This morning I received an email from Clare’s childhood sweetheart and lifelong friend Tibby Weston of Texas who helped me in my research for The Violinist. Now in his 90s, Tibby has written about his own life as a Holocaust survivor in his autobiography The Vision (Xlibris Corp 2002) and continues to write on related issues. He tells me, ‘I am, as Clare was and most survivors are, a little bit insane. There is a lot of material on this issue on the Internet. One report, however, found that those survivors who wrote a book about their experiences belong to the 8% who show no significant PTDS symptoms. I am attaching my newsletter from January, when it was winter here. I hope you’ll like it.’
I do like it, and share it here:
You hear about veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from PTSD in surprisingly large numbers. What you don’t hear about is that of World War 2 veterans and Holocaust survivors experiencing a massive re-occurrence of PTSD with the advance of old age.
Elderly Holocaust survivors show a high simultaneous presence of chronic PTSD (91.8%), with psychotic disorders more than 50 years after the experience of the massive psychic trauma of the Holocaust.
The occurrence of chronic PTSD of such magnitude is significantly higher among Holocaust survivors than the rate reported for war veterans, which is less than 45%. This difference may be related to the unique nature of the Holocaust trauma, combining dehumanization, confrontation with death, and massive loss for a prolonged period. The exposure to such trauma puts into effect mechanisms to deal with traumatic memory and its psychic repercussions.
The weather in Europe during the winter of 1944-45 was some of the worst ever recorded in the 20th century with the temperature going below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. At Christmas, the Hungarian capital was surrounded, so that hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as German and Hungarian soldiers were trapped in the besieged city.
I was lucky that suffering from typhoid fever in the spring of 1945 wiped out most of my memory of the trauma of the winter of 1944-45. I am, however, experiencing a gradual return of memories of the traumatic experiences and I am less and less able to successfully hide or mask such memories.
Experts discovered that survivors of traumatic events could overcome debilitating psychosis and PTSD through “historicizing” their memories by facing them and writing about them. Among Holocaust survivors these amount to about 8%. In contrast, other psychotic survivors are unable to reach this calm state of balance and for them memory is a lifelong burden.
I am now faced with the dilemma of writing about recurring memories and thus prevent developing possible debilitating old age PTSD, or trusting my defense mechanism that made it possible to reach old age without burdening the world with memories that are best left untold.
Today’s world has its own horrors. Millions are in refugee camps fighting for bare survival, genocide is rampant, and billions have no access to minimum civilized standards of life. Looking at the past from the bird’s eye view of nine decades, there is really no good reason to dwell on the past horrors. History keeps repeating itself. I fervently hope that our loved ones be spared PTSD and the recurring thereof.
For the thousands of veterans, however, there is hope. Learn from the experience of Holocaust survivors. Perhaps someone somewhere will start a movement to assist today’s veterans to “historicize” their traumatic memories. It will help them mobilize effective skills for coping and adapting to social roles and prevent recurring PTSD at advancing old age. Perhaps some college, or university could establish courses in writing memoirs as a patriotic undertaking to assist veterans of recent wars.
As to myself I have a plan. Survive the cold and soon it will be spring with memories of winters gone. The red bud trees will bloom, the humming birds will buzz by again and the exciting signs of rebirth and new beginnings will wipe out memories of the winter, and all the winters before.
P.S. IT IS SPRING! HALLELUJAH!