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Study of Holocaust Survivors Finds Trauma Passed On To Children's Genes

Article about: Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes New finding is clear example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors ca

  1. #1

    Default Study of Holocaust Survivors Finds Trauma Passed On To Children's Genes

    Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes
    New finding is clear example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children

    Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.
    The conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

    They also analyzed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

    Holocaust survivors' grandchildren call for action over inherited trauma
    Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” - the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren.

    The idea is controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health.

    Other studies have proposed a more tentative connection between one generation’s experience and the next. For example, girls born to Dutch women who were pregnant during a severe famine at the end of the second world war had an above-average risk of developing schizophrenia. Likewise, another study has showed that men who smoked before puberty fathered heavier sons than those who smoked after.

    The team were specifically interested in one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones, which is known to be affected by trauma. “It makes sense to look at this gene,” said Yehuda. “If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”

    They found epigenetic tags on the very same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring, the same correlation was not found in any of the control group and their children.

    Through further genetic analysis, the team ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experienced themselves.

    “To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” said Yehuda, whose work was published in Biological Psychiatry.

    It’s still not clear how these tags might be passed from parent to child. Genetic information in sperm and eggs is not supposed to be affected by the environment - any epigenetic tags on DNA had been thought to be wiped clean soon after fertilization occurs.

    However, research by Azim Surani at Cambridge University and colleagues, has recently shown that some epigenetic tags escape the cleaning process at fertilization, slipping through the net. It’s not clear whether the gene changes found in the study would permanently affect the children’s health, nor do the results upend any of our theories of evolution.

    Whether the gene in question is switched on or off could have a tremendous impact on how much stress hormone is made and how we cope with stress, said Yehuda. “It’s a lot to wrap our heads around. It’s certainly an opportunity to learn a lot of important things about how we adapt to our environment and how we might pass on environmental resilience.”

    The impact of Holocaust survival on the next generation has been investigated for years - the challenge has been to show intergenerational effects are not just transmitted by social influences from the parents or regular genetic inheritance, said Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of pediatric genetics at University College London.

    “Yehuda’s paper makes some useful progress. What we’re getting here is the very beginnings of a understanding of how one generation responds to the experiences of the previous generation. It’s fine-tuning the way your genes respond to the world.”

    Can you inherit a memory of trauma?
    Researchers have already shown that certain fears might be inherited through generations, at least in animals.

    Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by pairing the smell with a small electric shock. Eventually the mice shuddered at the smell even when it was delivered on its own.

    Despite never having encountered the smell of cherry blossom, the offspring of these mice had the same fearful response to the smell - shuddering when they came in contact with it. So too did some of their own offspring.

    On the other hand, offspring of mice that had been conditioned to fear another smell, or mice who’d had no such conditioning had no fear of cherry blossom.

    The fearful mice produced sperm which had fewer epigenetic tags on the gene responsible for producing receptors that sense cherry blossom. The pups themselves had an increased number of cherry blossom smell receptors in their brain, although how this led to them associating the smell with fear is still a mystery.

    "Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."

  2. #2


    Interesting read William, obviously much more research is needed in this area as a study group of 32 is very small, and when it comes to the mice, could the baby mice simply have learned from birth to fear the cherry blossom? I doubt they were separated from the adult mice immediately and probably just experienced the adults association of fear from birth? They do say, we all learn the vast majority of our skills and emotions in the first days and months of life. But hey! What do I know!! Leon.
    "Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." Ernest Hemingway

  3. #3


    Personally I think its BS. They are implying that PTSD can be passed on.

  4. #4


    Interesting reading but i'm a little skeptical about it though!...
    It's a wasted trip baby. Nobody said nothing about locking horns with no Tigers.

    I'm Spartacus, not really i'm Paul!...

  5. #5


    A silly case in point, but I do remember my encounter with the infamous Indian Meal Moths in the one house that I had awhile back. The moths would change tactics to avoid being killed. At first, they would be flying up near the ceilings and when that proved deadly to them,the next generation changed it to halfway to the floor at about eye level. Never again flying near the ceilings. That, naturally did not work well for them, so instantly the next batch developed a tactic of free falling to the floor when swiped at and crawling quickly away before they could be stepped on-something none of them had ever done before. Each generation(and they bred Fast) would seemingly learn their errors and the next batch would come out and present Fixes and new techniques to rectify the previous generations blunders-never using the Old techniques again. It was actually kind of fascinating to follow their progress. Each generation would be totally different in behavior from the last.

    I managed to keep them at almost a stand-still, but was very slowly but eventually beginning to lose. This went on for Months. Finally, one new batch were born with transparent wings that when folded would make them seemingly go invisible and would then free fall until a few inches from the floor and Then take to flight again Before hitting the ground and would Stay flying just above the floor level until they could make it to cover and escape. It was at this stage that I called in an exterminator and had them wiped out-but it still took nearly an entire Year to do so. I often wonder what their Next strategy would have been had they not been chemically beaten.

    An odd and seemingly weird story, I know, but an interesting experiment, in any case. Somehow, the next generations always Knew what Not to do and would come out with their Own new tactics. Now, certainly, something as tiny and stupid as a quarter inch Moth could not somehow Instruct the newborns what not to do or advise what next to try. So I was at a loss to explain their strange behaviors. It's difficult if not impossible to 100% predict Nature. It's always one step ahead of you...

    "Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."

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    So that means EVERYONE on the earth who experienced something will then bring it on to other generations?! That means the ones who were nuked in japan should have the same result, and the english in asia who were held captured by japanese.

    What is the reason for this "study"- that i would like to know..
    Collect ROA, Cossack, Schuma and other WW2 Volunteer militaria.

    "Be Humble and kind, for you may find that it was Odin you entertained"

  7. #7


    I'm not a geneticist, physician or psychologist and thus admittedly not in the position to make a qualified comment on the findings of this study, but I have to say that I am extremely sceptical about it, to say the least.

    If the children of Holocaust survivors have an increased susceptibility to stress disorders, could it not simply be the result of having been raised by deeply traumatized parents, passing on their suffering, fears and anxieties by their behaviour, acts and words, rather than their genes, causing their children to grow up into adults who are not as strong and self-assured as they should be?

  8. #8


    An interesting theory. I have often wondered if a similar "trauma" was present in Native American tribes that I encountered whilst in the North Western States. The Oglala Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes all seem to have massive problems with high unemployment, drugs, alcoholism, education drop out rates, mental health issues and teenage suicide. There appeared to me to be an inherited trait of having given up on life and merely existing on what's known as "Federal Welfare" that causes a dependency that saps the will of almost the entire people barring a few exceptions. I can't be certain, but can easily imagine that the case is similar across the entire United States complement of Indian Nations.

    I personally came to believe that the present generation of American Indians are genuinely still full of sadness and horror about the past, it really does seem to weigh heavily upon them. The subject would come up regularly in conversation when they were talking to "an Englishman", and this does in my opinion play a big part in the current situation that seems endemic in the Northern Plains tribes, much as the study raised in the O.P. above points at the descendants of European Jews being affected, although in a moderately different way. Although I have no experience with them, the same sort of problems or "trauma" seems to be indigenous in the Aboriginal people of Australia, and the circumstances of the causes seem similar. It might be informative to hear the thoughts of what some of our Antipodal members think about that.

    All in all, if there is a "genetic trauma" linked to DNA, and whether this is or is not present in all these peoples, there is a commonality that is clear to all that each have been affected in one way or another by oppression, aggression and racism from other stronger, highly motivated, powerfully acquisitive, and even religiously zealous nations in their past, and that I believe is undeniable.

    On a lighter note, back at "Chez Wagriff" a compromise was reached......

    Study of Holocaust Survivors Finds Trauma Passed On To Children's Genes
    'I do not think we can hope for any better thing now.
    We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far.
    It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. R. SCOTT.
    Last Entry - For God's sake look after our people.'

    In memory of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. South Pole Expedition, 30th March 1912.

  9. #9


    As another who is not "qualified" to comment on the results of the research, I do find it interesting all the same as the age old debate about nature versus nurture being responsible for peoples behaviour. More studies are needed and as always I am willing to be convinced, but not yet. An upbringing by traumatized parents could well be the cause though as the study of DNA is still in its infancy I would not feel able to state that it was BS as some have.

    Why was the study undertaken was one question, I would assume in an attempt to understand why so many children of Holocaust survivors have a tendency to be more susceptible to "mental" illness than those without such a family history.


    Whatever its just an opinion.

  10. #10


    I agree with Andreas...I was raised in Germany by the WWII Generation...They were my family members, teachers, neighbors, my friend's parents etc etc...And there were a few shared characteristics...Certain subjects were absolutely Tabu, they were Extremely Frugal, whether it's in saving electricity or food...especially FOOD...My Oma was obsessed with FOOD and feeding people, practically lived in her tiny kitchen...and they didn't throw things away so easily either, especially if it could be reused...They certainly had a much different attitude than the grandchildren that followed...Practically every Family had loved ones killed, my family had three killed during the war...I wonder if the entire generation-not just Holocaust Victims- wasn't affected en masse due to their traumatic experiences and the prevailing conditions of the era...
    Last edited by bigmacglenn; 08-27-2015 at 08:39 PM.

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