Major study: Shoah survivors live longer

Research conducted at Haifa University finds men who survived Holocaust have higher life expectancy than those who did not experience trauma. 'The findings teach us about the power of the human soul,' says head of research team

Men who survived the Holocaust in Poland live longer than those who did not experience the horrors of World War II, according to a new study conducted at Haifa University and based – for the first time – on figures compiled by the National Insurance Institute.


The research is being published these days in international scientific journal PLOS ONE.


Previous studies have shown that experiencing a trauma could negatively affect a person's life expectancy, including genetic findings which indicated that a trauma could shorten the tips of chromosomes in a person's DNA, affecting the life spans of human cells. This fact led researchers to examine whether Holocaust survivors have a shorter life expectancy.


The study, conducted together with Prof. Shai Linn of the School of Public Health at Haifa University, Prof. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg and Prof. Marinus van IJzendoorn of Leiden University in the Netherlands, is the first of its kind based on an extensive database of the National Insurance Institute, which includes the entire population of immigrants from Poland to Israel before and after the war.


The researchers compared between the population of Holocaust survivors who were four to 20 years old in 1939 and immigrated to Israel between 1945 and 1950, and the population of immigrants from Poland of the same age group, who immigrated to Israel before World War II broke out in 1939. In total, the study examined data of more than 55,220 men and women.


'Results give us hope'

The findings reveal that the life expectancy of the Holocaust survivors was 6.5 months higher compared to the group of immigrants who did not experience the Holocaust. Yet when the researchers examined the differences between women and men, they found no clear differences among the two groups of women.


Among the men, on the other hand, the differences in life expectancy were significant: Men who survived the Holocaust lived 14 months longer than men who did not experience the Nazi slaughter. In addition, the older the survivors were when they experienced the horrors of the Holocaust – the higher the differences in life expectancy.


Men who were 10 to 15 years old during the Holocaust were found to have a 10 months higher life expectancy than the men in the control group. Men who experienced the Holocaust at the age of 16 to 20 lived 18 months longer than the men in the control group.


"Holocaust survivors did not just suffer unbearable mental and physical damage, but also hunger, poor nutrition and lack of sanitary and medical services. We would expect all that to reduce survivors' life expectancy, but the findings taught us about the strength of the human soul," says Prof. Avi Sagi-Schwartz of the Department of Psychology and head of the Center for the Study of Child Development at Haifa University, who led the study.


According to the researchers, one possible explanation for the surprising finding is the post-traumatic growth phenomenon: The traumatic events which shook Holocaust survivors' life routine and caused a lot of suffering also led to the development of personal and interpersonal skills and new insights, and gave their life a deeper meaning, which eventually contributed to a longer life expectancy.


"The results of this study give us hope and teach us quite a lot about the power of the human soul in dealing with cruel and traumatic situations," Prof. Sagi-Schwartz concludes.



פרסום ראשון: 08.03.13, 08:53
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