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Recovering from Genocidal Trauma

Recovering from Genocidal Trauma: An Information and Practice Guide for Working with Holocaust Survivors

with Raymond Barry
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Recovering from Genocidal Trauma
    Book Description:

    Recovering from Genocidal Traumais a comprehensive guide to understanding Holocaust survivors and responding to their needs. In it, Myra Giberovitch documents her twenty-five years of working with Holocaust survivors as a professional social worker, researcher, educator, community leader, and daughter of Auschwitz survivors.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6543-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Recovering from Genocidal Traumais about understanding and working with survivors of mass atrocity crimes. In the late 1980s I started the first community-based social service for Holocaust survivors in Canada. Over the course of the next twenty years, as I endeavoured to address the needs of hundreds of Holocaust survivors and their families in the Montreal Jewish community, this book took shape. It is the culmination of my life’s work, which is devoted to promoting a fuller comprehension of Holocaust survivors and initiating programs and services that are sensitive and responsive to their unique requirements. My colleagues refer to...

  5. Part I: Survivors of Atrocity

    • 1 Mass Atrocity Crimes
      (pp. 13-17)

      Human beings have committed mass atrocities (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing) against each other throughout history. Since the Second World War, it is estimated that over 170 million people have been killed in more than 250 armed conflicts (Shelton, 2004).

      The twentieth century has been dubbed the Century of Genocide (Levene, 2000). Professor Raphael Lemkin coined the word ‘genocide’ in 1944, combining the Greekgenos– referring to a race or tribe – with the Latincide– meaning murder. Lemkin believed that the extermination of ‘the Armenians during World War I, and of the Jews during World War...

    • 2 Understanding the Historical Context
      (pp. 18-44)

      It is important to understand a survivor population before working closely with it. This includes knowing about the mass atrocity that the survivors lived through and what their lives were like before, during, and after. Survivors’ experiences pre-and post-atrocity shape their perceptions in significant ways.

      This book documents my work with Holocaust survivors living in the Montreal area. The majority of these survivors were born in Poland (Torczyner & Brotman, 1994). Other countries of origin include Romania, Hungary, the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Italy, and Yugoslavia. Each country has its own traditions,...

    • 3 Identifying a Holocaust Survivor
      (pp. 45-49)

      Holocaust survivors may be encountered anywhere. They may be spouses, parents, grandparents, or friends. They may be business owners, employees, colleagues, patients, clients, or customers. They may be easily identified and open to self-disclosure, or may have kept their past a secret. Whatever the situation, personal, casual, or professional, knowing who survivors are and understanding them will enhance relationships and improve interactions with them. So who is a Holocaust survivor?

      Defining and identifying Holocaust survivors is not straightforward and may, at times, be a contentious issue (American Gathering The Jewish Week, 1983:14). Various definitions exist, ranging from a broad, metaphorical...

    • 4 Changing Perceptions of Holocaust Survivors
      (pp. 50-64)

      In my educational workshops for health professionals, students, and volunteers, I sometimes begin by asking participants to describe a Holocaust survivor in one or a few words. Common responses include: traumatized, depressed, angry, scarred, tragic, hysterical, neurotic, guilty, silent, nightmares, cynical, haunted, inner turmoil, paranoid, mentally and emotionally crippled, hoarders, mistrustful, ambitious, fragile, lost souls, resilient, grieving, sense of loss, helplessness, have unfinished business, clever, unable to speak about their experiences, fatalistic, aggressive, wounded, weak, defiant, hard-working, intense, strong character, clever, resourceful, strong will to survive, thankful, hopeful, and family-oriented. Usually the descriptions lean heavily towards perceiving survivors as impaired...

  6. Part II: Understanding Survivors

    • 5 Impact of Trauma: Vulnerability and Resilience
      (pp. 67-88)

      Before health-care and social-service providers can effectively help survivors, they need to appreciate how survivors differ from people who have not been exposed to a mass atrocity. Prolonged victimization has a psychological affect on the body and mind. As a social worker, I view myself as a generalist and draw upon theoretical frameworks and practice information from diverse disciplines such as social work, medicine, psychology, sociology, and gerontology. I believe it is important to understand the latest developments in the area of trauma research to identify what is relevant and apply it in practice.

      Prolonged victimization, however, affects survivors differently....

    • 6 Environmental Factors That Reduce the Impact of Trauma
      (pp. 89-96)

      Social workers can assist survivors with their psycho-social adjustment by having knowledge of post-traumatic factors that may mitigate the impact of trauma. Kahana, Harel, and Kahana (1988; 2005) identified factors that influenced survivors’ psychological well-being and adaptation during their studies of survivor populations in the United States, Canada, and Israel. These factors were gleaned from coping strategies which survivors employed and which aided in their recovery during the post-war years. The researchers observed that the ability of an individual to cope with extreme stress is affected not only by the nature and duration of the stress experiences but also by...

    • 7 Other Issues Unique to Survivors
      (pp. 97-120)

      Survivors are often labelled as ‘paranoid’ or ‘depressed,’ a tendency that causes health-care providers to overlook their current social environment and health conditions. Survivors do not live in a social vacuum. As members of an ageing society, they are faced with the same issues as other older adults, such as financial security, adequate housing, transportation and mobility, availability of health services, and physical and psychological changes. However, it is important to understand issues unique to Holocaust survivors that arise from their war experiences. Some of these behaviours and challenges developed during the war, or soon after, while others appear as...

  7. Part III: Survivor Services and Programs

    • 8 Transcending Victimization through Empowerment
      (pp. 123-140)

      Long-term victimization under a systematic and comprehensive program of genocide adversely affected the mental and emotional well-being of many survivors. ‘People who have endured horrible events suffer predictable psychological harm’ (Herman, 1992:3). Although survivors differ from each other in many ways, as noted in chapter 3, they share a common wartime experience that may have affected their self-concept. All were subjected to massive human-rights abuses by racist policies that labelled them as different, turned them into outcasts, brutally uprooted them, and targeted them for extinction through mass murder. Consequently, many internalized a negative self-image and a loss of self-esteem as...

    • 9 Creating a Specialized Program
      (pp. 141-157)

      Mass atrocity survivors have unique needs that are addressed best through specialized services. Creating such services requires considerable knowledge and understanding of the survivor community. While traditional study and work experience is necessary, listening directly to survivors provides me with my most inspirational and insightful lessons. I use empowerment principles, which restore power and control to survivors, and encourage their involvement in developing new services. Recognizing their strengths and reinforcing a belief in survivorship – rather than seeing them as fragile victims – helps me create service models that promote healing and growth.

      My knowledge and understanding of service needs for Holocaust...

    • 10 Short-Term Group Services
      (pp. 158-175)

      Group programs are an effective way to develop a mutual-aid process. I learned about the effectiveness of group work during my studies at university and, more notably, from survivors who described theirlandsmanschaften.Organizational activities included opportunities for socializing, educating members, sharing experiences, and giving meaning to survivors’ lives. All groups I organize and develop include components of mutual aid. Belonging to a mutual-aid group is already a familiar experience for many survivors.

      Task-oriented and support-oriented groups are discussed below. Although the models are different, the underlying assumption is the same for all these types of groups: a group of...

    • 11 Long-Term Group Service: An Incubator Environment
      (pp. 176-193)

      Survivors’landsmanschaftenhad an important impact on their selfconcept. Members validated each other’s experiences and acknowledged each other as capable people. Many felt a sense of pride and accomplishment for the ‘good work’ their organizations performed. Through educational, cultural, and social programs, they learned about community issues and events, concentrated on self-improvement, learned new skills, and participated in social get-togethers. Some organizations published newsletters and books, and some were politically active, especially on issues pertaining to Holocaust remembrance, Nazis residing in Canada, Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, and the survival of Israel.

      As I listened to survivors describe theirlandsmanschaftenwith great...

    • 12 Intergenerational Programs
      (pp. 194-206)

      Intergenerational programs empower Holocaust survivors to transcend their victim self-concept and assume roles as witnesses-to-history and educators in the community. The therapeutic goals of intergenerational programs are set out below.

      Students use structured questionnaires in some of our programs to help survivors focus on pre-war, wartime, and post-war experiences. This tool helps both survivors and students as they work together to structure the story into a meaningful whole.

      Integrating and accepting that the traumatic experiences are a part of their lives is a challenge for many survivors. However, it becomes easier for some with repeated telling of their story. Mes....

  8. Part IV: Professional Interactions with Survivors

    • 13 Therapeutic Responses
      (pp. 209-237)

      Recovery from mass atrocity includes grieving losses, resolving internal conflict, alleviating psychic pain, rebuilding self-esteem, and finding meaning and purpose in survival. Here are common presenting issues I come across in both individual sessions and group programs along with therapeutic techniques and approaches used to respond. These techniques are derived from my social-work training, personal experiences, professional relationships, and clinical literature pertaining to trauma survivors.

      Before one attempts to use interventions to address therapeutic goals, an appropriate therapeutic environment and relationship needs to be established. Professional therapeutic relationships are one type of relationship, from among many, in which survivors engage....

    • 14 Mitigating Responses to Environmental Triggers
      (pp. 238-254)

      Seemingly benign events, everyday sights and sounds, or certain comments may trigger painful Holocaust memories. Re-experiencing the original trauma in thought, emotion, behaviour, and physiology is a normal and natural response of individuals who suffer from PTS or PTSD. Survivors may react to these reminders with fear, sadness, suspicion, anxiety, anger, or withdrawal. This chapter lists some examples of triggers for Holocaust survivors, typical responses, and a brief explanation why the situation may cause a triggered response. Suggestions for possible interventions are also included. This information is gleaned from several sources, primarily the practice manual published by Baycrest Geriatric Health...

    • 15 Responding to Emotional Reactions
      (pp. 255-267)

      This chapter sets out approaches that may be helpful when responding to emotional reactions of survivors in a social-service setting. Individuals may be coming to an agency for the first time. Their initial encounter with staff and volunteers may determine if they will have any further involvement with an agency or if they will be receptive to additional services.

      Survivors may become preoccupied and want to talk about their Holocaust memories during routine procedures like a telephone-intake call. Their war memories and associated unresolved feelings are frequently triggered by conversation or questions which seem benign to a non-survivor but have...

    • 16 Professional Considerations
      (pp. 268-276)

      I am frequently asked by colleagues and students to address issues around maintaining professional boundaries when working with survivors. Social workers and other service providers are required to maintain appropriate boundaries in professional interpersonal relationships. These boundaries are defined in the codes of conduct and ethics of our individual professions (Ordre professional des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec [l’OTSTCFQ], 2012) or corporations (Canadian Association of Social Workers [CASW], 2005) in Canada. Unfortunately, some settings do not have policies around these issues and may offer little guidance to staff. This forces workers to rely on their...

  9. Part V: Going Forward

    • 17 Recovery Milestones Applicable to Other Communities
      (pp. 279-292)

      The Holocaust officially ended more than sixty-five years ago. The majority of survivors were in their twenties and thirties when they were liberated. Now they are in their eighties. Traumatic Holocaust memories permeate the biological, psychological, and intellectual changes that occur during their ageing process. The coping skills survivors developed during the Holocaust serve them well in adapting to these changes. However, survivors never forget the horrors they endured and the losses they suffered. These experiences are etched in their memories and affect their lives as long as they live.

      In my opinion, the cost of preventing mass atrocities is...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 293-296)

    I am privileged to have accompanied and supported so many survivors as they progressed along their journey towards recovery and healing. Survivors in the Drop-in program who have been there since the beginning are not the same as they were fifteen years ago. Significant psychological and social changes have taken place. In the beginning, members told me that they ruminated about the Holocaust during most of the day, especially when alone. Today, although they are physically frailer, they are in many ways psychologically more fit. The intensity of their emotional pain has diminished. They are able to talk about their...

  11. Appendix A: Mass Atrocity Crimes
    (pp. 297-303)
  12. Appendix B: Raphael Lemkin: A Survivor’s Contribution to Society
    (pp. 304-306)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 307-310)
  14. References
    (pp. 311-328)
  15. Index
    (pp. 329-344)