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van der Hart, O. Brom, D. (2013). Postscript: “When the Victim Forgets: Trauma-Induced Amnesia and its Assessment in Holocaust Survivors”. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(1):40-47.

(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(1):40-47

Postscript: “When the Victim Forgets: Trauma-Induced Amnesia and its Assessment in Holocaust Survivors”

Onno van der Hart and Danny Brom

Since the publication of our chapter on trauma-induced amnesia in Holocaust survivors, we have encountered very few survivors with similar experiences. However, there was one story told by Nathan Durst (personal communication, 2002), about a woman who believed and told people that she had been in an Indonesian camp during the Second World War. However, when in the 1980s she went through an extremely frightening medical procedure, she suddenly became flooded by partial memories of medical experiments carried out on her by Mengele. Subsequently, she started to remember that she had not been in Indonesia but in Auschwitz, later confirmed by a family member, who had seen her there.

Since our previous publication we have developed our theoretical understanding of this dissociative amnesia, as we, in line with the DSM-IV (APA, 1994), call it now. From this understanding, some implications for the treatment of amnesia can be formulated. An essential feature of dissociative amnesia is its reversibility. However, we reiterate that in many of the examples provided in the chapter, delayed recall had not been reported, although the case mentioned above hints at the possibility of very late recall. For some survivors, such as Ava Landy, the continuation of the dissociative amnesia was very painful; for others it may have been a blessing in disguise, as Durlacher remarked about Jindra. Ava Landy similarly remarked about her own amnesia: “This ability to forget was probably my way of surviving emotionally as a child”. Indeed, O.K., who suffered from generalised amnesia, when confronted with salient reminders of her past, developed a severe, life-threatening crisis. However, she had reasons to be in therapy before this crisis occurred.

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