The differential impact of holocaust trauma across three generations

Lurie-Beck, Janine Karen (2007) The differential impact of holocaust trauma across three generations. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In the current thesis, the reasons for the differential impact of Holocaust trauma on Holocaust survivors, and the differential intergenerational transmission of this trauma to survivors’ children and grandchildren were explored. A model specifically related to Holocaust trauma and its transmission was developed based on trauma, family systems and attachment theories as well as theoretical and anecdotal conjecture in the Holocaust literature. The Model of the Differential Impact of Holocaust Trauma across Three Generations was tested firstly by extensive meta-analyses of the literature pertaining to the psychological health of Holocaust survivors and their descendants and secondly via analysis of empirical study data.
The meta-analyses reported in this thesis represent the first conducted with research pertaining to Holocaust survivors and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. The meta-analysis of research conducted with children of survivors is the first to include both published and unpublished research. Meta-analytic techniques such as meta-regression and sub-set meta-analyses provided new information regarding the influence of a number of unmeasured demographic variables on the psychological health of Holocaust survivors and descendants. Based on the results of the meta-analyses it was concluded that Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren suffer from a statistically significantly higher level or greater severity of psychological symptoms than the general population. However it was also concluded that there is statistically significant variation in psychological health within the Holocaust survivor and descendant populations. Demographic variables which may explain a substantial amount of this variation have been largely under-assessed in the literature and so an empirical study was needed to clarify the role of demographics in determining survivor and descendant mental health.
A total of 124 participants took part in the empirical study conducted for this thesis with 27 Holocaust survivors, 69 children of survivors and 28 grandchildren of survivors. A worldwide recruitment process was used to obtain these participants. Among the demographic variables assessed in the empirical study, aspects of the survivors’ Holocaust trauma (namely the exact nature of their Holocaust experiences, the extent of family bereavement and their country of origin) were found to be particularly potent predictors of not only their own psychological health but continue to be strongly influential in determining the psychological health of their descendants. Further highlighting the continuing influence of the Holocaust was the finding that number of Holocaust affected ancestors was the strongest demographic predictor of grandchild of survivor psychological health.
Apart from demographic variables, the current thesis considered family environment dimensions which have been hypothesised to play a role in the transmission of the traumatic impact of the Holocaust from survivors to their descendants. Within the empirical study, parent-child attachment was found to be a key determinant in the transmission of Holocaust trauma from survivors to their children and insecure parent-child attachment continues to reverberate through the generations. In addition, survivors’ communication about the Holocaust and their Holocaust experiences to their children was found to be more influential than general communication within the family.
Ten case studies (derived from the empirical study data set) are also provided; five Holocaust survivors, three children of survivors and two grandchildren of survivors. These cases add further to the picture of heterogeneity of the survivor and descendant populations in both experiences and adaptations. It is concluded that the legacy of the Holocaust continues to leave its mark on both its direct survivors and their descendants. Even two generations removed, the direct and indirect effects of the Holocaust have yet to be completely nullified. Research with Holocaust survivor families serves to highlight the differential impacts of state-based trauma and the ways in which its effects continue to be felt for generations. The revised and empirically tested Model of the Differential Impact of Holocaust Trauma across Three Generations presented at the conclusion of this thesis represents a further clarification of existing trauma theories as well as the first attempt at determining the relative importance of both cognitive, interpersonal/interfamilial interaction processes and demographic variables in post-trauma psychological health and transmission of traumatic impact.

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ID Code: 37242
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Liossis, Calliope & Gow, Kathryn
Keywords: Holocaust survivors, children, grandchildren, meta-analysis, intergenerational transmission of trauma, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic vulnerability, parent-child attachment, romantic attachment, family cohesion, separation-individuation, coping, world assumptions, post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic growth, demographic differences
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 23 Sep 2010 05:25
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:44

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