The Holocaust, in its systematic extermination of Jews, created situations previously unknown in history. During this period, threats to life were faced constantly, with victims not knowing if they would be allowed to live another day…
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In concentration and labor camps, innocent people suffered with physical pressures, such as intense hunger, crowded quarters, disease, exposure to severe punishment and bodily torture, and heavy labor. Prisoners were often humiliated by soldiers to the point of dehumanization. Their heads were shaved, they were forced to wear prisoner uniforms, and their identities were replaced by a number on their arm. Those individuals in hiding, faced constant concerns of being caught. Mental pressures experienced by all victims during this horrific period included painful separation from family and friends, a lack of knowledge as to what fate would bear upon loved ones, and uncertainty about one's own existence. With their own eyes, they witnessed the destruction of families and communities. The values and social norms by which these individuals had led their lives were completely destroyed.
For most survivors, the events of the Holocaust were ongoing, uncontrollable, and unexpected. Many were proximally close to the traumatic events, witnessing terror and horror brought upon them by other human beings. The experiences involved separation from family and friends and long lasting consequences which in many cases could not be reversed. It is a prevalent concept that all Holocaust survivors suffer from enduring psychological and physical distress as a result of their earlier trauma experiences. In this paper I will assert that all Holocaust survivors cannot be considered a homogenous group with the same patterns of symptoms and characteristics. They not only managed to resume their lives after the war but actually had rich and varied lives, were vital contributors to their communities, and maintained stable family and work patterns. Holocaust and the effects on the prisoners For a long time, discussion of the Holocaust was considered a taboo subject. Survivors spoke little about it and others did not seem to want to hear. A deep curtain of silence hung over one of the most horrendous events in human history. A number of reasons contributed to this circumstance. For years following the war, survivors were busy reestablishing their lives and homes and tried hard not to remember the past. It was not until the 1960s that interest in the Holocaust became more fully developed. It was at that time that the mental health community first became involved in dealing systematically with the after-effects of Holocaust traumatization. This was partially due to the political-moral decision of the Federal Republic of Germany to provide indemnification to individual victims of the Nazi regime for the hardships that they had suffered. In order to claim restitution, it was necessary to prove the existence of a causal link between Nazi persecution and health status, including mental health status. It became evident at that time to many of the medical professionals working with the survivors, that a host of symptoms, seemingly without organic cause, existed among their clients. These symptoms experienced were often linked to atrocities committed against the survivors. It became essential to conceptualize clinically the symptoms and conditions that appeared quite regularly in a great number of the survivors. The Concentration Camp Syndrome/ Survivor Syndrome, as discussed by Krystal (1968), and many others became known nosologically as a relatively fixed, lifelong condition characterized by a broad range of symptoms that could be traced to the Holocaust experience. Holocaust Survivors The Concentration Camp Syndrome Symptoms of the Concentration Camp Syndrome included (1) lasting depression with features of vigilant insomnia,
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