Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Emanuel Tanay - March 16, 1987

Post-War Situation

You talked before about the obvious effect that this has on you after the war, what kinds of stresses did you feel right after the war? What was your state of mind?

Oh, after the war once the immediate demands of post-war survival, because of the danger, the difficulty the hardships did not cease with liberation, there was no help, no welcoming committee to provide assistance, but once we came to Munich and once it was sort of really over in a certain sense, I recall becoming really depressed. I remember spending maybe a number of weeks almost always simply lying in bed. It was a very kind of a like a period, I mean in retrospect I view it as a mourning type of experience, but it wasn't very prolonged and after that, I became a student, begun to study, and became quite, you know, active and so on. But the experience was even after the war was difficult for most survivors, remember that survivors were being were met with a great deal of ambivalence. You were not welcomed. There was suspicion who you were and how you survived. Even years later when you came to the United States, the question "how did you survive?" was often an accusation and not a welcome and why didn't you fight and why didn't you do this and that, you know, the non-victims particularly among Jews, had all kinds of complaints, in a sense, not clearly voiced, but they were there. Let me give you an experience; I think a story tells more than abstract words. I was an intern at Michael Reese in Chicago and I applied for residency at a hospital called Elgin State Hospital and I'm being interviewed for the residency, okay? The Superintendent named Steinberg, the Assistant Superintendent named Hafrin, the Clinical Director named Liebermann, all three Jews. They ask me questions about my interest in psychiatry, my internship, etc. And Michael Reese was a very prestigious internship and then they asked me how I survived. And I told them I survived on false papers. And at one point this Dr. Steinberg says to me, what did you falsify to be accepted as intern to Michael Reese? Uh, you know, here is a psychoanalyst, a Jew, talking to a 24 year old survivor. So you see, I mean that is just an example. There has been, I believe, and there always is, considerable ambivalence towards people who have been in touch with the enemy. I mean remember, we are contaminated in some sense, because we have been in touch with this horrible experience, uh, and we have been in touch with the enemy. The real, those who have perished, those who died, they are purified by the fact that they died. But, we, the living victims, we have not been purified.

How does one live with the persona of a victim so long after the war?

By avoiding it, you know, avoidance, denial are adaptive to some extent. You can't, if you become obsessed with any aspect of your life, you become sick. And I think that those of us who are able, and I consider myself among those, who effectively sort of separate that. We were able to um, to create a reasonable semblance of a normal life, I think particularly as time went on, one creates a certain separation. But never complete. Others have never made that transition.

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