Identity and trauma : Jewish children saved by Christians during the Holocaust / by Margrit Wreschner Rustow.
The study, based on original interviews and printed sources, examines the effect of severe trauma on the identity of children who, during the Holocaust, were persecuted as Jews and separated from their families. Six were saved in Catholic convents or homes; the seventh, deported to concentration camps, was added for contrast. The study reviews the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied countries, and each child's background and family history; and then reviews in detail each individual experience. For all seven, separation from the mother was the crucial trauma. The six who entered Catholic settings confronted major changes: practice of a new religion; new names and identities. As contact with parents ceased, structured Catholic life provided a sense of stability and protection. Religion offered emotional substitutes for love objects who had failed them. Major identity and loyalty conflicts ensued. The first of the three traumatic phases examined includes the onset of persecution and separation from the mother: the irrevocable loss of the familiar world. The second is the period of hiding; and the third the losses experienced after the war, when the protected life of religion vanished. Environmental support during this phase promoted integration, and the lack of it reinforced pathological components resulting from cumulative trauma. The study relates the degree of trauma to age and emotional development at the time of separation from mother: the younger the child, the more severe the impact. A second factor is the quality of care during and after hiding. Various objects and memories turn out to be of extreme importance in helping to maintain earlier identities. Specifically, the study examines why five of the seven returned to Judaism and one converted to Catholicism; whereas the seventh, brought up as a Catholic and deported to concentration camps, became a Jew and settled in Israel. In its theoretical portions the study reviews in detail theories of trauma and identity since Freud and Erikson; and particularly studies such as Keilson's of cumulative trauma experienced during the Holocaust.
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