Holocaust Survivors' Reports on Attitudes toward Food

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Holocaust Survivors Report Long-Term Effects on Attitudes toward Food A M Y J. S I N D L E R, MS, RD;1 N A N C Y S. W E L L M A N, P H D, RD, FADA;2 O R E N B A R U C H S T I E R, P H D3 1

Peace Corps, Lesotho, Africa; 2National Policy and Resource Center on Nutrition and Aging, Florida International University, Miami, Florida; 3Department of Religious Studies, Florida International University, Miami, Florida


Objective: To gather information from survivors on the effects that the Holocaust had on their current attitudes toward food. Design: Qualitative study: one-on-one semistructured interviews with a script shaped by a pilot study. Setting: South Florida homes and community sites, including the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial. Participants: Convenience sample of 25 Holocaust survivors: 14 men, 11 women; ages 71 to 85 years. Phenomenon of Interest: Current attitudes toward food in relation to Holocaust experiences. Analysis: Themes and illustrative quotations from transcriptions of audiotaped interviews. Results: Food attitudes were influenced by Holocaust experiences. Five themes emerged: (1) difficulty throwing food away, even when spoiled; (2) storing excess food; (3) craving certain food(s); (4) difficulty standing in line for food; and (5) experiencing anxiety when food is not readily available. Empathy for those currently suffering from hunger was also reported. Conclusions and Implications: Food-related issues from the Holocaust remain for survivors. Now in their 70s and 80s, many use health care and related services. Nutritionists, educators, and health professionals should be aware of such issues. Food and nutrition programs should minimize uncomfortable food-related situations for Holocaust survivors and others who experienced food deprivation. KEY WORDS: Holocaust survivors, food attitudes, food deprivation, starvation ( J Nutr Educ Behav. 2004;36:189-196.)

Address for correspondence: Nancy S. Wellman, PhD, RD, FADA, National Policy and Resource Center on Nutrition and Aging, Florida International University, OE200, Miami, FL 33199; Tel: (305) 348-1517; Fax: (305) 348-3184; E-mail: wellmann@fiu.edu. n2004 SOCIETY FOR NUTRITION EDUCATION

The Holocaust (1939-1945), one of the darkest periods in human history, was ‘‘the systematic, bureaucratic, statesponsored persecution and murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.’’1 As part of the Nazis’ Final Solution to destroy European Jewry, Jews were forced into ghettos and labor or concentration camps. Ration cards were the official source of food distribution in ghettos, although soup kitchens and the black market supplemented the meager ration amount of 785 to 1665 kcal/day. During the first 18 months of the Warsaw ghetto’s existence, 15% to 18% of the people starved to death.2 In other ghettos, the situation was much the same. Deportation to concentration camps most often meant immediate death or postponement of death through slave labor.3 Prisoners fed diets of diluted soup and bread were expected to die within 3 months, after ‘‘burning up their own body weight.’’4 Food was so scarce that prisoners scrounged for grass, leaves, or paper and occasionally resorted to cannibalism. Research on the long-term effects of these experiences is limited. An Italian study showed a higher rate of binge eating among former Nazi concentration camp survivors than in a control group of persons of similar age and gender.5 During those interviews, many told about persistent and specific thoughts about food and eating, sometimes reporting that food controls their life. A study of prisoners of war also found higher levels of binge eating than in controls, the highest levels being among those with the highest weight loss during captivity.6 Classic and well...
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