Holocaust Teacher Resource Center

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Pages 1 – 4

Dr. Yitzchak Mendelsohn 

For the first 30 years after the end of the war, only those who survived imprisonment in the death camps were considered to be survivors.  In the course of time, others who suffered from persecution were included in this group.  For the past decade, more and more people who were children (aged 16 or less) at the outbreak of World War II have begun to admit to themselves and to announce to others that they, too, are “Holocaust survivors,” even if they did not suffer physically or emotionally from the horrors of the camps.

No one survived the Holocaust unscathed, yet every individual has a unique history.  Everyone has personal memories, personal losses and bereavements, and suffers in his own personal and emotional way.  At the same time, it is possible to outline features that are common to survivors who shared similar experiences.  The search for common features grows from the need to design therapeutic tools to recognize, understand and address the specific needs of each group of survivors.  Therapeutic approaches must take into account the traumatic events and present needs which are determined by the characteristics of the stage of the life cycle in which the survivors find themselves today, as well as the stage of their life cycle at which the physical and emotional damage occurred.

The present collection of articles is the first in the Intervision series.  The series reflects the psychological thinking of psychotherapists at the Jerusalem branch of AMCHA.  Intervision constitutes an arena created to share with the wider community the specific therapeutic experience which has accumulated in the Jerusalem branch over the years.

In this first issue, there are four papers which were written specifically for Intervision, and three which were presented at different conferences.  Special attention is given to a group of child survivors which has been of special concern to us in the course of the past five years: child survivors whose development was impacted by the war in such a way as to severely damage their potential for self-realization – whether in the professional realm, or in family life.  These are adults who were orphaned at a young or very young age, who underwent frequent separations from significant adult figures (parental or parental substitutes), and whose personality structure is dominated by the needs of the traumatized child.  These needs impaired the capability and the possibility of realizing dreams, desires and life ambitions as they were constructed before – and after – the war.

The concept of “compound personality” (Tauber, 1995 -personal communication) serves as a diagnostic tool to characterize the measure of integration of adult and traumatized child components of the personality.  The life stories of child survivors who were able to create outstandingly brilliant and successful professional and personal careers in spite of severe feelings of emptiness and depression, are characteristic of persons with a balanced compound personality.  That is to say, of personals who succeeded in balancing the impact of their war-induced impairments, suffered as children, with the actualization of their adult needs – their dreams, plans and desires.

Alongside them is a second group of persons who have an unstable compound personality, who fail to balance the impact of the traumatized child with the needs of the adult who actualizes dreams, plans and desires.  Here we refer to child survivors whose life story is characterized by a multitude of abrupt changes, ruptures, failures and breaks, persons who are dominated by the needs, fears and anxieties of the traumatized child, who are unable to muster, in a steady manner, the intellectual and emotional capabilities required to realize their desires.

The first paper, by Dr. Yitzchak Mendelsohn, is a theoretical one which explains the foundations for defining the concept of compound personality in terms of self-psychology, and describes thoughts regarding various modes of organizing and balancing the post-traumatic self.  A number of therapeutic definitions are also resented which arise from the specific characteristics of persons with an unstable compound personality.

The second, third and fourth papers focus on clinical work with child survivors who were damaged by the war at different ages. Specifically, the second paper, by Elisheva van der Hal, presents thoughts regarding therapeutic work with child survivors who were damaged in the course of their latency period.  The third paper, by Yvonne Tauber, describes therapeutic work with a child survivor who as damaged during adolescence, and the fourth paper, by Dr. Aviva Mazor and Dr. Mendelsohn, describes supportive marital therapy accompanying individual therapeutic work with a child survivor who ~s three years old at the beginning of the war.

The fifth paper, by Ms. van der Hal and Ms. Tauber, describes long term group therapy with child survivors, most of whom also participated in conjoint individual therapy.

The last two articles – the sixth by Yoram Amit and the seventh by Ruth Gruschka – relate to general topics of concern to child survivors.  Mr. Amit’s paper describes the therapeutic importance of documentation as a memory-integrating and memory-integrating tool which organizes the survivor’s life story.  The paper points to the special characteristics of child survivor documentation as compared to adult survivor documentation.  Finally, Ms. Gruschka’s paper deals with revenge, a dominant feeling in the affective world.

This first volume is the result of an exciting, stimulating group effort by the authors.  The title “Intervision” attempts to express the vital importance of merging different points of view, of becoming acquainted with and understanding the specific needs of persons who experienced severe developmental trauma.

Each paper in this publication is the product of its authors, but each one also reflects the points of view of the other members of the group who read, listened to and discussed the various ideas contained in them.  This group effort broadens the intellectual and emotional field/background of safety which are necessary to widen the field/background of safety of child survivors who need to be confronted by a figure stable enough to allow them to expose their own lack of stability induced by the specific needs of the traumatized child.  Without such safety, it is difficult to help suffering persons who remain with the broken dreams, plans and desires of survivors.