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Ornstein, A. (1985). Survival and Recovery. Psychoanal. Inq., 5(1):99-130.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 5(1):99-130

Survival and Recovery

Anna Ornstein, M.D.

Models and values that are deeply internalized create the strength to resist every alien system which denies those values. This does not mean that these models and values could be put into action in their pure form at Auschwitz. Translated into the language of everyday camp conditions, they defined the field of each individual's battle, on which he sustained defeats as well as victories.

—Anna Pawelczynska, Values and Violence in Auschwitz

When at the end of the second world war the gates of the concentration camps opened, the people who walked out of them looked like a strange and frightening horde even to those Europeans who by that time had seen all that combat, bombings, and starvation could do to the human body and mind. The survivors of concentration camps looked different from any other human being who had ever walked the streets of Poland, Germany, or Czechoslovakia. In their tattered and dirty clothes or wrapped in blankets, they dragged their lice-infested, emaciated bodies in search of a piece of bread and in search of a familiar face.

Strange as this may sound, the psychiatric and psychoanalytic literature preserved this image of the survivors in the psychological sense: the profile of the survivor has been sketched as that of a man or woman whose psychological wounds had never healed.

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