Visiting Auschwitz: Evidence of Secondary Traumatization Among High School Students

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Secondary traumatic stress has been intensively studied among survivors’ therapists, family members, and trauma researchers. We claim that people who are exposed to reminders of past traumatic experiences when visiting places of memory or museum exhibitions could also develop secondary trauma symptoms. Thus, scholars and practitioners must better understand how such places related to historical traumatization (e.g., Holocaust memorial sites) can affect the psychological well-being of visitors. The main aim of this quantitative longitudinal study was to assess the scale of secondary traumatization among visitors to such places. The study found that the syndrome of secondary traumatic stress was observed among 13.2% of high school visitors to the Auschwitz memorial museum. Longitudinal analysis revealed that empathic reactions to the visit in Auschwitz (e.g., a greater inclusion of victims into the self) were associated with higher levels of secondary traumatic stress levels 1 month after the visit. This study suggests that visits to places related to traumatic past events should be preceded by a more intense elaboration of Holocaust history and by proper psychological preparations.

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