Gender, Resilience and Adaptation in Melbourne’s Holocaust Survivor Community

About the project

In the wake of the Holocaust, survivors embarked on a journey to rebuild their lives, and in doing so, reclaim hope, a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

While researchers have explored the resilience and adaptation strategies of Holocaust survivors, few have considered the role of gender. The 2022 Kerryn Baker project brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of history, psychology and social work to investigate the role of gender in shaping the resilience and adaptation patterns of Holocaust survivors in Melbourne.

By shedding new light on the lives of Melbourne’s Holocaust survivor community and their descendants, this project aims to contribute to a growing body of literature on gender, resilience and adaptation, and to stimulate fresh thinking about how to enhance the life prospects of people living with serious adversity.

The project is guided by two overarching questions:

  • To what extent did gender influence the struggle of Holocaust survivors in Melbourne to come to terms with their wartime experience, find a way forward to rebuild their lives, and achieve emotional wellbeing?
  • Do men and women Holocaust survivors exhibit different patterns and strategies of resilience and adaptation? Do they exhibit different patterns, for example, in reclaiming a sense of identity; coping strategies; finding and building mechanisms of familial, or establishing social and communal support?

Partnering with local Jewish organisations, project researchers will conduct structured interviews with Holocaust survivors and their children. Researchers will also analyse memoirs and archival materials housed in various Jewish organisations across Melbourne.

Research Team

Dr. Daniel Heller, Senior Lecturer in the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. Daniel is an historian of east European Jewry, with a focus on the Jews of Poland and their descendants.

Dr. Emily Berger, Senior Lecturer in the School of Educational Psychology and Counselling. Emily’s areas of specialisation include trauma and resilience, with a particular focus on children.

Dr. Marcelo Maghidman, Lecturer and Course Coordinator for Monash’s Masters in Social Work.  Both as a researcher and a private practice counsellor, Dr. Maghidman has worked with Holocaust survivors and their descendants around issues of mental health.

Jewish DPs look out the windows of a bus to Marseilles on the first leg of their journey to new homes in Australia and South America.
Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.