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.

Survival of Parents
Among the elderly there are more survivors who had lost both their parents than among child survivors (72% compared to 36%).

Survival of siblings: in only 27% of the elderly survivors all siblings survived as compared to 52% of the child survivors.

Post-War Period
There is no significant difference between the two groups as to the year of immigration to Israel. Both groups arrived with the wave of immigration between 1947-1952.

Coping and Adjustment
More child survivors attained higher education than elderly survivors (55%-37%). More child survivors than elderly survivors reported their absorption in Israel as very good (74%-59%). This difference is statistically significant. More child survivors than elderly survivors are doctors, lawyers, etc. (21%-16%).

In elderly survivors, the suffering from these survivor symptoms was significantly more marked than in the child survivors (see table 2).

Table 2: Suffering from the Survivor Syndrome after the war. Comparison of Child Survivors and Elderly Survivors (%)
SymptomChild SurvivorsElderly Survivors 
Insomnia3859statistically significant
Nightmares with Holocaust content5567 
Psychosomatic complaints2640statistically significant
Emotional instability5049 
Fatigue3754statistically significant
Hypermnesia concerning Holocaust events6384 
Survivor guilt3642 
Chronic anxiety3747 
Difficulty in concentration2624 

The percentage of suffering from symptoms of survivor syndrome among child survivors today is more marked than after the war in most of the symptoms. Although elderly survivors suffer even today more than child survivors from these symptoms, the difference is less marked today than after the war.

The reason for narrowing the gap of suffering between the two groups is due to the fact that, in child survivors, the grade of suffering increased in 9 symptoms compared to only 7 in the older group, and decreased suffering is found in only 3 symptoms in the group of child survivors as against 5 in the elderly.

In both groups, we found decreased suffering from survivor guilt today as compared to the percentage of persons who suffered from this symptom after the war (see table 3).

Elderly Holocaust survivors became more retraumatized by events like war, the intifada or terror acts than child survivors (81%-70%).

The elderly survivors suffer more from illnesses connected with their experiences during the Holocaust than child survivors (60%-57%). There is a significant difference in suffering from disabling conditions not only connected with the Holocaust (56% in the elderly and 35% in the child survivors (P = 0.006).

Coping and Adjustment Today
There is a significant difference between the two groups as to continuing their work today (63% of the child survivors and only 33% of the elderly - chi-square 0.000). This finding is mainly age-related.

Table 3: Suffering from symptoms of the survivor syndrome today. Comparison between elderly and child survivors (%)
SymptomChild SurvivorsElderly SurvivorsRemarks
Nightmares with Holocaust content4662statistically significant P=0.039
Psychosomatic complaints3342 
Emotional instability5042 
Hypermnesia concerning Holocaust events7386statistically significant P=0.038
Survivor guilt2838 
Chronic anxiety4344 
Difficulty in concentration4142 

76% of the elderly and 85% of the child survivors are still married. 16% of the elderly and 7% of the child survivors are widowed. 94% of the elderly and 92% of the child survivors have children. 90% of the elderly and 86% of the child survivors reported a warm atmosphere in their families today. More elderly survivors than child survivors married Holocaust survivors (69%-57%).

About half the number of the two groups reported the influence of their Holocaust experiences on their children. The theme of the Holocaust comes up more frequently in families of elderly survivors than child survivors (86%-79%). The percentage of those who consider themselves still suffering from their experience during the Holocaust is higher in the elderly than in child survivors (74%-64%). There is no difference between the two groups in hobbies, in friendships and in affiliation to organizations of survivors. [Page 2 of 3]

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