A new study led by Tel Aviv University researchers finds that the Holocaust education trips Israeli high school students take to Poland every year can trigger mental health problems.
About a third of the psychiatric professionals surveyed in this pilot study said they had treated teenagers for psychological problems arising from the Holocaust education trips. While most of the teenagers were treated for less severe symptoms such as anxiety, adjustment, and mood disorders, reports also cited hospitalization, post-traumatic-stress disorder, and psychosis.
In the majority of cases, the affected teenagers exhibited risk factors—like psychiatric or family crises or social difficulties—prior to the Holocaust education trips. Others had stressful experiences during the trips, such as being bullied, that were unrelated to Holocaust education.
“The trips to Poland appear to pose a risk primarily to adolescents with histories of psychological difficulties,” says Dr. Yuval Bloch of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and head of the Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic at Shalvata Mental Health Center. Dr. Bloch was prompted to conduct the study with his wife Dr. Aviva Mimouni-Bloch, also a lecturer in the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and head of the Neuropediatric Unit at Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Hospital, after she and their son went on one of the trips.
A rite of passage
Every year, about 20 percent of Israeli high school students take Holocaust memorial journeys designed to teach them about the Nazi atrocities committed against European Jewry on Polish soil. Over eight days, the students tour concentration camp sites with Holocaust survivors, share Holocaust stories of family members, and learn about the horrors Jews experienced during World War II. Since the trips were made an optional part of the Education Ministry’s curriculum in 1988, more than 30,000 students have participated.
The Holocaust education trips have occasionally generated controversy in Israel, with some people questioning if they are psychologically damaging the country’s youth. An unpublished study presented to the Knesset of 1,996 teenagers who participated in the trips found that 1 percent felt they lacked the “mental strength” to handle their experiences.