Rachel Yehuda, a leading researcher on trauma in first-, second- and even third-generation Holocaust survivors, will discuss her work at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 in the Landmark Centre Building in Beachwood.

“Can the Trauma of Holocaust Survivors be Passed on Through Their Genes to Their Children?” talk is presented by the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and co-sponsored by Kol Israel Foundation. 

Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, was raised in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. Growing up around Holocaust survivors impacted her later work. During a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University, Yehuda and her adviser had been studying post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans when they decided to study trauma in Holocaust survivors. 

“It was my perception that the Holocaust survivors that I had grown up with had experienced a lot of trauma, but I didn’t know one way or another whether many of them had symptoms or not, it was just a general perception that they seemed to be living their lives in a better way than the Vietnam War veterans that were in the V.A. Hospital,” Yehuda said. “And again, that’s the thing sometimes with trauma, psychological trauma, you don’t look physically to be any different than anybody else.” 

Yehuda conducted the study in Cleveland because of the strong Jewish and research communities. 

“I thought it was not going to be an easy thing to do to ask Holocaust survivors to submit to biologic studies,” she said. “I really tried to get a team of people that was embedded for us in the community and that you know would provide some trust.” 

In later research, Yehuda focused on how trauma can affect a survivor’s children.  Although the program title suggests trauma is passed down, Yehuda said she refrains from saying “passed” because it simplifies a complex area of research where human studies cannot yet verify how the trauma manifests in a second generation versus a first-generation survivor. 

“In some sense offspring make it their own trauma in a very major way,” she said. 

“Obviously, it’s not something that would have occurred to me personally if not for offspring of Holocaust survivors themselves coming forward and telling me that they felt affected by the Holocaust. And other than that, there wouldn’t have been any reason to even begin that process of exploration and so I’m going to tell that story and some of the results and what I think they mean.”

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