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
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
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
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
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
With the support of a few contributors and a large number of volunteers
we have accomplished a lot on a small budget.