Memory disturbances and dissociative amnesia in Holocaust survivors
Memory disturbances and dissociative amnesia in Holocaust survivors
The excerpts below are from this website.
The following articles provide compelling scientific evidence in support of the phenomena of dissociation and recovered memory in Holocaust survivors. In addition to supporting the phenomenon in general, these articles also counter the argument that recovered memory is (a) no more than a recent cultural “fad” and (b) specific to false accusers of sexual abuse.
DeWind, E. (1968). The confrontation with death. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49, 302-305. Excerpt: “Most former inmates of Nazi concentration camps could not remember anything of the first days of imprisonment because perception of reality was so overwhelming that it would lead to a mental chaos which implies a certain death.”
Durlacher, G. L. (1991). De zoektocht [The search]. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff.
Dutch sociologist Durlacher, a survivor of Birkenau, describes his search for and meetings with another 20 child survivors from this camp. Excerpt: “Misha…looks helplessly at me and admits hesitantly that the period in the camps is wiped out from his brain….With each question regarding the period between December 12, 1942 till May 7, 1945, he admits while feeling embarrassed that he cannot remember anything.”
Jaffe, R. (1968). Dissociative phenomena in former concentration camp inmates. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49(2), 310-312.
Case descriptions include amnesia for traumatic events and subsequent twilight states in which events would be relived without conscious awareness. Excerpt: “The dissociative phenomena described here turn out not to be rare, once one is on the look out for them.”
Keilson, H. (1992). Sequential traumatization in children. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press. Amnesia in Jewish Dutch child survivors for the traumatic separation from their parents.
Krell, R. (1993). Child survivors of the Holocaust: Strategies of adaptation. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 38, 384-389.
Excerpt: “The most pervasive preoccupation of child survivors is the continuing struggle with memory, whether there is too much or too little.”
Krystal, H., & Danieli, Y. (1994, Fall). Holocaust survivor studies in the context of PTSD. PTSD Research Quarterly, 5(4), 1-5.
Kuch, K., & Cox, B. J. (1992). Symptoms of PTSD in 124 survivors of the Holocaust. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 337-340.
Psychogenic amnesia was found in 3.2% of the totals sample, in 3.8 of the general concentration camp survivors, and in 10% of tattooed survivors of Auschwitz. 17.7% (N=22) of the total sample had received psychotherapy. The tattooed survivors had a higher number of PTSD symptoms overall.
Lagnado, L. M., & Dekel, S. C. (1991). Children of the flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the untold story of the twins of Auschwitz. New York: William and Morrow & Co.
Excerpt: “A few of the twins insisted that they had no memories of Auschwitz whatsoever.”
Laub, D., & Auerhahn, N. C. (1989). Failed empathy—A central theme in the survivor’s Holocaust experience. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 6(4), 377-400.
Excerpt: “Holocaust survivors remember their experiences through a prism of fragmentation and usually recount them only in fragments.”
Laub, D., & Auerhahn, N. C. (1993). Knowing and not knowing massive psychic trauma: Forms of traumatic memory. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74, 287-302.
Excerpt: “Erecting barriers against knowing is often the first response to such trauma. Women in Nazi concentration camps dealt with difficult interrogation by the Gestapo by derealization, by asserting ‘I did not go through it. Somebody else went through the experience.’….Unintegrable memories endure as a split-off part, a cleavage in the ego…When the balance is such that the ego cannot deal with the experience, fragmentation occurs….Simply put, therapy with those impacted by trauma involves, in part, the reinstatement of the relationship between event, memory and personality.”
Marks, J. (1995). The hidden children: The secret survivors of the Holocaust. Toronto: Bantam Books.
Excerpt: “So much of my childhood between the ages of four and nine is blank….It’s almost as if my life was smashed into little pieces….The trouble is, when I try to remember, I come up with so little. This ability to forget was probably my way of surviving emotionally as a child.”
Mazor, A., Ganpel, Y., Enright, R. D., & Ornstein, R. (1990, January). Holocaust survivors: Coping with posttraumatic memories in childhood and 40 years later. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3(1), 11-14.
Modai, I. (1994). Forgetting childhood: A defense mechanism against psychosis in a Holocaust survivor. In T. L. Brink (Ed.), Holocaust survivors’ mental health. New York: Haworth Press.
In a debate about uncovering painful memories of the Holocaust, Modai’s case is of a 58 year old woman who is unable to remember her childhood.
Moskovitz, S., & Krell, R. (1990). Child survivors of the Holocaust: Psychological adaptations to survival. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Services, 27(2), 81-91.
Excerpt: “Whatever the memories, much is repressed as too fearful for recall, or suppressed by well-meaning caretakers wishing the child to forget.”
Musaph, H. (1993). Het post-concentratiekampsyndroom [The post-concentration camp syndrome]. Maandblad Geestelijke volksgezondheid [Dutch Journal of Mental Health], 28(5), 207-217.
Amnesia exists for certain Holocaust experiences, while other experiences are extremely well remembered.
Niederland, W. G. (1968). Clinical observations on the “survivor syndrome.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49, 313-315.
Discusses memory disturbances such as amnesia and hypermnesia.
Stein, A. (1994). Hidden children: Forgotten survivors of the Holocaust. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Excerpt: “Over the years I have been trying to re-experience those feelings, but they kept eluding me. I was cut off from most of my memories, and from relieving the anxiety of that time….I remember nothing about the time I spent with those people…not a face, not a voice, not a piece of furniture.”
van Ravesteijn, L. (1976). Gelaagdheid van herinneringen [Layering of memories]. Tijdschrift boor Psychotherapie, 5(1), 195-205.
Wagenaar, W. A., & Groeneweg, J. (1990). The memory of concentration camp survivors. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 4, 77-87.
Abstract: This study is concerned with the question whether extremely emotional experiences, such as being the victim of Nazi concentration camps, leave traces in memory that cannot be extinguished. Relevant data were obtained from testimony by 78 witnesses in a case against Marinus De Rijke, who was accused of Nazi crimes in Camp Erika in The Netherlands. The testimonies were collected in the periods 1943–1947 and 1984–1987. A comparison between these two periods reveals the amount of forgetting that occurred in 40 years. Results show that camp experiences were generally well-remembered, although specific but essential details were forgotten. Among these were forgetting being maltreated, forgetting names and appearance of the torturers, and forgetting being a witness to murder. Apparently intensity of experiences is not a sufficient safeguard against forgetting.”
Wilson, J., Harel, Z., & Kahana, B. (1988). Human adaptation to extreme stress: From the Holocaust to Vietnam. New York: Plenum Press.
Yehuda, R., Elkin, A., Binder-Brynes, K., Kahana, B., Southwick, S. M., Schmeidler, J., & Giller, E. R., Jr. (1996, July). Dissociation in aging Holocaust survivors. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(7), 935-940.
Yehuda, R., Schmeidler, J., Siever, L. J., Binder-Brynes, K., & Elkin, A. (1997). Individual differences in posttraumatic stress disorder symptom profiles in Holocaust survivors in concentration camps or in hiding. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 10, 453-465.
46% of 100 survivors report amnesia on PTSD measures.