Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Henry Krystal - September 19, 1996

Coping Mechanisms

Do you think that, that there's a, there was during the war and continued to be certain kinds of coping mechanisms to, distractions even, that some of the survivors used to get through this?

Well, yeah, I think that there are, depending on the circumstances there were certain talents that were especially helpful and uh, uh, the, the capacity to retain a kind of infantile uh, faith that things will work out all right. The capacity sometimes to regress. I would sometimes be talking to my mother, especially in Auschwitz I remember.

You mean in your mind you would talk to your mother.

In my mind. But also the uh, the ability to uh, to receive help and to give help. To relate to others. Not to become insulated.

How do you um, is that what you draw from the, the experience? Is that, if you look back on the Holocaust and say what, what, if any, meaning can I give to this, is that part of what comes to mind?

Well, I think that uh, in trying to understand what made a person survive, I still think that it was mostly accidental, a number of accidents. And that many people did things that were potentially self-destructive, but they survived. But uh, I, I think that uh, the, the, the ability to maintain a little nucleus of hope uh, was probably the, the strongest asset. I, I would call it infantile narcissism, but really this is the way it manifests itself. Against all odds, to be able to, to continue uh, to struggle and uh, to make a comeback.

Do, do you think this is at all related to an, to, to talking about it, to telling, telling the story? You said that at one point you were, you thought if you died that no one would know and no one would have missed you. Um, some survivors have said that they thought that they would survive because they felt the need, that they were going to be the witnesses or at least that's the...more folklore.

Well, I know that for many people this is a very important mission. However, I felt keenly uh, already then that we were not just persecuted by the Germans, but I felt that we were abandoned by the whole world. And therefore, it seemed to me that, to, to tell about this to the world uh, was really not going to, to achieve anything. And it turned out that I was right. That, that the British and the Americans knew what was going on and wouldn't even bomb the trains to Auschwitz, wouldn't even bomb Auschwitz. So uh, I think that among the most terrible things that happened to us was this feeling of abandonment. And that was why I was more uh, pessimistic about the power of witnessing. But I, I think that things have changed, times have changed and we, we may need the witnessing for ourselves and our people.

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