Dr. Dagmar Herzog discusses the hard history of the Holocaust and PTSD
The horrors of the Holocaust remain ever-relevant as several students, faculty, and others gathered to discuss its impact in Foster Auditorium Monday evening.
The lecture, titled “Post-Holocaust Antisemitism and the Psychiatry of Trauma,” was led by Dr. Dagmar Herzog, Distinguished Professor of History and the Daniel Rose Faculty Scholar at the City University at New York (CUNY) Graduate Center.
Herzog’s talk brought to light the resurgence of antisemitism after Nazi defeat in World War II.
After the war, many medical professionals denied that Holocaust survivors’ long-term mental health problems (nightmares, anxiety, depression, and so on) were caused by the horrors they endured in concentration and death camps, according to her research.
A mother’s children being ripped from her arms to be murdered, or finding the charred corpse of one’s relative were some biographical examples of such horrors Herzog cited.
The link between the Holocaust and the survivors’ post-trauma was so fervently denied because many Germans were wary of Jews asking for reparations.
Fueled largely by antisemitism, the “rejectors” of this connection insisted on one of two things. Either the Jewish survivors had poor mental health before going to the camps, or they just wanted to cheat the German government for money.
It took the Vietnam War to bring the Holocaust survivors’ situations fully into focus, Herzog’s research asserts.
American soldiers who came back from Vietnam with similar damage to their mental health, in tandem with the Holocaust, was “the catalyst for changing the science of trauma,” Herzog said.
With the aid of doctors sympathetic to the survivors, post-traumatic stress disorder soon became a widely recognized mental disorder, and the concept of “massive psychic trauma” became one of legitimate study.
Herzog explains the pressing relevance of her topic of choice.
“There are crisis regions all over the world, and we need to understand how much suffering and damage is going on there, and also understand based on the historical background what we can do differently,” Herzog said.
“We have U.S. soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and other settings all around the world… They’re carrying their damaged bodies and souls back to their families and our communities, and they need our care and love, as well.”
Herzog is the author of several books about history, religion, gender, and sexuality. Her latest book, “Cold War Freud,” further explores advent of the PTSD diagnosis.