Thoughts for Yom HaShoa, 2018

Beginning tomorrow evening (Wednesday, April 11, 2018), we will commemorate Yom HaShoa. Many survivors, like my own parents, who were in their early twenties when the war destroyed their world, are no longer with us. The number of survivors who are still alive dwindles down with every passing day. But still with us are some remarkable child and adolescent survivors, those whose early years were spent during the horrors of WWII. Yet, these remarkable people, many of whom I know and love, have managed to adapt well. The psychological survival of these survivors who grew up and came into their own in a world of extreme brutality and loss is hard to comprehend. Anyone who had or loved a child is aware of the vulnerability of children and the deprivation, fear and cruelty they might experience when there is no protection available. There are tremendously valuable lessons to be learned from the successful adaptation of child and adolescent survivors of the Holocaust, for their lives are a testament to the human spirit, and to human resilience, which has not received appropriately sufficient attention in psychological research.

Paul Friedman who was appointed by the Joint Distribution Committee to assess the psychological condition of the surviving adults and children in the Displaced Camps in Europe commented on the special impact of childhood deprivation and traumatic experiences on the young survivors. He stated: “I found a situation that was well-nigh miraculous in view of the children’s past experiences. Here were no monsters, no savages, no psychotics. But I soon discovered that these children had serious emotional problems, usually of a neurotic nature. They would have been distinctly abnormal not to have had them. To have lived, as these children had, in Hitler’s Europe, was to have inhabited a world where all the accepted modes of human intercourse have been destroyed and all moral standards have been subverted. But the behavior patterns formed by these children during the years when they had to struggle for sheer survival could not be lumped together in an over-all syndrome…the patterns were too diverse”.

Despite the traumatic experiences and the extensive losses they suffered, child and adolescent survivors, as a group, have assimilated well into the environment to which they immigrated after the war, and have become personally and professionally successful individuals, who raised successful children. Their successful adaptation was achieved despite the fact that they received little support or understanding from their new environment.  I was fortunate to have recently had the opportunity to interview a group of child and adolescent survivors for a study requested by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The study collected information about the experiences of the young survivors in the time immediately after liberation and in the early years following the end of WWII. Did they speak of their ordeals? Did they talk about their Holocaust experiences with parents, if a parent survived, or with other survivors? Did others such as relatives who did not live through the war in Europe want to know about it? Did American peers or teachers express an interest? The findings from the interviews were stark: “nobody wanted to know”, the survivors unanimously stated. And they themselves did not want to talk, either. They wanted to forge ahead, make a new life, become “normal”. And that they did, not without scars or wounds, but in spite of them. We have so much to learn from the survivors, so much to listen to, to record for posterity, and to cherish. For this is a generation of human miracles, each and every one of them. They have been through the worst and have managed to maintain the best of the human capacity to overcome tragedy, to rebuild, to move forward and find meaning and love even after having known the profound pain of having lost it before.

 Many of the survivors, now in their late years, are finally able and ready to share with the world their experiences. They tell us about experiences which are at the extreme of the human tolerance for suffering, and they share their personal stories of endurance and of the unique ways in which each individual found it possible to go on and to thrive. We must listen, carefully, as these precious lessons are passed on to us, the witnesses to the last witnesses to the Holocaust.

             Irit Felsen

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2 Responses to Thoughts for Yom HaShoa, 2018

  1. Lynda Kraar says:

    Dear Irit,

    I hope you had a great Pesach!

    I write this on the eve of my trip to Poland, to observe the 75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemoration. I will be there under the auspice of POLIN Museum. We are expecting thousands of visitors to the Museum as well as a group of approximately 150 VIPs from a variety of American Jewish organizations, including World Jewish Congress, HaShomer Hatzair, YIVO and others. It will be an incredible show of solidarity plus a variety of emotions I cannot even describe.

    I will be bringing my copy of The Warsaw Diary of Chaim Kaplan. Here is a link to a description of the man, and to his diary. Kaplan’s eyewitness account of the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto is as vivid as ever.

    My mother had noted that Chaim Kaplan lived next door to her family once her family was “relocated’ to the Warsaw Ghetto from Lodz. As time moves on and away from that terrible era, somehow this commemoration seems to make the unspeakable horror seem closer than ever – as though this just happened, and I am coming to protest the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of their tormentors. As though this happened to someone else, and not to hundreds of members of my own family – including every one of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

    Thus, I will be there to honor the memory of our people. If you can’t be there with me, I will also honor the memory of your family. Of “Our” family.

    It is important for me to share that all is not gloom and doom. Please take a look at the attached. You will find information about the events of next week that are being sponsored by POLIN Museum. There is a strong and growing voice of Jewish renewal that I will also be there to support. I hope you will consider joining me on this journey – if not now, then in the future.

    All the best in the meantime,



    On Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 6:07 PM, Dr. Irit Felsen’s Blog wrote:

    > Irit Felsen, Ph.D. posted: ” Beginning tomorrow evening (Wednesday, April > 11, 2018), we will commemorate Yom HaShoa. Many survivors, like my own > parents, who were in their early twenties when the war destroyed their > world, are no longer with us. The number of survivors who are stil” >


  2. rkatz1000 says:

    Thanks for sharing these meaningful thoughts! All the best! Risa Katz

    Sent from my iPhone



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