The Holocaust as a context for telling life stories


The Holocaust as a context for telling life stories


de Vries B; Suedfeld P; Krell R; Blando JA; Southard P


International Journal Of Aging & Human Development




Female; Humans; Male; Aged; Middle Aged; Survivors; Aging; Adolescent Transitions; 20th Century; History; Holocaust; Narration/history


Using a narrative approach, this study explores the role of the Holocaust in the life stories of Survivors, contrasted with two comparison groups (one Jewish and one non-Jewish) whose direct experiences did not include surviving the Holocaust. Using the technique of the life line and measures such as number and type of life events identified, as well as the events marking the beginning and ending of the life story, several differences were found between the three groups. Survivors identified an average of 10 life events, fewer than the non-Jewish comparison group (18) but more than the Jewish comparison group (7). Most of these events were positive, although less so for the Jewish comparison group, with very few future events identified by any of the groups. The War marked the beginning of the life story for most of the survivors and their stories ended at an earlier age than did the stories of the comparison groups. Further, WWII events predominated in the stories of the survivors, as did family births and relationship events (comparably seen in the stories of the Jewish comparisons). In contrast, the comparison groups, and particularly the non-Jewish group, identified greater numbers of career, education, illness, and family death events. It is proposed that the pronounced effect of the Holocaust in the life stories of survivors (and to a lesser, though still evident, degree of the Jewish comparisons) serves as an anchoring and contextual influence on the nature and quality of life stories told. That is, the Holocaust sets the standard for what events merit mention and further determines the nature of the events reported and their distribution.


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de Vries B; Suedfeld P; Krell R; Blando JA; Southard P, “The Holocaust as a context for telling life stories,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed September 26, 2023,