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My eBook “Manual for Facilitators of Groups for Children of Holocaust Survivors” is Now Available Also Online

For clinicians who wish to facilitate groups for adult children of Holocaust survivors or children of other trauma survivors, we have created a manual on the basis of a series of ten meetings that I facilitated in 2016-2017. The manual can be downloaded from this link. The content of the meetings was created by me, and edited with funding from the JFNA, to allow others to replicate such groups. Additional valuable resources can be found on the JFNA website at

The experiences during the pandemic, and the protective measures that called for social distancing, have highlighted the value of online psychosocial group meetings as prevention/intervention for alleviating negative mental health effects and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Earlier this week, at the Self Help/JFNA Conference (online) “Resilience, Adaptation and Innovation in Holocaust Survivor Services”, I described my observations from multiple interactive groups that took place during 2020, as well as findings from an empirical study about the reactions and experiences of adult children of survivors during the Covid-19 pandemic and the co-occurring crises of 2020.

The interactive groups were conducted together with my colleauge Dr. Jenni Frumer, Director, Now for Holocaust Survivors, Morselife Health Services, and took place throughout 2020. Some 3000 2G chose to participate in these, as well as other web-based webinars which were offered by various organizations of children of survivors internationally. The great interest in such meetings has been an indication of the need 2G felt for an opportunity to process reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the context of a group that offered the safety of a shared trauma legacy and culturally-sensitive content. International organizations including the WHO advocate for integration of mental health and psychosocial support into the COVID-19 response, and a UN policy brief suggests that investments now will reduce the mental health effects later (Moreno et al., 2020). I posit that such online supportive groups are a new, web-based, effective and non-pathologizing platform for the current time and beyond.

Together with my colleague Prof. Amit Shrira from Bar-Ilan University, I conducted an empirical study of a North American sample of 2G. Our observations from the groups and our findings from the empirical study showed unique vulnerabilities, as well as resiliencies, associated with intergenerational transmission related to the Holocaust. Adult children of survivors who perceived their parents as having suffered from persistent post-traumatic reactions had elevated levels of psychological distress and feelings of loneliness, despite the fact that there were no differences between them and the comparison group in their level of social supports. These findings harken back to common characteristics of the dynamics in Holocaust families, and to themes that have been reported in childhood recollections of 2G, reflecting a sense of loneliness in their relationships with survivor parents. Similar patterns of vulnerability and resilience are likely to be characteristic of other vulnerable groups who carry the effects of intergenerational transmission of historical trauma.

Research has shown that, with increasing age in adulthood, people develop value relativism and a greater capacity to see multiple truths at the same time, and recognize and tolerate uncertainty as a fact of life. Vaillant (2002), who was the director of the longest study on adult development ever conducted, stated: “Old people…even if they become set in their ways, grow more understanding and perhaps more aware of who they are” (Vaillant, 2002, p. 144).  Interventions with older adults might build upon these specific capacities to increase resilience in the face of current stressors. For example, by providing an opportunity to process the dialectical activation of both negative and positive intergenerationally transmitted experiences related to the Holocaust legacy (or other mass traumatic events) as these emerge in the reactions of adult children of survivors to current threats such as the pandemic.

Interactive online groups can be a particularly effective prevention/intervention tool which can be used during times requiring social distancing and beyond.  Creating a non-pathologizing, psychosocial supportive space in which the multiplicity of the experiences as “2G”, or other specific traumatic legacy, can be shared, contemplated and integrated, can promote better insight and self-reflection, which facilitate more conscious and more flexible use of one’s strengths and counter automatic reactions driven by non-conscious vulnerabilities.

          Irit Felsen

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