Menus Subscribe Search
concentration-camp

(PHOTO: POSZTOS/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Among Men, Holocaust Survivors Live Longer Lives

• August 06, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: POSZTOS/SHUTTERSTOCK)

A study of Polish emigrants to Israel found men who survived the Holocaust lived, on average, six months longer than those who avoided it.

Given what we know about the body’s response to trauma, it’s reasonable to assume that experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust would take a long-term toll on one’s health.

Reasonable, but apparently wrong. New research from Israel, which its authors call “the largest Holocaust study that has ever been conducted,” finds that, on average, male Holocaust survivors outlived their peers who avoided living under Nazi rule.

“Against all odds, survivors are likely to live longer,” reports a research team led by University of Haifa psychologist Abraham Sagi-Schwartz. The study found no such gap among women (who, on average, lived longer than men). But among males, Holocaust survivors lived an average of 6.5 months longer than members of a demographically identical group.

In light of the horrible experiences of their youth, survivors may have found “greater meaning and satisfaction in their later lives,” leading to healthier habits and later deaths.

The study featured 55,220 people who emigrated from Poland to the British Mandate of Palestine, or, starting in 1948, the nation of Israel. Researchers compared data on 41,454 who emigrated between 1945 and 1950, and 13,766 who emigrated before 1939.

“It was assumed that any Jew who was in Europe between between 1939 and 1945 … should be defined as a Holocaust survivor,” the researchers write, “because no matter what the specific nature of the experience was (e.g., concentration camp, hiding in convents or elsewhere), normal life was in jeopardy. Participants in the control group, also born in Poland, had immigrated to Israel before the war, and were therefore not directly exposed to the Holocaust.”

The researchers were surprised to find the Holocaust survivors living longer, on average, than their non-traumatized counterparts. How much longer varied by their age at the outset of the genocide.

Those who were the youngest when the Holocaust began (ages four to nine) did not live longer than members of the control group. But the gap was quite significant among those who were a bit older: Ten months for those who were 10 to 15 when the Holocaust began, and 18 months for those who were 16 to 20 at the outset of the genocide.

The authors offer two possible explanations for these surprising findings. One is a phenomenon familiar to Pacific Standard readers: post-traumatic growth. In light of the horrible experiences of their youth, survivors may have found “greater meaning and satisfaction in their later lives,” leading to healthier habits and later deaths.

The other possibility they mention is less uplifting. Perhaps the weakest members of the community simply didn’t survive the stresses of living under such horrible conditions, leaving a group of survivors who were heartier and healthier.

“Holocaust survivors by definition survived severe trauma, and this may be related to their specific genetic, temperamental, physical, or psychological makeup that enabled them to survive during the Holocaust, and predisposed them to reach a relatively old age,” the researchers write.

While certainly surprising, these results are consistent with those of a 2010 study of Holocaust survivors living in Israel. It found they experienced “substantially more post-traumatic stress symptoms” than their peers, but were no worse in terms of their physical health. That study, which Sagi-Schwartz co-authored, credits them with “remarkable resilience.”

Indeed.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly ten times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly ten times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.