Positive Factors in Holocaust Survival

by Izabelė Švaraitė

Ruth Reches, photo: Jonas Kliučius

An understanding of the Holocaust is incomplete without the psychological point of view. So says Ruth Reches, doctoral candidate at Mykolas Romeris University, who is researching the experience of Jewish genocide by survivors. While most researchers stress the negative consequences of this historical trauma, Reches is also researching positive aspects, those which allowed survivors to carry on.

The Holocaust Isn’t One Person’s Trauma

In Lithuania psychologists do investigate historical trauma such as deportation, Soviet oppression and war, but Reches is one of the first in the country to research the experience and survival of the Holocaust. She has interviewed Jews in Israel and Lithuania who managed to survive. The long-term study of trauma has led to a basic assessment of the consequences of the Holocaust, and Reches’s interviews with some of the subjects have had a therapeutic effect on the latter, who have opened up and talked about their childhoods during the war for the first time ever.

It’s not easy to assimilate traumatic experience, and requires both individual and societal effort. Society has to agree on the restoration of historical truth for that to happen. If the individual’s social environment denies the traumatic event occurred, the individual tends not to talk about it and to use other defensive mechanisms, and survivors do not share their experience and attempt to suppress their memories.

Reches says the psychological integration of trauma by Holocaust survivors largely depends on where survivors resettled after the war. Many Jews never came back to Lithuania but went to Israel instead, where they forged new identities.

Around 350,000 Jewish victims of genocide lived in Israel in 1949, accounting for a third of the population. As the new state was just getting established, survivors weren’t always treated favorably. The prevailing view was Jews in Europe had failed to oppose their own annihilation. As the new identity of “Jewish fighter and founder of the new state” came to the fore, “unheroic” elements weren’t welcome, and the experience of survivors didn’t coincide with the shared vision of Israel.

Full article in Lithuanian here.