Health impacts of holocaust linger long after survival

The harmful effects of life under Nazi rule have long been known as many victims experienced prolonged emotional and physical torture, malnutrition, and mass exposure to disease. However, recent research by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem shows that even the survivors’ health and mortality were directly affected long after the end of the Holocaust.

The study, led by Dr. Iaroslav Youssim and Hagit Hochner of the School of Public Health at the Faculty of Medicine, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, have studied the death rates of certain Holocaust survivors living in Israel over many years.

The researchers analyzed the death certificates of approximately 22,000 people who were followed up from 1964 to 2016 and compared the death rates from cancer and heart disease in survivors to those who did not live under Nazi occupation. Among female survivors, the study found a 15% higher all-cause mortality rate and a 17% higher chance of dying from cancer. While the mortality rate of survivors in men was no different from that of those not exposed, mortality from cancer was 14% higher in the survivor population and the death rate from heart disease was noticeably 39% higher during the period studied.

“Our research has shown that people who lived under Nazi rule at an early age, even if they successfully migrated to Israel and started families, continued to face higher mortality rates throughout their lives,” explains Youssim. “This study supports earlier theories that survivors are characterized by general health resilience linked to susceptibility to certain diseases.” Hochner added, “These results reflect the importance of long-term monitoring of people who have experienced severe trauma and shed light on the mortality patterns that could result from those experiences.”

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