Trauma and the Life Course in a Cross National Perspective: Focus on Holocaust Survivors Living in Hungary

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This study describes how elderly Holocaust survivors living in Hungary evaluate their lives in the context of multiple sociopolitical upheavals they had experienced. We interviewed Holocaust survivors who continue to live in the locale of their original victimization and amid renewed threats of anti-Semitism. We examined evaluations of life during 9 historical periods, ranging from pre-Holocaust to the 1990s. We also considered data about late life morale, social integration, perceptions of social alienation, and concerns about future anti-Semitism. Data are reported, based on individual in-depth interviews with 104 Holocaust survivors living in Hungary. Findings about well-being and social outcomes are compared with data obtained in our earlier studies of 166 Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States and 184 survivors who immigrated to Israel after World War II. Results indicate that survivors living in Hungary experienced several postwar periods as highly stressful in addition to the trauma of the Holocaust. Survivors living in the United States, and particularly those living in Israel, portray better family life and social and psychological outcomes. Narrative responses of survivors living in Hungary point to a lack of social integration and ongoing threats to identity, along with fears about the rise of anti-Semitism, as factors that may adversely impact the maintenance of psychosocial well-being.

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