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Study: Holocaust survivors lived longer because they were resilient

Auschwitz II, Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Credit: Ian Mackenzier/Flickr/Creative Commons

Auschwitz II, Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Credit: Ian Mackenzier/Flickr/Creative Commons

According to a report in the Daily Mail, a study conducted by researchers with Maccabi Healthcare Services (MHS) based in Tel Aviv, Israel came to a startling conclusion that Jews who survived the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, lived on average seven years longer than Jews who did not go through the Holocaust.

MSH is an Israeli healthcare insurer with over two million members.

The researchers studied 83,000 Jews, both male and female, born between 1911 and 1945 who were insured by the Maccabi. This included 38,000 European Jews now living in Israel who survived the Holocaust and 35,000 Jews also living in Israel who had not directly experienced the Nazi genocide.

The study revealed that those who survived the Nazi death camps lived to an average age of 84.8 years compared to an average of 77.7 for those who did not directly experience the Nazi genocide. In effect, the mortality rate of those who suffered was 16% lower than those who didn’t.

Ironically, the Jews who survived the holocaust tended to have more health issues due to their brutal treatment in the Nazi death camps. They were 11% more likely to suffer kidney disease and 16% more likely to have high blood pressure, yet in the end they still lived longer.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr Gideon Koren who worked with the MHS said:

“Obviously, survivors have higher resilience, both physical and probably also mental, than those who did not manage to survive.”

These people who survived the holocaust were better equipped to handle the difficulties that life threw at them.

The word resilience in Koran’s statement immediately caught my attention

In physics, the word resilience refers to ability or elasticity of material after being compressed by a blow to bounce back to its original shape.

In psychology, the word resilience refers to the mental strength to adapt to difficult times and the ability to quickly spring back from trauma and set backs. Resilient people tend to be more optimistic and do not stay down, depressed, but can quickly recover from adversity.

As the early church started to suffer horrific persecution by the Romans, the Apostle Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome under Emperor Nero, began to address Christians and their need for resilience.

He didn’t use the exact word, Paul referred to it as perseverance and character:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-4 ESV)

When believers go through difficult times, we must maintain our confidence in God. We must continue to trust the Lord, who is our hope.

In fact, Paul actually says we should rejoice in suffering because of the potential good it brings. As we put our faith in God, he says our suffering can produce endurance or perseverance, which in turn produces character.

Perseverance refers to the ability to push through and not give up when we encounter difficulties and even persecution. Character refers to people who when knocked down by the difficulties of life, quickly stand back up. They stood strong in dark times.

Paul says this in turn produces hope which is optimism that comes from believing and trusting God.


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