Transmission of Trauma

It is extremely common for children of Holocaust survivors to experience secondary-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being raised by an individual with such significant trauma.


Even children of Holocaust survivors who do not contract PTSD are likely to alter related aspects of their lives in response to this trauma.  This can be seen in a few key areas:


Traditional Jewish rituals carried a significant amount of traumatic weight for first-generation survivors, so second-generation survivors tended to engage in “ritual innovation,” the practice of altering these rituals, supposedly to separate the Jewish tradition from the horrors of the Holocaust and separate themselves from their traumatized parents.  Such ritual innovations included varying prayers traditionally spoken at meals, including and excluding certain foods from celebratory meals, and even the neglecting of more minor Jewish celebrations (Jacobs, 2011).


In a case study by Frie (2011) of culture, identity, and trauma in a bilingual analysis between a German-speaking second-generation Holocaust survivor, a researcher found that there is an inextricable link between language and this trauma.  An analysis of the pattern of shifts between English and German languages during therapy revealed that, when discussing the Holocaust, the second-generation survivor switched to English, theoretically because talking about the Holocaust in the German language is too painful.  Such an interesting pattern may indicate just how closely language is tied to identity, and how prevalent the trauma of first-generation survivors is in their offspring.

Age differences

Transgenerational effects of the Holocaust have been clearly illustrated in research, and are stronger among middle-aged second-generation survivors.  This is particularly true as these individuals face age-related health declines, perhaps because they are forced to confront the mortality that their survivor parents did so long ago.  More physical health problems may be among second-generation survivors as well, especially among those who had two first-generation survivor parents.  This phenomenon has yet to be explained, especially as first-generation survivors tend to experience greater physical health than their non-survivor peers (Fridman et al., 2011).

Third-generation survivors

A study of grandchildren of survivors revealed that these individuals have a harder time emotionally adjusting to college as freshmen and tend to struggle with academic work in the first year of college more than non-survivors (Cohen, 2011).

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