Parental PTSD and psychological reactions during the COVID-19 pandemic among offspring of Holocaust survivors.

Amit Shrira, Irit Felsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: Previous evidence suggests heightened sensitivity to life-threatening challenges among offspring of Holocaust survivors (OHS). Therefore, this study examined the psychological reactions of aging OHS during the COVID-19 pandemic. Method: A convenience sample (N = 297, mean age = 66.85) of North American Jews rated posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms for their parents and for themselves. They further rated their psychological distress, COVID-19-related worries, loneliness, and social support. Respondents were divided into four groups: OHS with two parents with probable PTSD, with one such parent, with no such parent, and comparisons whose parents did not undergo the Holocaust. Results: OHS with two parents with PTSD reported the highest levels of PTSD symptoms. Controlling for respondents’ own PTSD, OHS with two parents with PTSD reported higher psychological distress relative to comparisons. Moreover, OHS with parental PTSD reported higher loneliness relative to OHS without parental PTSD or comparisons. The groups did not differ in COVID-19-related worries or social support. Conclusions: The distress experienced by OHS with parental PTSD seems more general, and is possibly related to the multiple coalescing crises that occurred since the pandemic began, rather than to the health risk associated directly with COVID-19. Moreover, while OHS acknowledge having good social support, some of them nevertheless feel lonely. This possibly reflects unique interpersonal difficulties characteristic in Holocaust survivor families. These findings suggest that OHS with parental PTSD (especially when both parents had symptoms) represent a group of older adults who are relatively susceptible to negative psychological effects of the current pandemic. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved) Clinical Impact Statement—Preliminary COVID-19-related studies indicate that older adults might be vulnerable to negative mental health effects associated with social distancing and isolation. Identifying older adults who might be particularly vulnerable will allow more timely effective intervention and prevention of adverse effects. We identified vulnerabilities to PTSD, psychological distress, and loneliness among aging offspring of Holocaust survivors with parental PTSD, which render these older adults more susceptible to negative effects related to COVID-19 and to the coalescing crises that followed. Parental PTSD might constitute a risk factor for such vulnerabilities also in other groups of older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-445
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


  • Holocaust
  • PTSD
  • loneliness
  • psychological distress
  • social support


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