Mimi Kraus, associate senior manager of therapy services at Jewish Community Services, is both an adult child of a survivor and a psychotherapist who has worked with children of survivors. “In my case,” she said, “I was a good girl, did well in school, had a good career and took on a lot of responsibility. I knew my dad had suffered, and I didn’t want to burden him.”
In general, survivors who discussed their histories with their children made their emotional lives easier to navigate, explained Kraus. “At least then the child understood some of the parents’ behavior. Not knowing may make children feel unsafe, that their survival is tenuous. It can make what is not said even more powerful.”
On the other hand, some survivors may have provided too much detail or shared information when a child was too young and unable to process it.
“When I was older, I was exposed to more graphic detail — ovens, crematoriums — and I wanted to recoil from it. It was hard to take,” said Kraus. Sometimes, her father “would cry and that was scary for me. Kids don’t like to see that. I think the experience affected me.
“I might have been someone different,” she added. “I think I grew up faster.”
While all second-generation survivors are unique, Kraus compiled the following list of characteristics that are common to many children of Holocaust survivors.
- Assuming caregiving roles in childhood and in adulthood
- Anxiety transmitted from parents who didn’t feel safe in the world
- Attachment difficulties
- Abuse of drugs/alcohol to deal with anxiety/depression
- Co-dependency and feeling validated and needed by taking care of others at the expense of own emotional growth
- Insecurity from not being allowed to make choices, explore the world as children because parents are overly protective
- Controlling behaviors
- Suspiciousness from parents’ view that the world and others are not safe
- Boundary issues because survivors did not encourage independence for their children and used them to meet their own needs
For more information and to seek support or help, visit jcsbaltimore.org.