Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Emanuel Tanay - March 16, 1987

Reflections on Experience

Let me jump ahead, too. Do you think this has affected the way you reacted to circumstances after the war or the way other survivors reacted after the war?

Oh, no doubt about it. You know, I'm sure that this is a rhetorical question on your part, because you know, you would not ask, "have you been affected by having been hit by a truck?" [laughs] It's self evident that if you get hit by a truck, you are affected by it and I think I might have been more fortunate, as a good friend of mine who survived in concentration camp once said to me, "Well, you know, you had the great advantage of having always been in a situation where you could in some way do something," he said. I don't know if that is entirely true, because I think maybe in a camp, one could still do something, but much less, where as if you were on false papers, you were more in an active role. So, I consider myself more fortunate than many of the other survivors, but clearly I and every other survivor, is first of all a victim, a living victim, but a victim nevertheless of terrible circumstances. And when you are a victim, you suffer some scars. I have also been in the fortunate situation of having had access to treatment after the war, which many survivors did not. Many survivors actively avoided it even if they had access to it. That's part of the condition of traumatic neurosis, or as it now called post traumatic stress disorder, is to avoid treatment, because treatment is a reminder of the painful experience, so you don't want to be exposed to it.

Do you think that has something to do with why survivors have not been willing to talk more freely?

Certainly, certainly, you know, I'm an example of it myself, you know, during the war, one of my [Pause] one of the forces that kept me was the idea that I will tell the world what happened. That, I, you know, I sort of had a mission, I have to survive because at least somebody has to tell the world what happened. I'm gonna write the book, I even had a name, a title for it. And you know, when I arrived in this country, in the United States in 19... in January '52, I was actively involved right away in some preparation for writing a book about my experiences. And now, [laughs] thirty some years later, I still haven't done it. So, there is the resistance, you know, in doing it, there's a lot of ambivalence about it and fear and difficulty in talking about it. Survivors are reluctant to talk even to each other about these experiences. Because they are, you know, there are certain experiences if I try to tell you about it, I would break down crying. So I won't tell you about it. [laughs]

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