Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Lisa Samstag

Committee Chair and Members

Lisa Samstag, Chair

Nicholas Papouchis

Nicole Nehrig


Differentiation of self, Family communication, Holocaust, Intergenerational trauma, Interpersonal functioning


Findings have been inconsistent regarding the existence of intergenerational transmission of trauma in offspring of Holocaust survivors (OHS) and grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (GHS). Some studies have indeed found that OHS have more psychosocial problems than their counterparts with no family members in the Holocaust (e.g., Scharf, 2007), while others have not found any differences (e.g., Sagi-Schwartz et al., 2003). One reason for these mixed findings is the quantity and quality of communication on the part of the Holocaust survivor within their families about their trauma (e.g., Danieli et al., 2017). Another reason for the inconsistent findings is that much of the research on OHS has focused on psychopathology instead of focusing on the vulnerabilities in the areas of interpersonal difficulties and problems with separation and individuation that have been more frequently observed by clinicians working with OHS patients (e.g., Solkoff, 1992). To address these limitations with past research, the present study predicted that a lack of explicit communication between Holocaust survivor parents and their children would detrimentally impact OHS in the areas of interpersonal functioning and ability to separate from others and regulate their emotions. The study also examined the relationship between these variables in a subset of the OHS participants and their GHS children. Self-report measures were completed and analyzed from 412 OHS and 71 of their GHS children. There were several important findings, including that OHS-rated parental numbness predicted both greater OHS interpersonal problems and lower OHS differentiation of self. Additionally, OHS differentiation of self mediated the relationship between OHS-rated parental numbness and OHS interpersonal problems. Interestingly, none of these effects carried over to the GHS generation.

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