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Old 08-24-2008, 11:00 AM
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Default PTSD in aging Holcaust survivors

Holocaust haunts survivors; agencies try to help
By MATT SEDENSKY
Associated Press Writer


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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) -- 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 exacerbate flashbacks.
"It frightens them and brings them back to the Holocaust," said Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, executive director of Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service, one of the groups helping keep survivors out of nursing homes.
Hornung wouldn't even consider moving into a nursing home. "I would kill myself."
An estimated 93,000 Holocaust survivors are alive in the United States, and South Florida is home to one of the largest populations. The youngest are in their mid-60s, but many are much older. There is no definitive breakdown of how many are living independently and how many receive assistance, but many are living below the poverty line and in need of help.
"Their capacity for resilience that they've shown since the war is amazing," said Paula David, a social worker who has worked with more than 2,000 Holocaust survivors in Toronto over the last 20 years and has studied the specific problems of the population as it ages. "The hard part is no matter what we do, we can't make it OK."
Flashbacks can come to a survivor at any time. A fire alarm. A foreign accent. Standing in a line. Once, David witnessed a survivor begin screaming on a High Holy Day as musicians performed. The music happened to have been played as murders took place at the concentration camps.
One of David's clients slept with hiking boots under his pillow to ensure he'd be able to run away. Another one hoarded bread in his closet so he wouldn't starve.
For Alex Moscovic, who survived Birkenau and the horrific medical experiments of Josef Mengele, a flashback came in the dermatologist's chair. Moscovic needed to have a dime-sized cancerous growth removed. The doctor cauterized the area - and the patient began to shake uncontrollably.
"The smell - it brought me back," the 77-year-old Moscovic said. "The only way you really left Birkenau was through the smokestacks."
Experts have seen similar reactions from other populations, including war veterans and survivors of genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere. The flashbacks are only expected to get worse as these groups age, so caregivers are trying to impart lessons learned from the Holocaust survivors.
For these Jewish survivors, being allowed to stay in their homes offers a measure of comfort and routine as so much else around them changes.
The Ruth Rales group provides Hornung a nurse's aide three days a week, and he also receives delivered meals. Hornung cared for his wife - also a survivor - for 10 years as she slipped into a haze of Alzheimer's, which along with other forms of dementia further complicates the aging process of survivors. She grew so confused she would think her husband was a Nazi guard. Once, she stabbed him in the chest.
After his wife died in 2001, Hornung was diagnosed with colon cancer. He's still lucid, but he struggles with respiratory problems. On a recent afternoon, he couldn't get through a complete thought without slipping into a hacking cough.
Ann Speier, 85, has long been retired from her dressmaking job, and like Hornung, lives in Century Village in Boca Raton. It's a popular place for survivors in their final years. She, too, is haunted by memories. "I try not to think, but I have to," she said. "It doesn't go away."
Three days a week, her aide arrives to take her to the doctor, to help her to the pool and to assist around the house. Without the help, she said, she couldn't exist.
Speier's vision is nearly gone. Everything and everyone is just a blur. But she recognizes Lila Vaughn, her caseworker from Ruth Rales, when she arrives. She beams. She caresses Vaughn's face. And after some time passes, the caseworker has a question for Speier.
"Do you want me to leave or you want me to stay?" Vaughn asks.
"I would like you to stay all day with me," Speier answers. "It's so hard. It's so lonely."
? 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.
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Old 08-24-2008, 11:31 AM
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OMG. I can imagine that you would never forget your experiences enduring such a terrible experience as you get older, but for the PTSD to get worse as you get older is awful to even contemplate.
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Old 08-24-2008, 12:20 PM
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Nyapa

I can't even imagine what they are going through. I was glad when I saw this article because 2 friends of mine one is a cop and one is a CNA both have had experiences where aging Holcaust survivors had "episodes." It has been quite sad.

In one case the lady has to be given bed baths because when the CNA takes her to the bathroom for her showers she thinks she is going the gas chambers. In the case of the cop an elderly lady went missing and the police were called to search for her. Due to being missing they sent out dogs (German Shepards) unfortuantely. When they found her she reverted back to the past and thought they were part of the SS and were setting the shepards on her to kill her. It was a horrible and heart wrenching scene. They ended up having to call a plain clothes cop in with an unmarked car so they could transport her to the hospital since she would not go in the ambulance either.

I don't think anyone ever forgot that call and I was told that they are getting more and more situations like it it since we live in Florida and have a large number of Holocaust survivors in our area.
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Old 08-24-2008, 01:27 PM
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It seems that PTSD, no matter what its cause, comes back on your when you're at your most vulnerable. That's probably why it gets worse as you age or you become debilitated. In fact, any situation that makes you feel as if you cannot escape something can stir it up.
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Old 08-24-2008, 03:50 PM
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That is so sad. My mother lived in Amsterdam on the same street as Anne Frank. My mother was jewish. She's never been in a synogauge sp (?) in her life but the Nazi's didn't care. My mother and her brother were taken to a jewish orphanage by their parents who got scared and desserted them there and left town. They were there for about 2 weeks when their older sister who was married found out where they were and went and got them. The next day the orphanage was raided by the Nazi's and every child was taken to an extermination camp.

My mother's cousins were young identical twins and they were placed in the experimental camps and were tortured. I wouldn't want to tell you anymore about that because you'd have nightmares, I wish I didn't know. She also had a cousin who was experiemented on and they attempted to sterilize her and she ended up crippled though she did eventually have a child.

My mother's older sisters husband was catholic and they were hidden in their home but eventually farmed out to another catholic family who had "alot" of children so that the Nazi's didn't notice one or two extra. But my mother had to sleep in the attic, with no windows and of course very cold in the winter and because she was allowed to stay there the family made her do all of the housework. I think by this time she was about 14 years old.

My father was on a train and it was hijacked by the Nazi's and all of the women and children were removed from the train and the men were taken to the death camps to work as slaves. My father and my mother's brother did not know each other. My father and her brother were both 18 and they happened to be on the same train and ended up in the same camp. My mothers brother last name was Cohen but he had found someone lying dead somewhere and had stolen that persons identification papers so the Nazi's never did know that he was actually Jewish. My ds has my fathers identification papers framed and hanging in his room. My father and my mothers brother are now both 82. Her brother has had nightmares about the war for years and years and continues to speak about it the few times a year they speak to each other.

My mothers other 3 older sisters have now passed. Her oldest sister husband left her pregnant with 4 little children and join the SS to keep himself from starving. He ended up after the war losing his mind and in an asylum in a straight jacket until he died some 12 years later. That's called Karma.

My father was in the death camp when it was liberated by the Americans. He was very sick with TB and went to a TB hospital for the next 4 years. When he met my mother and they started dating it was then when he met her brother for the first time that they realized they already knew each other from the death camp. My fathers parents and brothers and sisters were extremely upset that my father was dating a jew and tried to break them up. They have been very happily married for 58 years. It was a scandal to date a jew. My mother never spoke to her parents again. I did get to meet them both, which is another story. My father and his mother did make up and his mother and my mother ended up being more like mother and daughter but he never did make up with his brothers, whom I've also met. He did eventually make up with his sister who is now 86 and is a real sweetheart. Everyone but my mothers brother still lives in Holland.
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Old 08-24-2008, 04:19 PM
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I've know several holocaust survivors; I was employed by one for six years. If the best revenge is living well, that lady accomplished it. She survived Auschwitz, met and married her husband at a refugee camp, and they came to the States and worked very hard, accumulated wealth, had children and grandchildren. I never noticed any anger, bitterness, or fear in her or her husband during the time I knew them. If I could live my life with only half their grace and class, I'd be happy.
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Old 08-24-2008, 04:19 PM
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Dutch

Thank you for sharing your family's story. You didn't have too but I'm glad you did. Too many people are forgetting the people behind the statistics and behind the film reel so to speak.

I also think it helps to understand those like you who came after it. I feel the survivors children and grandchildren also are affected by being raised by such a tightlipped generation who were not allowed to talk about it by a world that knew what was going on and refused to do anything until it was too late.

I have read extensively on the experiments that were peformed on twins and gypsy children. No words can describe the henious acts that were peformed on so many people.

I wondered though did the twins in your family survive the camps?

Your family's story is amazing, please write it down if you have not already to pass along to future generations. There are so many pieces of a family's dynamics that lay in the past that could explain the presence.
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Old 08-24-2008, 06:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheBeeKeeper View Post
Dutch

Thank you for sharing your family's story. You didn't have too but I'm glad you did. Too many people are forgetting the people behind the statistics and behind the film reel so to speak.

I also think it helps to understand those like you who came after it. I feel the survivors children and grandchildren also are affected by being raised by such a tightlipped generation who were not allowed to talk about it by a world that knew what was going on and refused to do anything until it was too late.

I have read extensively on the experiments that were peformed on twins and gypsy children. No words can describe the henious acts that were peformed on so many people.

I wondered though did the twins in your family survive the camps?

Your family's story is amazing, please write it down if you have not already to pass along to future generations. There are so many pieces of a family's dynamics that lay in the past that could explain the presence.
One twin survived, one didn't. I have written alot of it down, I really need to get it in my parents words as they are 80 and 82. Perhaps I'll broach the subject on Tuesday when I'm off.

Thanks for your kind response.
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Old 08-26-2008, 05:01 PM
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I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and it was life changing. Such sadness, terrible stories, such horrific photo's and displays.

http://www.ushmm.org/visit/

Last edited by GigiRN; 08-26-2008 at 05:04 PM.
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Old 08-26-2008, 09:56 PM
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Thankyou so much DG for letting us know this. It really hits home, when you talk to someone who has had real experiences, and that includes you.
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