A groundbreaking study has demonstrated that traumatic experiences don’t automatically doom their repicients to a short or substandard life. Remarkably, its data base was the entire immigrant Jewish Polish population that relocated to Israel both before and after World War II.
The researchers said that “… one possible explanation for their findings might be the "Posttraumatic Growth" phenomenon.”
According to a summary on Science Daily, Professor Avi Sagi-Schwartz said “…the traumatic, life-threatening experiences Holocaust survivors had to face, which engendered high levels of psychological distress, could have also served as potential stimuli for developing personal and inter-personal skills, gaining new insights and a deeper meaning to life. All of these could have eventually contributed to the survivors' longevity.”
"The results of this research give us hope and teach us quite a bit about the resilience of the human spirit when faced with brutal and traumatic events," he concluded.
Sagi-Schwartz is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Head of the Center for the Study of Child Development at Haifa University. The study was published in July, 2013, on PLoS ONE online.
He collaborated with Professor Shai Linn, Dean of the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences at Haifa University, and Professor Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg and Professor Marinus H. van IJendoorn from the University of Leiden in The Netherlands.
Earlier studies had demonstrated that trauma not only can lead to shorter life expectancy but also to actual shortening of telomeres, part of the DNA responsible for human body cell lifespan. So the researchers expected a different result than they got.
The study, based on reliable statistics in a group of over 55,000 people, showed that male Holocaust survivors lived an average of fourteen months longer than those who didn’t experience it. The older they were during the Holocaust, the longer they lived compared with those who didn’t experience it. Studying the difference in women’s life spans didn’t turn up a differential, and there was a six-and-a-half month difference if gender results were not separated.
This does not mean that Holocaust survivors are necessarily leading happier lives than their counterparts. A study of over 12,700 participants showed that they had more post traumatic stress symptoms than a comparable population that had not had that experience. They tended to be less well-adjusted. But their health and cognition were essentially the same as comparable populations.
Sagi-Schwartz was funded by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a Phyllis Greenberg Heideman and Richard D. Heideman Fellow. His counterparts at the University of Leiden received research grants from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.
“Surprisingly, our findings teach us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, “Sagi-Schwartz was quoted as saying.
Holocaust survivors themselves have studied other aspects of human behavior in their professional fields. These include psychologist Dr. Ervin Staub, who studied specifically why people don't do anything when they know something adverse is happening.
Sociologist Samuel Oliner, like Staub, was a Holocaust survivor. He has been quoted on the attributes of an active bystander. Beyond just having predictable personality traits, he said, that rescuers "don't see helping as a choice ... [R]escuers see tragedy and feel no choice but to get involved. How could they stand by and let another person perish?"
Linda Chalmer Zemel is the author of the novel, Witch Hunt, available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. In it, a young widow moves from Buffalo to Salem, MA. All hell breaks loose in her life when she buys a condo on land that in 1692 belonged to a wrongly accused witch.
Check out Buffalo Books, too.
Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.