Death-defying: Holocaust survivors live longer, study finds
This is even though they are more likely to develop chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer
The horrors of the Holocaust are usually thought to have left a deadly legacy on the health of survivors. Torture, prolonged malnutrition, extreme psychological stress, and the daily challenge of living in unhygienic, freezing concentration camps left victims suffering a range of chronic illnesses decades after their liberation.
But a study just published suggests those who survived the Holocaust lived longer than others from the same era who were spared the atrocities.
Researchers looked at the health records of 38,000 victims born in Europe between 1911 and 1945 and compared them with 35,000 people born in Israel during the same years. They found that although they were more likely to develop chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, Holocaust survivors were likely to live substantially longer.
While 41% of the control group had died by the study period of 1998 to 2017, just 25% of survivors of the notorious camps were dead.
Researchers say it is possible the survivors had a particular resilience that may have boosted their desire to live and look after themselves in later life.
Those who made it through the genocide may also represent the strongest, both physically and mentally.
Dr Gideon Koren, the lead researcher for Maccabi Healthcare Services, said: “There is a broad understanding that a genocide experience sustained for five years would have serious consequences on the psychological and physical wellbeing of individuals.
“Although many individuals in death camps died, those who survived may have had higher resilience from more favourable genetic, physical and emotional characteristics. If you survived it meant you were stronger physically and mentally. We show how amazing these women and men fought and succeeded to do the best out of the worst possible place.”
Between five and six million Jews are thought to have died between 1941 and 1945 in the Holocaust, two-thirds of Europe’s entire Jewish population. More than 42,000 ghettoes, camps and detention centres were set up to segregate the community, and a policy of state-sanctioned execution, the Final Solution, was established by the Nazis in 1942, when thousands were murdered daily in gas chambers. This only ended when the Allies liberated the camps in 1945.
Despite the low death rates, Holocaust survivors were found to have more illness, which researchers say may represent them taking more interest in their health and seeking medical help earlier. Eight in 10 had high blood pressure compared with 66% of the control group, while 30% had chronic kidney disease compared with 19% of the control group. Dementia levels were nearly twice as high and they were more likely to have had heart attacks and fractures.
The research was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
– © The Daily Telegraph