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Transcending Trauma:
Exploring Mechanisms of Survival


Transcending Trauma

Survival, Resilience
and Clinical Implications
in Survivor Families
  Narrative Reflections:
How Witnessing Their Stories Changes Our Lives

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Since 1991, the Transcending Trauma Project, as part of Council for Relationships’ Research Department, has conducted over 275 in-depth life histories with Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren in order to attain a comprehensive understanding of coping and adaptation after extreme trauma. How were Holocaust survivors able to rebuild their lives after the overwhelming horror of their war experiences, the almost total loss of everyone they had known and loved, and the absolute dissolution of their former lives?  

The answer to this question not only gives us important information about the human response to extreme trauma, it also provides the knowledge essential for the effective treatment of victims of group trauma around the world. The exploration of intergenerational family responses to extreme trauma and the information gleaned on helping victims to reconstruct their lives and to provide a healthy environment for subsequent generations is TTP’s contribution to the field of mental health.


  • Positive relationships in the prewar family of origin contributed to the coping abilities of the survivors during the war and postwar and the retention of beliefs, ritual practices, tolerance towards others, and mentally healthy relationships in the next generations.
  • Troubled relationships in the prewar families of origin often led to rejection of prewar religious beliefs, intolerant attitudes to perpetrators and other ethnic, racial and religious groups.
  • Wellbeing of the second generation is dependent on the quality of the survivor’s marriage and resulting parenting styles.
  • In the communication patterns between the survivors and their children, the importance of the motives behind the telling influenced the impact of trauma narratives on the children; impact of survivor stories was influenced by the quality of the parent-child relationship.
  • “The transformative narrative” told by the survivors to their children played a role in the identity formation of the children because the narratives communicated qualities of the parent that the child integrated as part of their self identity.

Over the next five years, the goals of TTP include:

  • Developing an educational curriculum on lessons of coping, resilience, moral dilemmas.
  • Training therapists to better serve veterans and their families who have experienced trauma.
  • Coaching Rwandan refugees to facilitate coping and adaptation in their communities.
  • Writing, publication, presentations on TTP’s research.  
Donations may be given to the Transcending Trauma Project through the Council for Relationships. Please use the donation button on our website and note that your gift is for the Transcending Trauma Project.

For more information please contact:
Bea Hollander-Goldfein PhD, LMFT, Co-Project Director
      215-382-6680 x 3118   Email: bhg6@verizon.net
Nancy Isserman, PhD, Co-Project Director
      215-382-6680 x 3133   Email: isserman@temple.edu

Published Papers

"The acquisition of memory by interview questioning: Holocaust re-membering as category-bound activity." Bartesaghi, Mariaelena, and Sheryl Perlmutter Bowen. Discourse Studies; (2009) 11; 223-243.

"Political Tolerance and Intolerance:
Using Qualitative Interviews to Study Attitudes in Holocaust Survivors,"

Nancy Isserman, Contemporary Jewry, 2009, 29:21-47; reprinted in The Holocaust: Essays and Documents, Holocaust Studies Series of the Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, Social Science Monographs, ed. Randolph S. Braham, Columbia University Press, 2009.

'I had no family, but I made family'.
Immediate post-war coping strategies of adolescent survivors of the Holocaust

Jennifer Goldenberg, MSS. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, March 2009, 9(1): 18-26.

Jewishness: Expression, Identity, and Representation
Bea Hollander-Goldfein, Hannah Kliger, Emilie S. Passow.
Jewish Cultural Studies
, Vol.1, Oregon, 2008.

Explanations For Survival By Jewish Survivors Of The Holocaust:
Exploring The 'Hows' And The 'Whys' - The Means And The Meaning

Jennie Goldenberg, MSS. Beyond Camps and Forced Labour.

"Identifying Individual Determinants of Intolerance in Holocaust Survivors",
Nancy Isserman, in Johannes-Dieter Steinert and Inge Weber-Newth (eds.), Beyond Camps and Forced Labour, Secolo Verlag (Osnabrueck, Germany) 2005, 557-565.

"Survivors Sometimes Tell Their Stories",
Bowen, Sheryl Perlmutter and Juliet Spitzer. Beyond Camps and Forced Labour.

Dignity in Life, Dignity in Death:
One Perspective on the Chevra Kaddisha

Juliet Spitzer. World Council of Jewish Communal Service Quadrennial Conference, November 12-16, 2003, Jerusalem, Israel.

The Impact on the Interviewer of Holocaust Survivor Narratives:
Vicarious Traumatization or Transformation?

Jennie Goldenberg, MSS. Traumatology, Vol. 8, No. 4: 215-231 (December 2002).

Selected Presentations at Conferences
"Innovative Qualitative Methodology with a Large Database"
Nancy Isserman, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Baltimore, November 2007.

Overview of the Transcending Trauma Project:
Towards an Integrated Model of Coping and Adaptation After Extreme Trauma

Bea Hollander-Goldfein. Bryn Mawr School of Social Work, Lichenstein Lecture, April 2002.

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