Newswise — New research at the University of Haifa contradicts the accepted theory and popular belief that Holocaust survivors pass down the effects of the trauma they endured to their children and grandchildren. The research, which was conducted by Prof. Avi Sagi-Schwartz of the Department of Psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Child Development at the University of Haifa, found that second and third generation Holocaust survivors exhibit the same normative behaviors those who are not the children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. "We know that people working in the field who are used to the old theories and popular beliefs will have difficulty accepting the conclusions of this research, but additional research done in other parts of the world yielded similar results," said Prof. Sagi-Schwartz.
According to Prof. Sagi-Schwartz, mental health professionals have been under the perception that Holocaust survivors transmit their traumas to their children who in turn transmit them to their children. Even among those who do not believe survivors transmitted their traumas to their children, there is a school of thought that traumas "skipped a generation" and that the effects of trauma could be found among grandchildren of survivors.
This recent research examined the reciprocal relations of 50 mothers, who are themselves children of Holocaust child survivors whose parents were both killed in the Holocaust, and their one year old children. As the research evaluated the effects and transmission of trauma, it was essential to base the research on participants who had undergone severe trauma, which is the case when both parents are killed. The research revealed that the traumas of the Holocaust were not passed down from generation to generation nor did they "skip" a generation.
"It was clear to us that our results would be viewed with skepticism. One specific theory has been accepted for years and it is difficult for people to accept a new theory," explained Dr. Sagi-Schwartz. Therefore, in addition to the research conducted in Israel, meta-analytical research was conducted which evaluated the results of all available studies done in this field in the US, Canada, England, and Israel. The data from 13 different research projects was complied into one mega-sample and it was found that the results were similar to the results of this recent study, and when the results differed it was based on how the research participants were located. "One of the problems was that in many cases researchers recruited their participants through organizations that aid Holocaust survivors in distress. This meant that a very specific cross-section of Holocaust survivors participated in the study " those with a high level of distress. This is not representative of the general population of survivors and therefore leads to biased results," said Prof. Sagi-Schwartz.
Prof Sagi-Schwartz points out a few possible reasons that the horrible traumas of the Holocaust were not always transmitted to survivors' children and grandchildren. One of the theories is that before the Holocaust, many of these people had normal family lives and supportive environments and were therefore able to put their traumas aside and resume normal lives after the war ended and they had children of their own.