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Baycrest Centre's Work With Aged Holocaust Survivors

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Baycrest offers programs and support for Holocaust survivors and their families. The Holocaust Resource Program offers consultation, counselling, and educational services for clients, families and survivors in the community, at Baycrest and in other long-term care facilities. Staff with specialized expertise run ongoing support groups for child survivors and children of survivors.

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The ‘Caring for Older Survivors of Genocide and Mass Trauma’ project advisory group was established in 2006 by Jewish Care Inc. and La Trobe University researchers in recognition of the need to prepare aged care staff for working with older survivors of genocide and mass trauma— referred to as ‘older survivors’ in this report. Jewish Care Inc. had identified the need to develop evidence-based training for aged care workers to improve the way they interacted with Holocaust survivor clients in both residential and community aged care. It was considered vital that the training program be flexible enough to be delivered to all levels of aged care personnel (including managers, team leaders, allied health personal, and direct care workers). The project focused on two groups of older survivors who endured the trauma and losses of genocide many decades ago and subsequently resettled in Australia—Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and survivors of the Cambodian genocide. The vast majority of Holocaust survivors living in Australia today are aged in their 80s and 90s. The child survivors are mostly aged in their 70s. Most adult survivors of the Cambodian genocide who live in Australia today are aged over 60, with some in their 70s and 80s. These two groups of older survivors underwent periods of resettlement, social adjustment and rebuilding their lives decades ago.

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Now that over 60 years have passed since their liberation, the associations and assumptions about Holocaust survivors have evolved. It is unusual to find a cohort that shared such an intense social, historical, moral and personal crisis. Ever since their liberation in 1945, research scientists and clinicians have been studying Holocaust survivors in order to understand and treat them in the aftermath of this genocide. Within a life course theoretical perspective, the survivors experienced a cohort effect, as their experience and memory of World War II is unique and only shared with others who were targeted for annihilation by the Nazis. Traditional psychoanalytic developmental theory (Lifton 1979; Krystal 1981; Suedfeld, P., E. Soriano, et al.) indicates major challenges for aging survivors in the early studies, but a larger aging cohort and a broader theoretical approach within the context of the life course perspective demonstrates more health and resilience than initially reported. (Suedfeld, Soriano et al. 2005, Kahana et al, 2005.

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To summarize, this qualitative study investigated the ageing and aged care experiences in Australia of two cohorts of older survivors of genocide: Jewish Holocaust survivors and older Cambodian genocide survivors. It was carried out in response to an identified need to better train aged care workers who are in contact with these groups. In-depth interviews were conducted with 21 community-dwelling survivors aged 65 and over. Credibility was ensured by methodological triangulation and peer debriefing. The study highlighted the importance of understanding older survivors’ ageing and aged care experiences in the context of their entire lifecourse and in terms of both vulnerability and resilience.

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Lifton, R. J. (1979). The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life. New York, Simon and Shuster.

Krystal, H. (1968). Massive Psychic Trauma. New York, International Universities Press.

Suedfeld, P., E. Soriano, et al. (2005). “Erikson’s “Components of a Healthy Personality”Among Holocaust Survivors Immediately and 40 Years After the War.” International Journal of Aging & Human Development 60(3): 229-248

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Baycrest Centre's Work With Aged Holocaust Survivors
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