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

Delayed and Long-term Effects of Persecution Suffered in Childhood and Youth

Reinhart Lempp, M.D.

4. Connective link symptoms are missing also when psychological de-compensation sets in only at a late age. This becomes especially noticeable in persecuted gypsies, sometimes due to the fact that they themselves only realize their depressed attitude when it is pointed out to them by children and grandchildren. They do not consider their habitual sadness, after all they have gone through, as a disease for which one consults a doctor, quite apart from the fact that the gypsies frequently have a deeply rooted fear of doctors.

These cases raise the question whether such a decompensation can still be regarded as an effect of persecution, since both sexes are liable to suffer from depressive moods at the climacteric, even without persecution. However, it is safe to say that people who grew up in childhood and early youth, under extreme psychological stress, are basically less resistant to everyday mental stresses, and tend to feel such decompensations to a much greater degree than those who did not grow up under such stress. It may even be stated with some certainty that those persecuted in childhood and youth reveal a number of symptoms and psychological disorders, and, in addition, practically their whole lives are characterized and determined by persecution.

Many suffer again in old age from renewed fear of persecution when they hear of the increasing number of rightwing-radical and neo-Nazi troublemakers, or are confronted in documentaries with their own past and the persecution they suffered. In principle, some of them refuse to watch such documentaries.

Senile depression in gypsies who were forcibly sterilized in their youth, is another such typical delayed effect. Only now, in old age, do they realize the consequences, quite apart from the fact that this was the reason for many failed marriages. It is an elementary task of the children and grandchildren of gypsies to take care of the ageing members of their family. It is inacceptable for them to send their relatives to an old people's home.

5. Many of the persecuted are forced to suppress their haunting memories because they cannot bear to confront them. This process of suppression may take various forms.

Sometimes the suppression is expressed in typically psychosomatic symptoms such as gastro-intestinal disorders, but even more in cardio-vascular symptoms with chronic hypertension and the usual sequelae up to myocardial infarction.

Other forms of suppression include the typical agonizing nightmare, or discrete, compulsive neuroses with checking compulsion and the like. These symptoms are often not reported by the patient but by family members, by direct questioning.

Others again transform the oppressive memories into a so-called "happiness psychosis," that is, into an exaggerated and positive experience. Some who could never talk about those days become eloquent in their interviews with the medical authority and provide him with endless details. The dam breaks. The psychotherapeutic sessions with a Jew who was separated at the age of 13, in Poland, from parents and siblings, none of whom survived, and who worked under inhuman conditions in a labor camp, revealed that he lived like an animal only for the moment, and was unable to think of either the past or the future. Probably due to exhaustion, he does not recall the time of Liberation. All memories of his family were lost and could only be slowly retrieved. Now that it has become possible for him to visit the Polish town where he grew up, his psychological position has markedly improved.

6. For child and adolescent psychiatrists, the delayed effects on the following generation are of special importance. These basically disturbed persons, with their impaired social and personal relationships due to extreme stress at an early age, have very frequently also severe problems with their marital partners and children. More often than not, these persecuted people married very young, immediately after Liberation, in order not to be alone. They describe themselves as often impatient, nervous, aggressive and unjust towards their children, which leads in turn to feeling guilty about their children, and interferes with, even destroys, their relationship. Thus the children often grow up with an emotional deficit and all too frequently leave their parents at an early age. Herzka has already described these problems with the second generation.

7. The experiences suffered as child and young adult of mental anguish and stress, and the permanently impaired social relationships found as a basic trait in these children, as also expressed by M. Balint, lead to the assumption that this impaired development is basically irreparable, that the results of it may be attenuated only. On the other hand, the long-term, and delayed, effects of Nazi persecution are in no way specifically limited to the mental and social traumatization suffered in the Third Reich; they are principally existent in the mental and social development of all children and young adults following persistent and repeated traumatization. The Nazi persecution was merely unique in its qualitative and quantitative aspects. It is to be feared, however, that the delayed effects of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina will, in the long run, lead to similar experiences in the children and young people caught in it. [Page 2 of 2]

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