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Jews on selection ramp at Auschwitz, May 1944
Holocaust survivors are commonly understood to be Jews who survived the persecution and attempted annihilation of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany and its allies in Europe and North Africa during the Holocaust before and during World War II, from the rise of the Nazi party to power in Germany in 1933 until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.
More broadly speaking, the term includes any person who was discriminated against, displaced or persecuted as a result of the policies and actions of the Nazis and their allies and includes, in addition to Jews, the Romani people, those persecuted for religious reasons such as Jehovah's Witnesses, political reasons such as Communists, and homosexuals.
- 1 Definition and number
- 2 Immediate aftermath
- 3 Rehabilitation
- 4 Restitution and reparations
- 5 Memoirs and testimonies
- 6 Second Generation of survivors
- 7 Organizations and conferences
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Definition and number
The term "Holocaust survivor" clearly applies to Jews who managed to live through the mass exterminations carried out by the Nazis. However, the term can also refer to those who did not come under direct control of the Nazi regime in Germany or occupied Europe, but were substantially affected by it, for example, Jews who fled from Germany or their homeland to escape the Nazis, and never lived in a Nazi-controlled country after Adolf Hitler came to power but before the Nazis put the "Final Solution" into effect, or others who were persecuted not by the Nazis themselves, but by their allies or by Nazi collaborators in both Nazi satellite countries and occupied countries.
Yad Vashem, the State of Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, defines Holocaust survivors as Jews who lived under Nazi control, whether direct or indirect, for any amount of time, and survived. This definition includes those who spent the entire war living under Nazi collaborationist regimes, including France, Bulgaria and Romania, but were not deported, as well as Jews who fled or were forced to leave Germany in the 1930s. Additionally, other Jewish refugees fleeing from their home countries in Eastern Europe to escape the invading German army, including those who spent years in the Soviet Union, are also considered Holocaust survivors.
The United States Holocaust Museum (USHMM) gives a broader definition: "The Museum honors as survivors any persons, Jewish or non-Jewish, who were displaced, persecuted, or discriminated against due to the racial, religious, ethnic, social, and political policies of the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945. In addition to former inmates of concentration camps, ghettos, and prisons, this definition includes, among others, people who were refugees or were in hiding."
When the Second World War ended, about 200,000 Jews had survived in Nazi concentration camps, extermination camps, the death marches and in hiding in forests or with rescuers. Almost all were suffering from starvation, exhaustion and the abuse that they had endured, and many continued to die from weakness, disease and the shock of liberation. Some survivors returned to their countries of origin while others sought to leave Europe by immigrating to Palestine.
About 50,000 survivors gathered in Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy and were joined by Jewish refugees fleeing from central and eastern Europe, particularly Poland, as post-war conditions there worsened.
By 1946, there was an estimated total of 250,000 Jewish displaced persons, of whom 185,000 were in Germany, 45,000 in Austria, and about 20,000 in Italy. As the British Mandate in Palestine ended in May 1948 and the State of Israel was established, nearly two-thirds of the survivors immigrated there. Others emigrated to Western countries as restrictions were eased and opportunities arose.
Jewish survivors who could not or did not want to go back to their old homes, particularly those whose entire families had been murdered, whose homes, or neighborhoods or entire communities had been destroyed, or who faced renewed anti-Semitic violence, especially in eastern Europe, became known by the term "Sh'erit ha-Pletah" (Hebrew: the surviving remnant).
Most of these refugees gathered in Displaced Persons (DP) camps in the British, French and particularly American occupation zones of Germany, and in Austria and in Italy. The conditions in these camps were harsh and primitive at first, but once basic survival needs were being met, the refugees organized representatives on a camp-by-camp basis, and then a coordinating organization for the various camps, to present their needs and requests to the authorities, supervise cultural and educational activities in the camps, and advocate that they be allowed to leave Europe and immigrate to the British Mandate for Palestine or other countries. Most of the survivors comprising the group known as Sh'erit ha-Pletah originated in central and eastern European countries, while most of those from western countries returned to them and rehabilitated their lives there.
The first meeting of representatives of survivors in the DP camps took place a few weeks after the end of the war, on 27 May 1945, at the St. Ottilien camp, where they formed and named the organization "Sh'erit ha-Pletah" to act on their behalf with the Allied authorities. After most survivors in the DP camps had immigrated to other countries or resettled, the Central Committee of She’arit Hapleta disbanded in December 1950 and the organization dissolved itself in the British Zone of Germany in August 1951.
The term "Sh'erit ha-Pletah" is thus usually used in reference to Jewish refugees and displaced persons in the period after the war from 1945 to about 1950. In historical research, this term is used for Jews in Europe and North Africa in the five years or so after World War II.
Displaced persons camps
Hundreds of thousands of Jews managed to survive the anti-Semitic legislation of the Nazis, ghettos, labor camps and extermination camps. Some obtained false identities or hid in hiding places or in the homes of non-Jews or were saved by Righteous Among the Nations. Some of the survivors, mainly from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Hungary returned to their countries. The Allies housed the homeless Jewish refugees in displaced camps known as the "DP camps" and tried to take care of their needs, but the question of their fate after the extent of the extermination of the Jewish people in the Holocaust became known gained the attention of public opinion worldwide, and was incorporated into a discussion of the political fate of the Land of Israel at that time.
In a gradual process, the DP camps were dismantled by the early 1950s, and some 250,000 Jews who had been housed there had found refuge in various countries. More than half of the refugees (136,000) immigrated to Israel, 80,000 emigrated to the United States, and the remainder emigrated to Canada and various countries in Central and Western Europe and the rest of the world.
Lists of survivors
Immigration and absorption
Holocaust survivors suffered from the war years and afterwards in many different ways, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Most survivors were deeply traumatized both physically and mentally and some of the effects lasted throughout their lives. This was expressed, among other ways, in the emotional and mental trauma of feeling that they were on a "different planet" that they could not share with others; that they had not or could not process the mourning for their murdered loved ones because at the time they were consumed with the effort required for survival; and many experienced guilt that they had survived when others had not. This dreadful period engulfed some survivors with both physical and mental scars, which were subsequently characterized by researchers as "concentration camp syndrome" (also known as survivor syndrome).
Nonetheless, many survivors drew on inner strength and learned to cope, restored their lives, moved to a new place, started a family and developed successful careers.
Restitution and reparations
Memoirs and testimonies
Second Generation of survivors
The "second generation of Holocaust survivors" is the name given to children born after World War Two to a parent or parents who survived the Holocaust. Although the second generation did not directly experience the horrors of the Holocaust, the impact of their parents' trauma is often evident in their upbringing and outlooks, and from the 1960s, children of survivors began exploring and expressing in various ways what the implications of being children of Holocaust survivors meant to them.
The second generation of the Holocaust has raised several research questions in psychology, and psychological studies have been conducted to determine how their parents' horrendous experiences affected their lives, among them, whether psychological trauma experienced by a parent can be passed on to their children even when they were not present during the ordeal, as well as the psychological manifestations of this transference of trauma to the second generation.
Soon after descriptions of concentration camp syndrome (also known as survivor syndrome) appeared, clinicians observed in 1966 that large numbers of children of Holocaust survivors were seeking treatment in clinics in Canada. The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors were also over represented by 300% among the referrals to a child psychiatry clinic in comparison with their representation in the general population.
A communication pattern that psychologists have identified as a communication feature between parents who experienced trauma and their children has been referred to as the "connection of silence". This silent connection is the tacit assent, in the families of Holocaust survivors, not to discuss the trauma of the parent and to disconnect it from the daily life of the family. The parent's need for this is not only due to their need to forget and adapt to their lives after the trauma, but also to protect their children's psyches from being harmed by their depictions of the atrocities that they experienced during the Holocaust.
Awareness groups have thus developed, in which children of survivors explore their feelings in a group that shares and can better understand their experiences as children of Holocaust survivors. Some second generation of survivors have also organized local and even national groups for mutual support and to pursue additional goals and aims regarding Holocaust issues. For example, in November 1979, the First Conference on Children of Holocaust Survivors was held and resulted in the establishment of support groups all over the United States.
Many members of the "second generation" have sought ways to get past their suffering as children of Holocaust survivors and to integrate their experiences and those of their parents into their lives. For example, some have become involved in activities to commemorate the lives of people and ways of life of communities that were wiped out during the Holocaust. They research the history of Jewish life in Europe before the war and the Holocaust itself; participate in the renewal of Yiddish culture; engage in educating others about the Holocaust; fight against Holocaust denial, antisemitism and racism; become politically active, such as with regard to finding and prosecuting Nazis, or by taking up Jewish or humanitarian causes; and through creative means such as theater, art and literature, examine the Holocaust and its consequences on themselves and their families.
Organizations and conferences
A wide range of organizations have been established to address the needs and issues of Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Immediately following the war, Sh'erit ha-Pletah" was established to meet the immediate physical and rehabilitation needs in the Displaced Persons camps and to advocate for rights to immigrate. Once these aims had largely been met by the early 1950s, the organization was disbanded. In the following decades, survivors established both local, national and eventually international organizations to address longer term physical, emotional and social needs, and organizations for specific groups such as child survivors and descendants, especially children, of survivors were also set up. Starting in the late 1970s, conferences and gatherings of survivors, their descendants, as well as rescuers and liberators began to take place and were often the impetus for the establishment and maintenance of permanent organizations.
Child survivors of the Holocaust were often the only ones who remained alive from their entire extended families, while even more were orphans. This group of survivors included children who had survived in the concentration camps, in hiding with non-Jewish families or in Christian institutions, or had been sent out of harm's way by their parents on Kindertransports, or by escaping with their families to remote locations in the Soviet Union, or Shanghai in China. After the war, child survivors were sometimes sent to be cared for by distant relatives in other parts of the world, sometimes accepted unwillingly, and mistreated or even abused. Their experiences, memories and understanding of the terrible events they had suffered as child victims of the Nazis and their accomplices was given little consideration.
In the 1970s and 80s, small groups of these survivors, now adults, began to form in a number of communities worldwide to deal with their painful pasts in safe and understanding environments. The First International Conference on Children of Holocaust Survivors took place in 1979 under the auspices of Zachor, the Holocaust Resource Center. The conference and was attended by some 500 survivors, survivors’ children and mental health professionals and established a network for children of survivors of the Holocaust in the United States and Canada.
The International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors held its first international conference in New York City in 1984, attended by more than 1,700 children of survivors of the Holocaust with the stated purpose of creating greater understanding of the Holocaust and its impact on the contemporary world and establishing contacts among the children of survivors in the United States and Canada.
The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants was founded in 1985 to bring child survivors together and coordinate worldwide activities. The organization began holding annual conference in cities the United States, Canada, Europe and Israel. Descendants of survivors were also recognized as having been deeply affected by their families’ histories. In addition to the annual conferences to build community among child survivors and their descendants, members speak about their histories of survival and loss, of resilience, of the heroism of Jewish resistance and self-help for other Jews, and of the Righteous Among the Nations, at schools, public and community events; they participate in Holocaust Remembrance ceremonies and projects; and campaign against antisemitism and bigotry.
In April 1983, Holocaust survivors in North America established the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants; the first event was attended by President Ronald Reagan and 20,000 survivors and their families.
Amcha, the Israeli Center for Psychological and Social Support for Holocaust Survivors and the Second Generation was established in Jerusalem in 1987 to serve survivors and their families.
- This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL.
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- Resources on Survivors and Victims – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- USC Shoah Foundation – first-hand accounts of survivors and other eyewitnesses of the Holocaust
- Holocaust Literature Research Institute– a collection of Holocaust survivor testimonials and witness accounts