Why Do Holocaust Survivors Remember What They Remember?

Gerontologist. 2017 Nov 10;57(6):1158-1165. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw131.


Purpose of the study: The ability to integrate traumatic memories into a coherent life narrative is one factor associated with the mental health and well-being of Holocaust survivors. In the present study, reminiscences reported by survivors in Israel were collected to identify themes arising in positive and negative memories and experience.

Design and methods: Participants (M = 80.4 years; SD = 6.87) were asked to describe memories that typify a reminiscence function in which they frequently or very frequently engage. Open-ended responses were collected from 269 Holocaust survivors and thematic analyses were conducted in English (translated) and Hebrew.

Results: Thematic analyses of these data suggest three overarching themes related to bridging the past and present, rebuilding families and the Jewish state, and the duty to share. These suggest how integral endurance, survival, and resilience were to participants during the war and how these themes defined their choices and understanding of their lives.

Implications: The results of this study demonstrate how reminiscence serves many functions. Participants appear to have integrated memories of horror and loss as part of coherent life narratives. Resilience and memory are ongoing and intertwined processes whereby survivors juxtapose their early lives to the present.

Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Holocaust survivors; Qualitative analysis; Reminiscence; Resilience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Canada
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Holocaust / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Mental Health*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Survivors / psychology*