Studies have been undertaken in several centers in Poland to evaluate the psychological effects of the Second World War on people, especially on the youth. The bulk of the work has been performed at the Institute of Educational Psychology of the University in Warsaw. Two methods were employed: the direct method, which consisted in asking subjects their impressions and subjective feelings about the events of the last War, and methods of free association—either Jung's or by means of asking children to write their biographies spontaneously.
Even three years after the war the effects of its brutal experiences are marked. For example, the factory sirens still seem to arouse anxiety in people, apparently reminding them of the signals of approaching enemy airplanes and bombers. People have actually become so frightened as to look for a shelter in the neighborhood, only realizing the groundlessness of their panic after a while. The Polish mother still cautions her children in the morning when they leave for school to have all their documents ready in case of arrest by the Germans.
Among other acquired habits is the well-known one of people who returned from concentration camps and are still afraid of taking showers, associating them with the showers of the gas chambers in the crematoria in Auschwitz. Some still go around collecting odds and ends, like cigarette butts, wherever they find them, not realizing that they do it out of an unconsciousmotivation.
One of the most striking observations made on the survivors of concentration camps is that they have a strong tendency to remain among themselves, they talk of their tragic past only to each other and not to people who did not go through the same experiences. In many instances, no information at all can be obtained
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from them. This is motivated by the fact that they are apparently ashamed to admit the degradation they have suffered at the hands of the Nazis—a fact that now seems to them preposterous.
There has been an impairment of memory in many. Those who prided themselves on their prodigious memory now carefully jot down everything.
Another phenomenon is a sense of guilt. Those who have been in concentration camps feel guilty toward those who perisned there, and those who have not suffered personally under the stress of war feel guilty about their good fortune in contrast to those who have suffered and now seem to experience a feeling of well-being.
Many people are actually trying to suppress memories of the war but it seems useless to try because their experiences always seem to remain conscious. This was clearly seen in those who were given the Thematic Apperception and Rorschach Tests, the results of which were plainly determined by the disastrous events of the war.
To the realm of deeper personality changes belong anxiety and suspiciousness which seem to persist to this very day in children who were touched by traumatic experiences. Although children have shown more resilience and quicker recovery than adults, the author wonders if the effects of the horrors will not come to the fore in later life.
Deep-rooted effects could be observed in the orphan children, especially in those who had witnessed executions of their own parents. A specific reaction, for instance, is the so-called aphrasia—either complete mutism or great verbal reticence. One always gets the impression that the children are telling a secret. One girl of five, who witnessed the killing of her own parents and a younger brother, stopped talking entirely and only started again much later, after months of effort on the part of her foster mother. At first the child began to repeat single words spoken by her foster mother—nothing was expressed by her spontaneously. There followed a slow and gradual process of relearning. The child still exhibits an unusual timidity and lack of initiative. Another child, who at the age of three went to Auschwitz, still shows great fear of talking.
A nine-year-old child acquired a tic, consisting of covering up his eyes with his hands at the slightest provocation. This he started doing from the moment he saw a German tear the eyes out of another child.
In general we still find in the dreams of children nightmares and anxieties directly related to their experiences.
The subjects examined could be divided into two categories: those for whom the war was only a negative experience, and those who see some positive features in the war and its accompanying phenomena. For example, many gained a joi de vivre after the war, others have become more religious and more patriotic. Some showed certain nostalgic feelings for the concentration camp where people had time to be, so to say, in a retreat with themselves.
In young adults the war aroused great interest in historical events, especially in war strategy and the history of war.
Attempts to evaluate the effects of the war must necessarily take into consideration all these phenomena.