The International Study of
Organized Persecution of Children (ISOPC)

Drawing upon our interviews with child survivors, ISOPC documents and studies the disruptions, distortions, and adaptations experienced by children during and in the aftermath of Nazi persecution.  These interviews provide documentation of what happened to children under the Nazis, both historically and in psychological terms.  By looking at how children of different ages and different backgrounds responded to varied conditions, we hope to contribute to the development of better treatments for the survivors of past, present, and future organized persecution of children.

What do we do?

    In 1981 Child Development Research began the project, the International Study of Organized Persecution of Children. Our staff of mental health professionals developed psychologically oriented interviews which were audiotaped to preserve the privacy of those interviewed.  Through the work of trained volunteers in more than twenty countries, interviews have been conducted with 1531 child survivors and witnesses of child persecution under the Nazis.  These interviews not only record past events, but help adults explore their childhood and post-war years. The interviews thus often yield therapeutic benefits for the survivors, as well as historically and psychologically valuable information for researchers and therapists.

Interviewing: Today ISOPC continues sponsoring interviews internationally.

Transcribing: Translating and coding Volunteers and staff are occupied with transcribing, translating, coding, and analyzing the archives that have been collected.

Referrals: ISOPC supports the creation and continuation of child survivor groups and offers referrals for individuals.

Presenting: Through lectures, conferences, and publications we try to spread the word about what we have learned.

Child survivors are a unique group of survivors

    Until the early 1980's many child survivors did not see themselves as survivors. Often this was because they had been told and believed that children do not suffer the long term effects of trauma as do adults. They believed that their fragmented memories could be set aside and they could get on with their lives.  But it became evident that they could not escape the long term effects of loss of family and home, exposure to severe and prolonged violence, being in hiding, and loss of a childhood.

    When parents told their children, "survive and tell the story," they wanted their children to teach the lessons learned- so that the next generation of children not be silenced.  As one child survivor explained, "At first I wanted only to forget. Now many years later I want to understand myself better, to connect with other child survivors, and find ways how our experiences can help others."

Lessons to be learned about childhood trauma

    How can the vast amount of information we have learned from interviews with child survivors be developed into a framework to understand and counteract the effects of massive trauma on children?  The lessons of the Holocaust have only marginally been integrated into the larger study of childhood trauma, yet they have the potential to make a significant contribution to help others.

    Researchers such as Wright, Masten, Northwood and Huibbard, (1997) working with Cambodian child survivors in the United States point out that too much of the information on the impact of massive trauma on children is anecdotal or based on clinical cases, and thus cannot be generalized to the larger population of child survivors.  They issue a call for large scale standardized studies.

    Reviewing one of our recent books, The Last Witness, Dr. Helen Stein of the Menninger clinic wrote  "...this material [our interviews with child survivors] will be particularly relevant to mental health professionals who work with survivors of trauma and deprivation, be they victims of political terror or familial abuse and neglect."  However, as she points out, a quantitative assessment is now needed to test ideas and support generalizations.

    The lessons taught to us by child survivors relate closely to the national concern with childhood trauma and violence.  Several aspects of the information make it particularly valuable: 1) With large body of data (over 1500 interviews) the effects of a wide range of variables can be studied, such as, types of trauma, age of child and presence or absence of family members, 2) with  a long time period covered (over fifty years) we can trace the changes that occur over the life span of survivors 3) with the availability of historical documents, reliability of the information can often be cross-checked giving us a better understanding of childhood recollections  4) Because child survivors have recently participated in group meetings and/or therapy,  follow up interviews can be conducted to examine the effects of various support systems.   There is tremendous potential in this material.

    In the past 17 years, we have made considerable efforts to share our findings.  Members of our staff have written over fifty articles and five books   We have held workshops in many countries and presented papers at numerous academic conferences. Eva Fogelman, our project director has spoken at over fifty universities in the past four years. Eva has also worked with Lakota Sioux mental health professionals on survivorship issues. We hold an annual Milton and Judith Kestenberg Memorial Lecture on child survivors issues which is attended by survivors, clinicians, students and the general public.

    With the support of a few contributors and a large number of volunteers we have accomplished a lot on a small budget.
How can I become more involved?
If your wish to join ISOPC, to volunteer, or to be interviewed, click here