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

The Psychosocial Effects of the Holocaust on Jewish Survivors Living in Poland*

Prof. Maria Orwid, M.D., Ewa Domagalska-Kurdziel, M.A., Kazimierz Pietruszewski, M.D.(**)
Cooperation: Ewa Czaplak, M.A., Ryszard Izdebski, M.A., Maria Kaminska, M. Med. Sc.

Persons studying the problem of psychosocial effects of the Holocaust in the survivors and in the second generation are confronted with three dilemmas.

First, they must find out how to preserve the attempts at scientific sobriety in the face of a problem that goes far beyond the everyday language of the clinicians, and, maybe, it should be considered only by artists, writers and philosophers. They only, unlimited by the restrictions of research methods and endowed with imagination and intuition, could make this, what had happened, closer to other people.

The second problem is the feeling that so much has been written on this problem during the last forty years, that it is hard to discover something new.

The third element is the awareness - which, in our case, was acquired during our investigations in Auschwitz (18) - of incompatibility of the psychiatric and psychological language with the reports of the examined persons and the syndromes found in them. This is more and more frequently realized not only by the psychiatrists and psychologists, but also by the sociologists. (1)

Taking up this subject by our team is justified mainly by the fact that in Poland, where the Holocaust took place, no psychiatric studies connected with this problem have been conducted so far. The fact that the environment which we come from has had more than thirty years long experience in dealing with the problem of KZ-syndrome (8, 9, 11, 13, 17, 18), is also of importance. Also, in connection with her personal experience (Jewish origin), the leader of our team felt obliged to make an attempt at understanding these problems in the population of Polish Jews. Neither can we neglect the fact that, as we learned during our studies of the KZ-syndrome, the education of a modern psychiatrist, psychologist and psychotherapist is far from complete if it lacks knowledge, experience and personal contacts with persons who survived extreme situations - in this case connected with the Nazi ideology.

Our studies were directly inspired by the Symposium on Holocaust organized in 1989 by the Chair of Psychiatry of Hannover University, directed by Prof. Kisker. (15) The investigations started in the spring of 1990, within the framework of the "Judaica" programme, conducted by the Department of History and Culture of Polish Jews, Jagiellonian University in Cracow, headed by Prof. Józef Gierowski.

Initial Difficulties
The initial difficulties in the realization of our programme were connected with two questions:

1. There were no records of the survivors in Poland. This is why it was impossible to create the group of the examined persons in accordance with the classical method of selection for representative samples. The investigations had to be conducted by the "snow-balling" method, i.e., trying to get contact from one person to another. In the starting period of the investigations refusals outnumbered consents (10 refusals for every 4 consents). The refusals were justified in various ways: from denying the origin through the reaction of fear about the possible consequences ("registering again") to absolute disinclination to return to very painful and apparently closed matters. It should be emphasized once more that the population sample examined by us is by no means a representative sample.

2. Emotions of the team carrying out the interviews constituted a problem that was very difficult and hard to overcome. In many cases the subject of the Holocaust proved impossible to be emotionally absorbed by thirty year old, intelligent and educated psychotherapists. After the first interviews several persons retired from the investigations for several months, justifying this in various ways, e.g., shortage of time, tiredness. This phenomenon agrees with the one described by Dasberg, (3) Gampel (5) and Nathan (12) - difficulties in overcoming counter-transference emotions, experienced even by qualified psychoanalysts.

3. To make the time, when the decision to start our studies was made, more familiar to the reader, we must provide at least a general description of the political changes that took place in Poland. It is doubtless that the whole period of the so-called communist Poland did not promote investigations of the Jewish problems. To a certain extent the inhibiting factor was the "anti-nationalist" attitude of the intellectuals, psychiatrists included, and, as it were, a defensive inclination to avoid analyses of the problems of totalitarianism in the categories of persecutions of a definite nation. What is more, this attitude was characteristic for all members of the team realizing the Auchswitz programme. At that time, we believed that a more existential, universal analysis of the influence exerted by the Nazi ideology on people's psychosocial experiences would be fairer.

Another essential reason was the need of silence preserved by all - those who had survived the Holocaust as well as those who were merely interested in it - for the pain was too great. In Poland, some writers (e.g., Adolf Rudnicki) took up these problems. In private, people did not talk about these subjects, the psychiatrists did not understand the importance of this issue. It is doubtless, however, that the communist regime, despite its apparent internationalism, in fact dramatically manipulated the problem of anti-semitism and in different periods of the post-War Poland used it as a weapon against its political opponents who need not even be Jews. March 1968 was the top "achievement" of this kind of manipulation. Obviously, all these factors together did not help the survivors and their nearest relations open to the Jewish problem. On the other hand, they triggered several strong waves of emigration of the survivors and strengthened the sense of fear in those who remained in the country. [Page 1 of 4]

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*Reprinted from Psychiatria Polska, 1995, vol. XXIX, no. 3, Supplement, pp. 29-48. The study was realized in the framework of the "Judaica" programme conducted by the Department of History and Culture of Polish Jews, Jagiellonian University in Cracow, headed by Prof. Józef Gierowski, Ph.D.

** Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Collegium Medicum, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, headed by Prof. Maria Orwid, M.D.

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