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Social Influences

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Social Influences of the Holocaust

The Holocaust was a tragic point in history which many people believe never happened. Others who survived it thought it should never have been. Not only did this affect the people who lived through it, it also affected everyone who was connected to those fortunate individuals who survived. The survivors were lucky to have made it but there are times when their memories and flashbacks have made them wish they were the ones who died instead of living with the horrible aftermath. The psychological effects of the Holocaust on people from different parts such as survivors of Israel and survivors of the ghettos and camps vary in some ways yet in others are profoundly similar. The vast number of prisoners of various nationalities and religions in the camps made such differences inevitable. Many contrasting opinions have been published about the victims and survivors of the holocaust based on the writers' different cultural backgrounds, personal experiences and intellectual traditions. Therefore, the opinions of the authors of such books and entries of human behavior and survival in the concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe are very diverse.

The Survivors of the Holocaust: General Survey

Because the traumatization of the Holocaust was both individual and collective, most individuals made efforts to create a "new family" to replace the nuclear family that had been lost.

In order for the victims to resist dehumanization and regression and to find support, the members of such groups shared stories about the past, fantasies of the future and joint prayers as well as poetry and expressions of personal and general human aspirations for hope and love. Imagination was an important means of liberation from the frustrating reality by opening an outlet for the formulation of plans for the distant future, and by spurring to immediate actions.

Looking at the history of the Jewish survivors, from the beginning of the Nazi occupation until the liquidation of the ghettos shows that there are common features and similar psycho physiological patterns in their responses to the persecutions. The survivors often experienced several phases of psychosocial response, including attempts to actively master the traumatic situation, cohesive affiliative actions with intense emotional links, and finally, passive compliance with the persecutors. These phases must be understood as the development of special mechanisms to cope with the tensions and dangers of the surrounding horrifying reality of the Holocaust.

There were many speculations that survivors of the Holocaust suffered from a static concentration camp syndrome. These theories were proved to have not been valid by research that was done immediately after liberation. Clinical and theoretical research focused more on psychopathology than on the question of coping and the development of specific adaptive mechanisms during the Holocaust and after. The descriptions of the survivors' syndrome in the late 1950's and 1960's created a new means of diagnosis in psychology and the behavioral sciences, and has become a model that has since served as a focal concept in examining the results of catastrophic stress situations.

After more research was done, it was clear the adaptation and coping mechanisms of the survivors was affected by the aspects of their childhood experiences, developmental histories, family constellations, and emotional family bonds. In the studies and research that were done, there were many questions that were asked of the subjects: What was the duration of the traumatization? During the Holocaust, was the victim alone or with family and friends?, Was he in a camp or hiding?, Did he use false "Aryan" papers?, Was he a witness to mass murder in the ghetto or the camp?, What were his support systems- family and friends- and what social bonds did he have? These studies showed that the experiences of those who were able to actively resist the oppression, whether in the underground or among the partisans, were different in every way from the experiences of those who were victims in extermination camps.

When the survivors integrated back into society after the war, they found it very hard to adjust. It was made difficult by the fact that they often aroused ambivalent feelings of fear, avoidance, guilt, pity and anxiety. This might have been hard for them, but decades after the Holocaust most of the survivors managed to rehabilitate their capacities and rejoin the paths their lives might have taken prior to the Holocaust. This is true more for the people who experienced the Holocaust as children or young adults. Their families live with a special attitude toward psychobiological continuity, fear of separation, and fear of prolonged sickness and death.

The experience of the Holocaust shows how human beings can undergo extreme traumatic experiences without suffering from a total regression and without losing their ability to rehabilitate their ego strength. The survivors discovered the powers within them in whatever aspect in their lives that were needed.

Survivors of Ghettos and Camps

The Jews, arrested and brought to the concentration camps during WWII were under sentence of death. Their chances of surviving the war were minimal. Their brutal treatment on the part of the camp guards and even some of the other prisoners influenced the Jews.

The months or years already spent in the ghettos, with continuous persecutions and random selections, had brought some to a chronic state of insecurity and anxiety and others to apathy and hopelessness, even though passive or active resistance had also occurred. This horrible situation was worsened by overcrowding, infectious diseases, lack of facilities for basic hygiene and continuous starvation.

When the people were transported to the concentration camps, they lived in horrible conditions such as filth and lack of hygiene, diseases and extreme nutritional insufficiency, continuous harassment, and physical ill treatment, perpetual psychic stress caused by the recurrent macabre deaths- all combined to influence deeply the attitudes and mental health of camp inmates. Observations and descriptions by former prisoners, some of whom were physicians and psychologists differ drastically. Some described resignation, curtailment of emotional and normal feelings, weakening of social standards, regression to primitive reactions and "relapse to animal state" whereas others show feelings of comradeship, community spirit, a persistent humanity and extreme altruism- even moral development and religious revelation.

After liberation, most of the Jewish camp inmates were



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