Children of Holocaust Survivors Fear Iranian Threat More Than Their Peers, Study Finds

Israelis whose parents lived under the Nazis are more anxious about the Iranian nuclear threat than their peers who are not second-generation survivors, according to a recent study.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Holocaust survivors take part in a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.
Holocaust survivors take part in a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.Credit: AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The adult children of Holocaust survivors in Israel tend to be more anxious than their peers whose parents are not Holocaust survivors about the Iranian nuclear threat and more preoccupied in general with the prospect of annihilation, according to a recently published study.

The study, conducted by Dr. Amit Shrira, an expert on trauma at Bar-Ilan University, appears in a recent issue of Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

“Taken together, the findings suggest that although offspring of Holocaust survivors generally show a favorable functioning, they perceive the world as more dangerous and forbidding, and, as part of this perception, they also contend with specific threats that bear symbolic association with the Holocaust,” writes Shrira in the conclusion of the journal article, titled “Transmitting the Sum of All Fears: Iranian Nuclear Threat Salience Among Offspring of Holocaust Survivors.”

The fact that children of Holocaust survivors tend to be more anxious about the Iranian nuclear threat than their peers, writes Shrira, “suggests that some of the less positive worldviews manifested by Holocaust survivors were transmitted to them.”

Shrira’s study was undertaken in 2012, at a time of considerable media coverage and public discussion in Israel of the Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking with Haaretz, he noted that some studies of children of Holocaust survivors have found them to be more resilient than their peers, whereas others have noted their relative vulnerability.

“What I have seen is that the second generation have pent-up anxieties and certain phenomenon like the Iranian nuclear threat act as triggers that bring out these anxieties,” he said. Shrira, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan, wrote his doctoral dissertation on Holocaust survivors.

The study examined two groups of Israeli Jews, one consisting of the adult children of Holocaust survivors and the other of adults whose parents had not lived under Nazi occupation. The results, he said, provided clear evidence that the offspring of Holocaust survivors were more preoccupied with the prospect of annihilation in general — known as the “hostile-world scenario” — and with the Iranian nuclear threat in particular than their peers. Altogether, more than 550 Israelis participated in his study.

Shrira said he had not explored whether and how these fears influenced the political choices of the offspring of Holocaust survivors.

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