Echoes of the Holocaust
Shalom Robinson, M.D., Editor

Children Who Survived the Holocaust: Reflections of a Child Survivor/Psychiatrist

Robert Krell, M.D.

Something Wrong
I was born in 1940, in The Hague, Holland. My family's deportation date was August 19, 1942 - presumably to Westerbork, then Auschwitz or Sobibor, names not known at that time. My parents, in a tremendous act of courage, gave me to Christian strangers, who hid me for 3 years. They too went into hiding individually and survived. As the historian Christopher Browning(8) points out, in March 1942 every major Jewish community was still intact. 75-80% of later Holocaust victims were still alive. In only 11 months - March 1942-February 1943 - those figures were reversed. 80% of European Jews had been murdered.

My mother, father and I were reunited in May 1945, a family unit miraculously intact. I left my loving Christian family for a loving Jewish one. I thought perhaps we were not affected. Normality had returned. I had a home, parents who worked, piano lessons, my first cousin who survived, and a more distant cousin and her parents.

But something was terribly wrong. As a 6-year-old I heard the stories of survivors who gathered at our home in the Hague. They spoke in Yiddish so the children would not understand. They told stories no child should ever hear, in any language. I had a Hebrew teacher but I could not learn Hebrew. A good student who could not learn Hebrew? Only years later did I realize that my teacher, the only survivor of his family, simply overwhelmed my grief with his. Teaching and learning was not possible between us.

And why should I grieve? After all, my parents had survived. I gradually became aware that I had no grandparents, and that, in 1940, my parents still had parents, siblings and cousins. In 1945 they were orphans, the only survivors of large families. How did I learn of their grief? Perhaps in the following manner. My father and mother were both from Orthodox families. My father never again opened a prayer-book, even in synagogue, and my mother seldom closed hers.

My paternal grandmother was murdered on March 26, 1943 at Sobibor. My paternal grandfather, deported from Antwerp on August 11, 1942 first to Mechelen, then to Sobibor, was murdered at age 56.

My Aunt Frieda was murdered in Auschwitz on September 30, 1942 at age 36, my Aunt Mania at age 31 in Sobibor on July 16, 1943. Her little boy, my cousin, survived in hiding also.

My maternal grandfather was murdered at age 53, and my maternal grandmother at age 48, on approximately March 28, 1944 according to Red Cross records. My uncles Isaac and Mendel were killed among the Partisans. My Aunt Raisel died at age 15 but we do not know where or when or how.

There is nothing normal about all this. The world of the Holocaust is not normal, Auschwitz was the "Kingdom of Night," in the words of Wiesel.

Anne Frank was hidden only 35 miles from me in Amsterdam. She writes, in her diary, "I believe in the goodness of humanity," (9) a remark often quoted to indicate her heroism and humanity. Her diary ended there but not her life. She had not yet seen Bergen-Belsen where she too was starved to death. Had she survived, would she have rewritten that sentence?

Now what are we to make of all this for our profession? The Holocaust has stamped its imprint on those of us who survived. Did it have other repercussions? What happened in psychiatry after 1945? Anything? Little notice seems to have been taken of the horrors in which psychiatrists had played a pivotal role. There was precious little emotional assistance for survivors, in the aftermath of atrocity, nor were changes evident in the psychology of trauma, or in psychiatric terminology.(10) How did the Holocaust affect Anna Freud, Margaret Mahler, Rudolf Lowenstein, Silvano Arieti, Hilde Bruch - all pre-war refugees, in flight from Nazism? If they were affected, what was the spillover into psychiatry?

Anna Freud,(11) twice a prisoner of the S.S., fled with her father to London. In 1946, during an unspecified illness, she received the news that her father's elderly sisters had all been murdered in 1942, Aunt Marie in Theresienstadt, Aunt Rosa in Auschwitz, Dolfi and Pauline in Treblinka. Anna Freud's first postwar work was with six children under age 3, from Theresienstadt.(12) A student of hers, Eva Landauer, survived the concentration camp in which her father, Karl Landauer, president of the German Psychoanalytic Society, was murdered.

Could it be that Margaret Mahler(13) was unaffected by her mother's death in Auschwitz? George Tarjan,(14) the President of the American Psychiatric Association in 1984, escaped from Prague in 1939. He was warned not to return to his native Hungary. His parents were murdered, his younger brother died on the death march from Auschwitz. George remembered that every day of his life. In his office, tears in his eyes, he showed me his brother's picture. [Page 2 of 3]

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8. Browning, C. (1992) Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Aaron Asher Books. Published by Harper Collins.
9. Frank, A. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday, 1952.
10. Krell, R. (1984) Holocaust Survivors and Their Children: Comments on Psychiatric Consequences and Terminology. Comprehensive Psychiatry 25: 521-528.
11. Young Bruehl (1988) Anna Freud - A Biography. New York: Summit Books.
12. Freud, A. and Dann, S. (1951) An Experiment in Group Upbringing. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. New York: Summit Books.
13. Stepansky, E. (1988) The Memoirs of Margaret S. Mahler. New York: Summit Books.
14. Pasnau, R. O. and Work, H. H. (1993) George Tarjan, M.D. 1912-1991. Amer J Psychiat 150: 691-694.