Health impact of Shoah trips on teens assessed

Members of March of the Living at Auschwitz in 2008. Photo: AJN file

AUSTRALIAN and Israeli researchers have collaborated on the first study of its kind to examine the psychological effects on adolescents who visit Holocaust sites.

The pilot study – conducted by professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Sydney Garry Walter in conjunction with Israeli counterparts Yuval Bloch and Aviva Mimouni-Bloch from Tel Aviv University, and Sharon Ross from the Loewenstein Rehabilitation Hospital in Raanana – looked at the mental health consequences of Israeli adolescents’ eight-day “Holocaust memorial journey” to Poland.

It found that the journey appeared to trigger a variety of mental health problems, including psychosis, and a single case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But Walter told The AJN the findings shouldn’t be interpreted in an alarmist way.

“With appropriate support before, during and after, the trip this can be a most rewarding experience,” he said.

“A trip like this could make young people even more connected, more aware of their own identity, more aware of adversity that’s affected their family members or other Jewish people, and thus potentially even more resilient than before the trip started.”

Walter said the study was relevant to Australia. “Like their Israeli counterparts, Australian teenagers and young adults go on trips to Israel [and] Poland as part of March of the Living.”

“The specific details might be different from one country’s program to another but the impact of visiting Poland [and] sites of concentration camps would presumably not be too different, as the developmental issues and challenges for young people involved are broadly similar.”

Walter said the study came about from a shared interest with Bloch in child and adolescent mental health research.

“The Holocaust was a subject that was very dear to both our hearts and to our families … and we thought it would be very important for us to collaborate, particularly given the paucity of research in this area,” he said.

Walter said a natural next step would be to look at the experiences of adolescents and their families directly.

“The collaboration with colleagues in Tel Aviv has proved very productive. I’d like to think that this will lead to further much-needed studies about the Holocaust in the weeks and months ahead, studies which are always with a view to safeguarding and promoting the health of youth in our community.”


Participants at March of the Living.