Transcending terror: a study of Holocaust survivors' lives
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Transcending Terror is a study of eight Holocaust survivors who earned advanced degrees and became professors. As Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe from 1939 to 1945 they endured terror and, in many cases, torture. For each, the postwar adaptation to normality included studying a subject that interested him or her, and which afforded a means of interpreting the world. Each narrative chapter describes the social background and circumstances that partly shaped a survivor's destiny. Also portrayed are the ind ividual's particular characteristics, perspectives, predilections, and aspirations. Michael Klein, from Janoshalma, Hungary, encountered Auschwitz at age fifteen. After the war, with great effort, he became a physicist. Jerzy Ogurek, from Upper Silesia, Poland, was ten when torn from his parents in Auschwitz. With time he settled into a "normal" life, also becoming a physicist. Ruth Anna Putnam was a half-Jewish German girl who lived with her non-Jewish grandparents, in Gotha. She eventually became a philosopher. Samuel Stern spent his early childhood in Ravensbruck and Bergen-Belsen. Later educated in the United States, he became a biologist. Zvi Griliches, from Kovno, Lithuania, survived a Dachau subsidiary camp. He achieved prominence as an economist. Maurice Vanderpol spent years in hiding, in Amsterdam. He resumed medical school after the war, becoming a psychiatrist. Halina Nelken grew up in Krakow, survived Auschwitz, and fulfilled her dream of becoming an art historian. Farmers in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, sheltered Micheline Federman, then a young child from Paris. Micheline loved science, and became a pathologist. I analyzed data gathered in conversations, through observation, and from relevant writings, and arrived at a plausible set of conclusions. Knowledge of the breadth of human capacities and of evil may have contributed to these thoughtful individuals' ethical stance; to their belief in the unique dignity of humanness and to their commitment to engage in activities that benefit humankind. In accepting responsibility and in exercising personal choice, these survivors gave their lives meaning. The survivor, psychiatrist, and philosopher Viktor Frankl explored the human potential to realize such positive values. His work serves as a sensitizing and conceptual framework for this qualitative study.
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