The Holocaust Survivor

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Remnants of the Holocaust:  Lifelong Flashbacks


The holocaust is forever with us.  It appears in our dreams, in our waking hours, in our outlook, in our personalities.  Those of us who barely escaped the Final Solution with our lives cannot shed the consequences in our feelings, our thoughts, our beliefs, our actions.  We are extremely sensitive to rejection and respond accordingly.  In our most formative years as children we were labeled as lepers, as outcasts, by the Nazis and their followers, the Germans, the willing executioners of the Nazi regime.  They derided us, called us names, pulled our hair, tortured us and treated us blatantly with disdain and with delight. The Jewish children who were the victims of these treatments took on the feelings of these murderers and began to hate themselves. Like Cooley's theory of the looking glass self, we looked at ourselves as the reflection of the person ascribed to us through the mirror of our enemies.  We rejected ourselves.  Individuals who reject themselves are not accepted by others. We stand apart from our peers, our surroundings and our fellow human beings.  The slightest hint of criticism threatens our very being.  We feel we are less than others and never really feel accepted and as equals to those around us.  Our antennas are overloaded and peaceful thoughts are absent.  Even our dreams are distorted in unique ways.  They vary from wishful thinking to nightmares.  We have dreams in which we are lost, never find our way; our material goods are gone, i.e. our car is missing, we have no transportation, we are deprived of our homes; our loved one dies; we cannot speak; we are helpless; we cannot not move our feet and are rooted to the spot; we relive traumatic moments of our childhood; we are starving and have no food to eat; we choke and are unable to breathe;  we are running aimlessly from an evil Nazi who comes closer and closer.  These dreams are so real that when we fortunately awake  we still feel that we are being chased at the moment of our awakening.  There also the wish fulfilling dreams.  They most often involve our parents.  We are in the arms of our  mother or holding the hand of our protective father.  We are little children being protected by the two people who loved and protected us as best as they could under horrendous circumstances which were out of their control.  These are infantile dreams, reliving a comforting, safe childhood which did not exist.

Our adulthood varies within a fairly narrow scope.  Some of us do any and everything to feel accepted to be noticed in positive ways.  We work at an unbelievable pace.  We try hard to excel in whatever we do, to be outstanding, accepted and admired.  We want to be the adult “Wunderkinder” (miracle children) who stand out above the crowd.  We want to be admired, at least from a distance.  Perish forbid these folks should know us personally, they might discover that we are “Untermenschen,”  people who are below humans, to be despised, to be found out.  We cannot believe that someone could really care for us, love us.  We are an enigma to those who know us. We also feel guilty about our accomplishments and fear that others believe we are merely frauds who cover up of our inferiority, our nothingness, our enemies' beliefs that we are merely “vermin,” nonhumans who are contagious lepers, who deserve nothing, to be exposed and eradicated.  We travel from these feelings to expressions that others are all unenlightened, understand very little and are ignorant and stupid.  There is much ambivalence and distortion to our feelings. These are feelings that no “therapeutic interventions, no REM’s” (rapid eye movements) can change.

There is much more than one can imagine that are the aftershocks of the emotional, spiritual and daily lives as the result of the unthinkable traumas and experiences of those who have survived the terrors of the Holocaust!!  


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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