.
Other researchers posit that the overwhelming suffering experienced by Holocaust survivors has lingered across generations, thereby affecting their offspring and other kin.
In an effort to bridge these contradicting views, a third theory suggests that the offspring of survivors are generally resilient, yet their vulnerability is exposed when they are coping with prolonged stress.
With this new theory in mind, the Bar-Ilan University researchers conducted a three-part study examining the way in which adult offspring of Holocaust survivors cope with stressful situations related to serving as caregivers for their elderly parents.
Their findings are published in the journal Aging & Mental Health.
In the first part of the study, the researchers conducted intensive interviews with 10 adult offspring who were acting as caregivers to their survivor parents. The respondents shared their concerns regarding their parents’ condition, and emphasized their desire to protect their parents from any additional suffering. They also noted the unique difficulties in caring for traumatized parents, such as their resistance to being treated by Jewish physicians with German names.
In the second part of the study, the researchers interviewed 60 adult offspring, half of whose parents survived the Holocaust and half whose parents were not directly exposed to the Holocaust. The researchers found that the offspring of survivors expressed a greater commitment to caring for their parents and also felt greater anxiety regarding their parents’ condition, compared to their counterparts.
In the third portion of the study, the researchers interviewed 143 parent-child dyads (some with Holocaust background and some without). The researchers found much greater levels of commitment and anxiety among the offspring of survivors who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“These findings have some important practical implications for practitioners assisting adult offspring of Holocaust survivors in caring for their parents,” said Professor Amit Shrira, of the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences.
“Practitioners should help both sides process negative emotions, resolve conflictual and problematic relationships, and improve their relationships. They should also facilitate offspring comprehension of, and empathy towards, complicated behaviors exhibited by the care recipient.”
“Lastly, they should encourage offspring of Holocaust survivors to express their own needs and suggest other methods of care for their parents so that the burden doesn’t fall entirely upon them.”
Shrira conducted the study with Dr. Moshe Bensimon, of the Department of Criminology, and graduate student Ravit Menashe.
Source: Bar-Ilan University