Guilt is defined as ?an awareness of having done wrong or committed a crime, accompanied by feelings of shame and regret? by Encarta.com. Often times these feelings of shame that are often accompanied by survivors of the holocaust are not justified. Yet, it is very common that survivors of the holocaust experience what is called ?survivor guilt?. Survivor guilt is the word used to describe the feelings of people who survived a disaster, which killed others. ?On an irrational level, these individuals grimace at their privileged escape from death’s clutches.?(www.holocaust-trc.org) Survivor guilt is not restricted only to the holocaust. It also occurs in drunk driving incidents where someone was killed, and in other incidents also.
When I came to Auschwitz, my sister was with me. She was only 14 and it was a miracle she got past Mengele. From the moment we got into the camp, she couldn’t eat. ?Needless to say, I know in my head I’m not the cause of her death… but in my gut I’ve believed that I caused her death. At another point we were separated and I went into the Czech Lager [camp] where Czech families were brought from Theresienstadt and eliminated and she to the C Lager. I tried to run back to her but I was caught by the Kapo, beaten, and thrown back toward the Czech Lager. For a while, through the wires, we would meet every day. It was the afternoon before Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement], and that day I got three raw potatoes from somebody and I threw one over the wire to her. She picked up the potato and started to cry. I told her to go back to her barracks and we would meet again tomorrow. I was afraid the Germans would see us. The next day, she didn’t show up. And she didn’t come the following day either. I felt guilty for many years that maybe I should have run back and tried to get her with me or stay with her. Maybe I didn’t do enough to stay together. Maybe I was too selfish about saving myself. You can excuse yourself and say if I had run back my fate would have been the same as hers. There is no logic to my feelings, but those words ring in my ears, “If you’re not going to eat, you’re going to die.” (www.holocaust-trc.org)
The Holocaust affected lots of people throughout the world especially the ones that went through the traumatizing experience. Even the survivors, who were lucky to survive the holocaust, suffered great mental traumas throughout their lives. Because of the Holocaust?s effect on so many people, most individuals made efforts to create a “new family” to replace their own lost family.
Many people, during the holocaust, survived by creating mental defenses to protect themselves against all the things that were going on around them. Many Survivors experienced several phases of psychosocial response, including attempts to actively master the traumatic situation, connecting actions with intense emotional links, and ?passive compliance with the persecutors.? (Lifton)
After liberation, most of the Jewish camp inmates were too weak to move or comprehend what was happening. Awakening from nightmares was sometimes more painful than captivity. In the beginning of physical improvement, the ability to feel and think returned and many realized their isolation. To them, the reality of what had happened was unbearable. ?They lived with their overwhelming personal losses whose impact is beyond intellectual or emotional comprehension.? (Krystal)
After the war, organizations such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, The Joint Distribution Committee and the International Refugee Organization were founded. Their work was useful but their methods were not suitable. The ex-prisoner was brought before boards set up by different countries that decided on that person?s worthiness to be allowed in that country. Most survivors tried to make their way to Palestine. Then Israel was founded and they integrated quickly into a new society. The majority of the people adapted to their changed life, with new families and jobs. Many, however, still suffered from chronic anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, emotional instability and depression. (Lifton)
The survivors of the holocaust have shown to be as strong as humanly possible. Not one person who hasn’t seen what they saw could possibly imagine how they felt. Things that survivors considered pity would affect many people. There is no other way they are supposed to act. These people were lucky to have survived; yet, at times, their memories have made them think otherwise.