Living with death : death anxiety and adaptation in old age among Auschwitz survivors and Jews who fled Nazi Germany / by Joseph Ivan Chernick
Includes bibliographical references (p. 246-267)
This study examined how older individuals who had suffered prolonged immersion in death now consider, imagine, respond to, and live with the inevitability of their own deaths. Specifically, three measures of death anxiety were used to compare 10 Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors between the ages of 64 and 69 with 10 Jews who emigrated from Europe before 1940, and who ranged in age from 64 to 76. The results confirmed the study's primary hypothesis that the concentration camp survivors would experience greater death anxiety than those not interned in an extermination camp. The Auschwitz survivors received higher death anxiety ratings on both an interview measure and a measure based on their responses to the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). In addition, the survivors' TAT stories contained significantly more death-related themes than did those of the emigres. The responses of the two groups to Templer's Death Anxiety Scale did not differ, however. No correlation appeared between the measure of unconscious death anxiety and two measures of conscious fears. The measures of conscious death anxiety did correlate with each other, however. This finding supported the hypothesis regarding the independence of conscious and unconscious death anxiety, and underscored the importance of using multiple approaches to measuring this phenomenon. In addition, the survivors were found to be more likely than the emigres to have visited a concentration camp, to dream about death, to attribute their survival to their own initiative rather than to luck, and to share their Holocaust experiences with others. They were, however, less hopeful about the future. The study also presents a qualitative discussion of the interview material, describing how the survivors and emigres are integrating their Holocaust experiences as they face the tasks of old age. The interviews made clear that although the trauma of the concentration camps had left deep scars, the survivors confronted both the inevitability of death and their memories of loss in highly adaptive ways. They remained actively engaged in personal relationships and in the community at large, and they used their Holocaust experiences as a basis for contributing to the world around them.
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