Holocaust survivors' memories of past trauma and the functions of reminiscence

Norm O'Rourke, Sarah Canham, Annette Wertman, Habib Chaudhury, Sara Carmel, Yaacov G. Bachner, Hagit Peres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Purpose of the study: Existing research suggests that specific ways of recalling autobiographical memories of one's past cluster in self-positive, self-negative, and prosocial reminiscence functions. We undertook the present qualitative study to gain understanding of reminiscence functions as described by 269 Israeli Holocaust survivors and to see whether groupings of themes that emerged would correspond to our tripartite model of the reminiscence functions. Design and Methods: Participants (M = 80.4 years; SD = 6.87) were asked to describe memories that typify a reminiscence function in which they frequently or very frequently engage. Thematic analyses were conducted in English (translated) and Hebrew. Results: Responses reflect the range of ways in which Holocaust survivors reminisce. The task of describing early life memories was difficult for some participants, while others' lived experiences enabled them to teach others to ensure that their collective memory remains in the consciousness of the next generation of Israelis and the Jewish state. Data are imbued with examples of horror, resilience, generativity, and gratitude. Implications: As hypothesized, survivors' memories cluster in self-positive, self-negative, and prosocial groupings consistent with the tripartite model of reminiscence functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)743-752
Number of pages10
JournalThe Gerontologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Holocaust survivors
  • Life review
  • Qualitative analyses
  • Reminiscence functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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