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

A Comparison Between Elderly Holocaust Survivors and People Who Survived the Holocaust as Children

S. Robinson, M.D., * I. Adler, Ph.D. and S. Metzer, B.A.

In the study completed in 1989 we examined the mental status and adjustment after World War II and today of 86 Holocaust survivors from a non-clinical population, who were already adults when the Nazi persecution started. It was found that most of the survivors suffered after the war and still suffer today from the results of persecution. Yet, despite their suffering, they managed to cope and adjust well. (5)

In a later work completed in 1992, on 103 Holocaust survivors who were children during the Nazi persecution (child survivors), we found that many interviewees from this group still suffer from symptoms of survivor syndrome. Their suffering is in positive correlation to the stress they experienced during the Holocaust. Death camp survivors suffered and still suffer more than survivors of other forms of persecution. Despite their suffering, child survivors displayed high ability in coping and adjustment. (6)

In the present study, we compared the two groups of survivors: elderly Holocaust survivors and child survivors, as to their mental state and adjustment after the war and today. We wanted to check the similarities and differences between the two groups.

In the second half of 1994, we compared the results obtained in the study of a group of 86 elderly survivors (5) to the data obtained from the study of 103 child survivors (6). In both studies, the data were collected during interviews, using a questionnaire prepared with the help of the Statistical Consulting Unit, Department of Statistics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. The questionnaire is described in the 1990 study (5). Both the sample of the elderly survivors and of the child survivors were based on Holocaust survivors who testified at Yad Vashem, and whose names we took at random from the archives there. Criteria for inclusion in the 1990 study were:

1. People who lived under Nazi occupation during the war.
2. Age 60 or over.
3. The interviewees all lived in Israel.
4. In the sample of child survivors, the interviewees had to be less than 13 years old when Nazi persecution began in the countries where they lived. We compared the two samples. Chi square statistics were used to evaluate the significance of the differences between the two samples.


Pre-War Period
In this study, the percentages of elderly Holocaust and child survivors who lived in towns, small towns or villages were similar. Most of the survivors came from eastern Europe (79% of the elderly survivors and 81% of the child survivors). More child survivors came from intact nuclear families (97% compared to 87% - the difference is statistically significant).

19% of the parents in the group of child survivors had a free profession, or were lawyers, doctors etc., compared to only 5% of the elderly survivors. This difference is statistically significant. 80% of the elderly, and only 55% of the child survivors, were pupils before the war. As to the atmosphere in their families before the war, 9% of the child survivors reported conflicts in their families: only 1% of the elderly reported such an atmosphere.

Holocaust Period
Table 1: Comparison of Child Survivors and Elderly Survivors as to the Type of Persecution (%)
Type of PersecutionChild SurvivorsElderly Survivors
Death Camps2857
Labor Camps2642
Death March1632

In comparing this table with the one published in Robinson (1990), the reader should realize that in this table - unlike the previous one - categories of persecution are not mutually exclusive, that is we have included here every type of persecution. Thus the present percentages add up to more than 100%.

Survival through hiding occurred more with child survivors than elderly survivors in our sample. The difference is statistically significant. The different rates of incarceration in labor camps and death camps of child survivors and elderly survivors is statistically significant also. [Page 1 of 3]

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* Jerusalem, Israel.

5. Robinson, S., et. al. (1990) The Late Effects of Nazi Persecution among Elderly Holocaust Survivors. Acta Psychiatr. Scand., 82:311-315.
6. Robinson, S., et. al. (1994) The Present State of People Who Survived the Holocaust as Children. Acta Psychiatr. Scand., 89:242-245.