Holocaust Remembrance / Living in Israel helps survivors cope with trauma
Haifa university analysis of prior studies shows survivors cope better in Israel than in U.S. and Australia.
Holocaust survivors in Israel cope better with the traumatic effects of the genocide than those living in the U.S. and Australia, according to mega-analysis of prior studies performed by researchers from the University of Haifa.
The analysis, carried out at the university's Center for the Study of Child Development, encompasses results from dozens of research works on some 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in the three countries.
The research found that living in Israel played a role in moderating the long-term effects of the Holocaust on survivors.
"The results of the research clearly suggest that Holocaust survivors in Israel have higher functionality than elsewhere, and are in general coping better with the trauma," Dr. Efrat Barel, who performed the study, told Haaretz. She added that alongside this resilience there is also considerable vulnerability in Israeli Holocaust survivors. "It comes out less in their [everyday] lives, but in nightmares and sentiments and in their emotional existence," she said.
Barel, a developmental psychologist, says there is no definite scientific way of interpreting the results, but notes a few conjectures. "We were groping in the dark when we first started this research. We were dealing with a few conflicting ideas. On the one hand, the difficulties connected to life in Israel through wars and problematic financial situations would intuitively mean a less supportive environment for coping with trauma." The statistical analysis of the 59 previous studies, however, seems to support an opposing view, which argued that the "national sense of purpose" in Israel and "togetherness" offer a more supportive environment than elsewhere, she says. "The fact that the troubles of war and pressures that come with it are shared by everyone could help reduce trauma and isolation rather than augment it," Barel adds.
The groups of survivors surveyed in the 59 studies, Barel explains, were tested against control groups of people from their countries of residence. In other words, the trauma level of Holocaust survivors living in Israel was measured against the trauma level of non-survivors from Israel, while trauma levels of Holocaust survivors who had moved to Australia was measured against trauma in "ordinary" Australians.
In this context, Barel notes the high prominence the Holocaust receives in Israeli society as a possible means for reducing trauma in survivors. "Israel has ceremonies, panels, commemorations. Society is more open to discussing the Holocaust and this could relieve survivors' sense of isolation," she says. At the same time, Barel mentions that during Israel's first two decades the Holocaust was "swept under the rug." She adds: "This has changed over time, which could help explain the results."
The newly released study, conducted under the supervision of Prof. Avi Sagi-Schwartz, has yet to draw reactions from researchers in the field. "[This study] is important in discussions on the need to offer support for survivors - in Israel and elsewhere - and how to go about it," Barel concluded.