Why Do Holocaust Survivors Remember What They Remember?

Sarah L. Canham, Hagit Peres, Norm O'Rourke, David B. King, Annette Wertman, Sara Carmel, Yaacov G. Bachner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose of the Study: The ability to integrate traumatic memories into a coherent life narrative is one factor associated with the mental health and well-being of Holocaust survivors. In the present study, reminiscences reported by survivors in Israel were collected to identify themes arising in positive and negative memories and experience. 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. Open-ended responses were collected from 269 Holocaust survivors and thematic analyses were conducted in English (translated) and Hebrew. Results: Thematic analyses of these data suggest three overarching themes related to bridging the past and present, rebuilding families and the Jewish state, and the duty to share. These suggest how integral endurance, survival, and resilience were to participants during the war and how these themes defined their choices and understanding of their lives. Implications: The results of this study demonstrate how reminiscence serves many functions. Participants appear to have integrated memories of horror and loss as part of coherent life narratives. Resilience and memory are ongoing and intertwined processes whereby survivors juxtapose their early lives to the present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1158-1165
Number of pages8
JournalThe Gerontologist
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Holocaust survivors
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Reminiscence
  • Resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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