Reliving the Holocaust in old age

Matt Sedensky has an interesting article out today on the problem of institutionalizing elderly Holocaust survivors. Here’s the lead:

Nearly every night, Martin Hornung’s nightmare unfolds to the same haunting strains. Of Auschwitz. Of screaming voices. Of scenes he would rather not relive in the light of day.

“I’m almost afraid to go to sleep,” the 86-year-old retired computer engineer said.

The horrors that revisit Hornung in the dark are common among Holocaust survivors and are a reason why he refuses to enter a nursing home despite his myriad health problems.

Jewish organizations worldwide are working to keep survivors out of such facilities, where the surroundings and routines — strangers in uniforms, desolate shower rooms, medical procedures — can worsen flashbacks.

Sedensky doesn’t cite it, but there’s an interesting documentary by Shosh Shlam, called Last Journey into Silence (see the trailer here), which is about a group of survivors who, after the war, were locked away in mental institutions as psychotic. About ten years ago, they were moved to a hospice called Shaar Menashe, and were re-diagnosed with Holocaust-related PTSD, sometimes with interesting effects. (Though, of course, these patients now also suffer from 30-odd years of institutionalization–the idea of a “cure” is pretty remote.) The film recovers their story, and also reflects on the complex relationships between survivors and their children.

A. and another grad school colleague interviewed Shlam about the movie some years ago–it’s available here as a .pdf.

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