Effects of the Holocaust on Jewish and German Children and Their Descendants
A TIME OF HEALING, LIGHTING THE WAY TO A BETTER TOMORROW
A TIME OF HEALING,
LIGHTING THE WAY
TO A BETTER TOMORROW
As an assignment and in an effort to comprehend violence perpetuated against children, this site has been compiled by students attending Arizona State University researching the effects of the Holocaust on surviving German and Jewish children and their offspring.
More than 50 years ago, German Nazis committed unimaginable levels of sadism against humanity(Wheatcroft, 1996). During this grievous time period of human history, Nazis adhered to a single-minded program -- the extermination of an entire group of people. Six million Jewish Holocaust victims (of which one and one-half million were children) suffered from dehumanization, torture, humiliation and mass murder. What is incredible is that most Holocaust survivors have been able to rebuild their lives, careers, and families. Still, for many survivors, underneath this construction of functioning resides many scars. It is hard to escape the social trauma of any catastrophe and, not surprisingly, devastatingly profound effects on surviving individuals and their families have been documented. It is difficult for anyone who studies the events of the Holocaust to remain untouched to learn about the physical devastation and psychological suffering endured. However, the victims are not the only ones who have suffered from psychological repercussions from the heinous crimes committed during the Holocaust. Although it is not as well documented, it is important to note that German children growing up during the Holocaust, in essence, were forced to face the “sins of their fathers” or to deny the event ever took place. Either way, the German child’s identity was placed into a double-bind situation, for facing the truth could be as awful as trying to ignore it.
THE EFFECTS ON JEWISH CHILDREN
Kestenberg (1992) conducted a study examining the effects of persecution on Jewish children who survived the Holocaust. Psychological defenses emerged within the children, "including a numbing affect, personality splitting, and identification with the aggressor." The study suggests that the loss of identity and the loss of a feeling of belonging and being worthwhile was the most outstanding psychological effect of persecution. Kestenberg, J.S. (1992). International study of organized persecution of children. British Journal of Psychotherapy 8: 374-390.
Despite all the hardships the Jewish children endured, "many child survivors went on to become self-sacrificing, altruistic parents and regained a sense of belonging through having their own children." Kestenberg, M. & Kestenberg, J.S. (1988). The sense of belonging and altruism in children who survived the Holocaust. Psychoanalytic Review, 75(4): 533-559.
How did many of these young survivors manage to cope? Most young survivors of the holocaust feel a sense of guilt, and they experience a dueling sense of wanting to remember and wanting to forget. In addition, "survival guilt, a universal phenomenon among those who live through a catastrophic event and remain alive while others perish, may be transmitted for generations to come." Fortunately, however, many were able to "make conscious efforts to interpret their survival as a special obligation to give meaning to their lives." Some may have developed "enhanced adaptive capabilities" as a result of surviving such extreme stress. Rosenbloom, M. (1983). Implications of the Holocaust for social work. The Journal of Contemporary Social Work, 64(4), 205-213.
Surviving children of the Holocaust, a majority of who were young adults (ages 20-30), were slaves to those in power in the Third Reich. These children were slated ultimately for extermination when allied military forces liberated them. Those alive today are aged. How is it that a deep curtain of silence hung over this most heinous event in human history? It may be explained by realizing that "people were busy rebuilding their homes and lives and they did not wish to remember the past." Also, "the Cold War prematurely brought the Nazi war criminal trials to an end;" and, consequently, the "world was kept from hearing what happened." Rosenbloom, Maria (1983). Implications of the Holocaust for social work. The Journal of Contemporary Social Work, 64(4): 205-213.
It has been stated that one of the reasons that attention to the effects of the Holocaust is just now coming to light is that "understanding a major catastrophe is a process that usually takes twenty-five years or more." (Ostow, 1982b, as cited by Rosenman, S. 1982). Review Essay -- Out of the Holocaust: Children as scarred souls and tempered redeemers. The Journal of Psychohistory, 11(4): 555-567.
THE EFFECTS ON GERMAN CHILDREN
Although there are fewer studies done on the Holocaust's effects on German children, there is evidence indicating an overall sense of denial, a downplaying of the knowledge of the event, perhaps as a coping mechanism.
To illustrate this point, consider the following excerpts as paraphrased from a book wherein Germans who were children during the Holocaust were interviewed. When asked how they felt about the Jewish children’s fate, one man stated: “It didn’t become so conscious for me that I never had a Jewish classmate or pal. We saw the yellow star but I didn’t give it much thought.” Another woman tells us: “At the time, I heard people speaking about the Jews that had left, but I didn’t think much of it.” Still, another woman tells us that when her classmate, Harta, moved into the village, Harta told the classmates that where she (Harta) used to live, it smelled like burning human flesh. Upon hearing the news, the woman decided Harta was mistaken and that it could never be true for that would mean humans were being burned up. Still, the woman decided to ask her mother, who was surprised, agitated, and frightened and immediately commanded her to never speak about the incident. The woman goes on to say: “After that, the idea such a thing could be reality never occurred to me again.” Kestenberg, J.S. & Khan, C. (Eds.). (1998). Children surviving persecution: An international study of trauma and healing. Westcourt, CT: Praeger Publishers.
How is it possible that German children were so oblivious to the tragic events taking place at the time? It can most likely be explained by how they were educated. Hitler rigorously schooled German youth through military and sports activities (mostly boxing) so that they, especially boys, "could be hardened like iron in order to be able to overcome any need of their senses, and develop within them a spirit of aggression." German youths were not educated to value high, rigorous academic endeavors. During the Holocaust period, advocated 'German parenting and teaching practices included corporal punishment, abolishment of parental participation, and teachers patrolling corridors in Party uniform, harassing anyone not quick enough with their “Heil Hitler.”' In fact, a German motto at the time was “Form braun, not brains. We distrust words and phrases, we prefer action!” Burleigh, M. & Wippermann, W. (1991). The Racial State: German 1933-1945. New York: University of Cambridge.
The education that compelled Nazi Children to obedience has guided them into a problematic double-bind for their offspring. Even today, Germans try to explicate a distinction between being German and being a Nazi in order to distance themselves from the negative hidden, but implied, accountability inherent in admitting that one is German. Admittedly, the underlying fear of being accountable for the actions of one's forefathers (even if not fully aware of all that was taking place during the Holocaust), is a burden that not many would want to accept. Nazi descendants who do accept such an endeavor can suffer, realizing the wrong can never be corrected, whether or not they choose to examine the historical significance of the Holocaust. Not surprisingly, there is an underlying chaotic quest for identity in the Nazi lineage, as well as the Jewish children, as a result of the Holocaust. This notion is evidenced by von Kellenbach (1999) a third generation German descendant. von Kellenbach’s uncle was a Nazi war criminal, and she describes German childhood as being “met by silence, gaps, insinuations, half-truths and outright lies” [Krondorfer, 1995, as cited by von Kellenbach (1999). Review essay -- Breaking the silence: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. ReVision, 22(1), 28-35.]
Sites Examining the Effects of the Holocaust:
The Impact of the Holocaust on Survivors and Their Children
The Nazi Children's Home Page
The American Psychological Association Monitor: Holocaust’s Effects are Passed to the Children
Psychosocial Interventions for Children of War: The Value of a Model of Resiliency
A Paper on the Effects of the Holocaust on Second and Third Generations
Sites Examining the Evidence of the Holocaust:
Holocaust Survivor Oral Histories
Shamash Holocaust Photos
Holocaust: Photo Galleries
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photos
Related Resource Sites:
Resources for Children of Holocaust Survivors
The Hidden Child Newsletter published by the Hidden Child Foundation/ADL
Web Site Creators:
Donis Canisales, Jessica Corwin, Karen Burnam, and Monica Madrid.