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Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94

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Social Science & Medicine

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/socscimed

Living in “survival mode:” Intergenerational transmission of trauma

from the Holodomor genocide of 1932e1933 in Ukraine
Brent Bezo a, *, Stefania Maggi b
Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Loeb B550, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada
Department of Psychology and Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University, 2201 Dunton Tower, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S
5B6, Canada

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Qualitative methodology was used to investigate the intergenerational impact of the 1932e1933 Hol-
Available online 15 April 2015 odomor genocide on three generations in 15 Ukrainian families. Each family, residing in Ukraine, con-
sisted of a first generation survivor, a second generation adult child and a third generation adult
Keywords: grandchild of the same line. The findings show that the Holodomor, a genocide that claimed millions of
Ukraine lives by forced starvation, still exerts substantial effects on generations born decades later. Specifically,
Intergenerational transmission of trauma
thematic analysis of the 45 semi-structured, in-depth interviews, done between July and November 2010,
Collective trauma
revealed that a constellation of emotions, inner states and trauma-based coping strategies emerged in
Historical trauma
the survivors during the genocide period and were subsequently transmitted into the second and third
Trauma transmission generations. This constellation, summarized by participants as living in “survival mode,” included horror,
Holodomor fear, mistrust, sadness, shame, anger, stress and anxiety, decreased self-worth, stockpiling of food,
Genocide reverence for food, overemphasis on food and overeating, inability to discard unneeded items, an
indifference toward others, social hostility and risky health behaviours. Since both the family and
community-society were found to be involved in trauma transmission, the findings highlight the
importance of multi-framework approaches for studying and healing collective trauma.
© 2015 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

1. Introduction perspectives are also important for healing traumatized children

(Pat-Horenczyk et al., 2014).
Our current understanding of intergenerational transmission of At the level of the individual, children of Holocaust survivors
trauma comes from research with collective trauma survivors and have reported fear and mistrust (Rowland-Klein and Dunlop, 1997),
their descendants from studies of the Holocaust, the Armenian depressive mood (Major, 1996), and guilt related to their personal
genocide, the second world war (WWII) internment of Japanese- happiness (Bar-On et al., 1998) and parents' experiences (Wiseman
Americans and the colonization of Indigenous peoples. This et al., 2006) as intergenerational impacts. Third generation studies
research suggests that the impacts of collective trauma are passed have shown that grandchildren of Holocaust survivors had higher
down from generation to generation and, therefore, affect not only state and trait anger, perceived others negatively (Iliceto et al.,
survivors, but their descendants at the levels of the individual, 2011) and themselves less positively, and were rated by their
family and community-society (Evans-Campbell, 2008). As such, in peers as having lower socio-emotional functioning (Scharf, 2007).
order to accommodate the complex sequelae of collective trauma Descendants of Armenian genocide survivors reported shame
and its intergenerational impacts, multi-level frameworks that (Karenian et al., 2010), while Aboriginal Canadians with parental
include the individual, family, and community-society have been and grandparental history within the residential school system had
proposed for the study and healing of collective trauma (Evans- increased suicidal thoughts and attempts (Elias et al., 2012).
Campbell, 2008; Kirmayer et al., 2014). Such multi-level Pertaining to the family level, adult children of Holocaust sur-
vivors reported parent-child enmeshment (Rowland-Klein and
Dunlop, 1997), overprotective parenting (Bar-On et al., 1998;
* Corresponding author.
Rowland-Klein and Dunlop, 1997) and parent-child role-reversal
E-mail addresses: brent.bezo@carleton.ca (B. Bezo), stefania_maggi@carleton.ca (Bar-On et al., 1998) as intergenerational impacts. Compared to
(S. Maggi). their counterparts with one or no parent from a Holocaust survivor

0277-9536/© 2015 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
88 B. Bezo, S. Maggi / Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94

family, grandchildren, with both parents being offspring of Holo- prevented Ukrainians from searching for food (Marples, 2012).
caust survivors, had more ambivalent styles of attachment and less Exact death tolls are uncertain, as Stalin displeased with census
accepting parents who did not encourage autonomy (Scharf, 2007). data from Ukraine after the genocidal period, ordered the execution
In terms of family communication, offspring of survivors of both the of the lead census takers (Subtelny, 2009) and subsequently sup-
Holocaust (Kav-Venaki et al., 1983) and Japanese-American WWII pressed the data (Conquest, 1986). However, estimates of death
internment (Nagata and Cheng, 2003) reported little intra-familial tolls (Conquest, 1986; Maksudov, 1986) from starvation of Ukrai-
conversation about the traumatic events. In addition, Aboriginal nians range from 3 to 6 million (Subtelny, 2009). In addition, mil-
Canadians viewed family violence, child abuse and lack of parental lions more were shot or deported by cattle cars to Siberian
nurturing as impacts of intergenerational trauma, stemming from concentration camps where they perished (Conquest, 1986). Even
the residential school system experience (Ball, 2010). though referred to as one of the most horrible events of the
Intergenerational trauma is also posited to affect the twentieth century, the Holodomor is not well known as the Soviet
community-society via loss of culture, values and way of life. regime denied its occurrence (Conquest, 1986). The Ukrainian word
However, the impacts on this level are understudied and, hence, Holodomor, meaning “murder by hunger” (Klid and Motyl, 2012,
less well understood (Evans-Campbell, 2008). p.xxix), has been adopted by western writers and academics to
Overall, while many studies have shown adverse intergenera- define the genocide of Ukrainians.
tional impacts of collective trauma, some have not. For instance, The objective of this study was to investigate whether potential
adult daughters, unlike their Holocaust survivor mothers, did not trauma, stemming from the Holodomor, continues to exert an
exhibit a lack of resolution of trauma or signs of traumatic stress intergenerational impact. A qualitative thematic analysis was used
(Sagi-Schwartz et al., 2003). Also, as noted by Sagi-Schwartz et al. to explore how first, second and third generation Ukrainians
(2008), other research found little evidence of psychopathology perceived the impact of the Holodomor on their lives. As far as we
in adult children of Holocaust survivors (van IJzendoorn et al., know, this is the first study to investigate the intergenerational
2003), except when confronted with life-threatening situations transmission of trauma stemming from the Holodomor in Ukraine
such as serious illness (Baider et al., 2000) or military combat and to examine this genocide from a social science perspective.
(Solomon et al., 1988).
While psychodynamic, social learning and biological perspec- 2. Method
tives (Kellerman, 2001) have individually been proposed as trans-
mission mechanisms, the family has often been viewed as the Interviews were conducted with families comprising a grand-
vehicle for intergenerational transmission (Rowland-Klein and parent survivor, an adult child, and an adult grandchild of the same
Dunlop, 1997; Wiseman et al., 2006). Dedicated to unravelling the line. This approach allowed for comparison between the three
interplay between social and biological forces, the emerging field of generations to answer our research question: how does potential
epigenetics postulates that social experiences, including familial trauma, stemming from the Holodomor, continue to exert an
ones, result in epigenetic changes that affect an individual's genetic intergenerational impact? All interviews were conducted in
expression, in-utero, during early development, and throughout Ukraine in the Ukrainian language. Braun and Clarke's (2006)
the life course. This field further hypothesizes that epigenetic guidelines for thematic analysis were used. Specifically, patterns
changes are heritable and “may serve as a cellular memory” in the data were identified to help answer the research question,
(Champagne, 2010, p. 570) of human experiences that also shape themes were identified to represent the data, themselves, as
the neurodevelopment, behaviours, and the health and well-being opposed to fitting a preselected theory, and themes were not
of future generations (Champagne, 2010). In the context of inter- prioritized according to their prevalence in the data.
generational transmission of trauma, epigenetics may provide a
framework to understand how survivor families are affected by 2.1. Participants
complex transgenerational trajectories, stemming from their ex-
periences with collective trauma. Forty five participants (Mage ¼ 58.1 years, 64.4% women, age
This Canadian study examined the impact of collective trauma range: 22e91 years) were selected to represent three successive
experiences, stemming from the 1932e1933 Holodomor genocide generations, belonging to 15 families. Each family consisted of a
of Ukrainians, on the survivor generation and their adult children first generation survivor, a second generation adult child and a
and grandchildren. A brief overview of the Holodomor is presented third generation adult grandchild of the same line. Although gender
for context. The Holodomor was a Soviet-Russian orchestrated balance was attempted during recruitment, 87% of the first gener-
genocide (Naimark, 2010) devised to kill and subdue ethnic ation participants were female. Given that the average life expec-
Ukrainians and destroy their culture and aspiration of statehood, as tancy for men in Ukraine is 62.3 years (United Nations [UN], 2012),
separate from the Soviet Union (Klid and Motyl, 2012). Beginning in a higher ratio of females to males was anticipated for first gener-
the late 1920s and continuing into the 1930s, Stalin ordered the ation participants. Of the second and third generations, combined,
mass arrest and execution of Ukrainian political leaders, academics/ 53% were female and 47% were male.
intellectuals, writers, linguists, artists, singers, students, clergy and The average age of the first generation participant was 86.4 years
lawyers (Conquest, 1986). During this period, Ukrainian uprisings (Min ¼ 82.2, Max ¼ 91.0). On average, the survivors were 8e9 years
against the Soviet-Russian regime occurred (Conquest, 1986; Mace, of age during the 1932e1933 period. Eighty percent of the first
1986), but by this time much of the nation's intelligentsia and generation participants had lost approximately 3 family members to
leadership, capable of mobilizing a revolt, had been arrested or the Holodomor genocide. Fifty three percent of the first generation
executed (Conquest, 1986). participants had not completed elementary or high school; 13% had
Then, in 1932e1933, Stalin and his chief architects, Lazar finished high school and 33% had a bachelor level post-secondary
Kaganovich and Viacheslav Molotov orchestrated a genocide education. All of the first generation participants were retirees and
against the Ukrainian people (Klid and Motyl, 2012). With the goal many had worked as teachers or communal farm workers. Most
of starving Ukrainians, Stalin directed confiscation of harvests and (80%) of the first generation participants were widowers or widows.
foods in Ukraine. Watch towers were erected across the Ukrainian The average age of the second generation participant was 57.6
countryside to prevent the population from accessing food supplies years (Min ¼ 51.6, Max ¼ 65.2). The majority (87%) of the second
(Conquest, 1986). In addition, blockades and travel restrictions generation obtained a minimum of a bachelor-level university
B. Bezo, S. Maggi / Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94 89

degree. Most (87%) of the second generation were still in the with potential post-interview distress accompanied the consent
workforce and their employment positions were more varied as forms. In order to minimize interview-related stress, the conver-
compared to the first generation. For example, the second gener- sations commenced with a neutral question, “What does it mean
ation included a public servant, engineers, a writer, a mechanic, an for you to be Ukrainian?” as per the tenet of Patton (1990). In-
agronomist, a professor, a seamstress, a veterinarian, a store clerk, a terviews were also conducted individually to ensure the privacy of
retired electrician, an actor and a teacher. all participants and to allow for participants to communicate their
The average age of the third generation participant was 30.3 perceptions and experiences in their own way. To allow for addi-
years (Min ¼ 22.3, Max ¼ 40.2). The majority (93%) of the third tional participant input, interviews ended with the question, “Is
generation also had a minimum of a bachelor-level university de- there anything else you would like to add?” On average, interviews
gree and were in the workforce. The third generation included a lasted 53 min and were conducted by this study's lead author (who
business owner, a lawyer, an IT specialist, a teacher, a stay-at-home became fluent in Ukrainian after having resided in Ukraine for 5
mother, a public policy analyst, a business manager, a property years prior to this study). The interviews were conducted between
manager, advertising executives, and a sales representative. The July and November 2010. Ethics approval was granted by Carleton
third generation also included a few post-secondary students. In University's psychology research ethics board.
addition, many of the third generation were parents and had chil-
dren under the age of 18 years. 2.2.2. Data analysis
Purposeful sampling (Jackson et al., 1994), through a snow- All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed into text and
balling technique, was utilized to recruit participants who were then translated into English. Given the exploratory nature of the
willing to talk about and able to recall and provide in-depth de- study, data collection and partial data analysis were conducted
scriptions of their experiences and perceptions. To increase concurrently. This initial, partial analysis, combined with field
credibility-validity (Patton, 1990), the interviewer travelled over notes, helped to determine the need for 3 follow-up interviews to
6000 km in Ukraine to ensure the sample possessed geographical explore additional information with participants. The remainder of
diversity, in terms of regional, and urban and rural variation. the data analysis was conducted in Canada where a more system-
atic, inductive content analysis was employed. Analysis began with
2.2. Procedure reading and re-reading the transcripts. The tenets of Rubin and
Rubin (2005) helped in looking for concepts and themes. Specif-
2.2.1. Data collection ically, questions from the interview guide, issues raised by partic-
The interviews were semi-standardized (Berg, 2004). Main ipants, indirectly revealed concepts, the comparison of concepts to
interview questions were developed using guidelines from Patton each other, and between interviews were used to code the data.
(1990) and Rubin and Rubin (2005) to help elicit descriptions of Guidelines by Jackson et al. (1994) were used to break down the
experiences, opinions and feelings of the Holodomor and its po- text of the interview transcripts into meaning units, which were
tential impact on participants' lives and to gain insight into the assigned Level 1 codes. Next, comparison of Level 1 codes combined
processes of trauma transmission. Open-ended questions such as with their further breakdown allowed for the formation of Level 2
“What does the Holodomor mean to you?” and “What emotions codes (i.e., the categories or themes), which in turn were compared
come to mind regarding the Holodomor?” were used to also allow and merged into the superordinate themes, or Level 3 codes. These
participants to respond in their own way and explore new ideas in superordinate themes formed the results of the study. Use of
the interviews. computer software, N Vivo, manually created charts, memos, and
To create an atmosphere of safety and comfort, interviews were notes were enlisted to facilitate the coding process. The first author
conducted in the participants' places of choice. Most participants coded the transcripts, while regularly scheduled meetings allowed
chose to be interviewed in their homes. Because of the familial both authors to develop the themes together. Alternative patterns
locations of the interviews, participants of the first and second in the data, or negative cases, were also considered. For example,
generations, in particular, shared family photographs and scrap- one second generation participant simultaneously spoke of the
books, personal historical documents, books on local-regional his- Holodomor as not changing their personal “reality” or the “trajec-
tories, newspaper articles and their own personal writings. This tory” of Ukrainians, while then proceeding to note many negative
sharing, coupled with the in-depth interviews, amplified the impacts of the genocide on themself and their family. In applying
connection with the participants. the tenet of Rubin and Rubin (2005), we deemed this interview to
In order to avoid participant distress in the first generation possess contradiction, instead of being a negative case e as it was
survivors of this study, explicit questions about their personal ex- still consistent with overall patterns in the data. In conducting this
periences with atrocity were not asked. This decision was taken particular interview, the interviewer chose not to adhere to Rubin
because trauma created by deliberate human design can have and Rubin's (2005) suggestion of following up with a more
greater psychological consequence as compared to those associated confrontational question to a conflicting answer, as this particular
with accidents or natural disasters (Loo, 1993; Stewart, 1996); as participant noted a preference for not speaking about the Hol-
well, trauma seems to have its greatest impact during the child- odomor outside of the family unit. In an attempt to distinguish
hood years (van der Kolk et al., 2006). However, early on in the between the data and our interpretation of the data, we use phrases
interviews, all participants of the survivor generation spontane- such as the participants “spoke of,” “noted,” “reported” etc. versus
ously chose to speak openly about their traumatic experiences. In providing explanation for the interpretation presented, respec-
fact, some first generation participants began speaking to the tively. Lastly, in applying the guidelines of Rubin and Rubin (2005)
interviewer about their experiences and perceptions of the Hol- in presenting the results, elision dots ( … ) are sometimes used to
odomor, literally, on their front door steps. shorten excerpts, yet, preserve their meanings, while missing
The interviews began with introductions, an explanation of the words are sometimes placed in brackets to complete thoughts.
research goals, and informed consent. Participants were assured of
anonymity and individual data confidentiality. Participants were 3. Results
also told that they could cease the interview at anytime or refuse to
answer any question. Risks and benefits related to participating Findings from this study suggest that the 1932e1933 Hol-
were provided. In addition, a list of local support services to help odomor genocide of Ukrainians continues to impact not only
90 B. Bezo, S. Maggi / Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94

survivors, but also their adult children and grandchildren. Specif- Second, a “fear to take action” was described as possessing a fear
ically, two superordinate themes were identified as stemming from to oppose, challenge, openly question, speak out against or strive to
the genocide: (i) emotions and inner states, and (ii) trauma-based change the status quo, authority, government, public policy, or
coping strategies. All generations reported that the changes in legislation, thus creating a “passivity” and “slave mentality.” As one
emotion and inner states, combined with adoption of coping stra- third generation female explained, “all of us wish to be alive, only
tegies in the first generation were originally beneficial for survival alive.” First generation participants explained how this fear initially
during the collective trauma of 1932e1933. However, in addition to emerged in relation to resisting. Specifically, resistance to the Soviet
still affecting the survivors, these themes were also reported to be regime during and immediately after the Holodomor often resulted
prevalent in, and affecting the daily lives of, the second and third in targeted death and imprisonment. Conversely, submission was
generations, even though the descendants viewed them as “irra- viewed as a means to potentially secure safety and avoid death. The
tional.” The reported emotions and internal states were horror, fear, second and third generations reported that they “inherited,” via
sadness, shame, anger, stress and anxiety, and low self-worth. The learning, this “fear to take action” from their parents as explained
reported trauma-based coping strategies were stockpiling of food, by one second generation male participant:
extreme reverence for food, overemphasis on food and overeating,
To fight what has been internalized is extremely difficult. Each
inability to discard unwanted items, indifference toward others,
of us has a mechanism in our heads which censures us. This fear.
social hostility and risky health behaviours. A few first and most
This fear does not allow us to be free on the inside. We obtained
second and third generation participants succinctly summarized
independence, however, our inheritance, not what we person-
these emotions-inner states and trauma-based coping strategies as
ally lived through, but rather our parents and grandparents.
living in “survival mode.” Specifically, life was reported to involve a
However, this fear is passed along from generation to genera-
“constant need for survival” and “self-preservation” that precludes
tion. You learn that you should be silent. If you say something,
the ability to “live in the present” and “enjoy life” as explained by
there will be a negative consequence.
one third generation participant:
This reality is something that is passed along from one's parents.
Third, first generation participants spoke of how the targeting of
You constantly find yourself in a situation, in your mind that you
Ukrainians during the Holodomor produced a “fear and mistrust” in
are always in survivor mode. One cannot simply let go and relax.
others, even in fellow Ukrainians. The second and third generations
There are never moments when one can fully enjoy life.
reported that family oral histories of Holodomor-related atrocities,
coupled with the knowledge that Ukrainians were targeted,
contributed to a general fear and mistrust of others that was
3.1. Emotions and inner states responsible for isolation from, and a general suspicion and wariness
of, others.
All first generation participants stated that they related to the Sadness was reported by many of the first and second and most
Holodomor with a sense of horror. One survivor's summation of the third generation participants. The first generation reported
captured this succinctly as being “the most horrible thing that a painful memories as a source of sadness. For example, “So many
person could experience in their life.” In general, survivors attrib- emotions are sorrowful ones, only sorrowful ones” and “from time
uted this sense of horror to watching “parents die before my eyes,” to time, one wants to cry when they remember this” were typical
seeing siblings, relatives and friends forcibly starved to death, the first generation explanations. Sadness stemming from the loss of
“swelling” associated with starvation, “this horror in the streets, all family members was reported by more first generation participants
of these dead bodies,” having everything taken away, watching than the second, who in turn, reported this issue more than the
individuals shot to death, seeing masses of bodies being thrown third. Conversely, more third generation participants reported
“into a hole in the ground,” the eating of corpses and cannibalism. sadness related to the fact that Ukrainians, in general, were tar-
One female survivor recounted: “She [mother of a friend] pulled up geted for genocide, perished, and experienced the Holodomor than
this onion and they killed her for this. They took the onion she had the second, who in turn reported this issue more than the first.
dug up and pushed it into the mouth of her dead body. It was Second and third generation participants also reported a sense of
horrific.” sadness for never having had the opportunity to know antecedent
In narratives similar to the survivor generation, most of the family members, as explained by one female, second generation
second and many of the third generation spoke of horror related to participant:
their family oral histories of forced starvation even of children and My mom had a big family. But only some of them survived. And
how “[they] threw bodies of the dead children into a pile in a hole the same with my dad's family. Only some survived. I never met
in the ground,” “incidences of cannibalism,” how “people simply my grandma who passed away because of a lack of food. And I
swelled up from utter hunger and starvation,” and how parents just know from my dad how wonderful she was, how educated
could not feed their children. One second generation male she was.
conveyed how his mother told him of women who, as they were
dying, still attempted to breastfeed their babies.
Most participants also reported fear as stemming from the Many of the participants reported feeling a sense of ethnic-
genocide; three different kinds of fear were talked about. First, related shame. Coding of this theme included terms such as
many members of all generations similarly noted their “fear of “shame,” “humiliation,” “degradation,” “embarrassment,” “an
another genocide,” in that if the genocide happened once, it could inferior sense of being” and “being made fools of” as a result of the
happen again. For example, one second generation male participant Holodomor being inflicted on Ukrainians. Reports of this shame
noted that “there is always a risk that things could be repeated as increased with each younger generation. Some second generation
they were back then,” while one third generation female partici- men also reported feeling shame as stemming from the notion that
pant said that, “perhaps someone will come into power. Lord never the genocide was utilized as a mechanism to destroy the partici-
let this happen, who will cause us to live through a similar pants' “independent way of life” and turn them into “slaves” of the
Holodomor.” Soviet regime.
B. Bezo, S. Maggi / Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94 91

Of all the reported emotions, anger was the least discussed by generation reported the stockpiling of food supplies as stemming
participants. Six reasons for Holodomor-related anger were re- from the impact of the Holodomor genocide. One first generation
ported by some participants of all generations: (i) anger that the female captured this issue succinctly by noting that “murder by
genocide occurred; (ii) anger toward “those” perpetrators, in terms starvation had such an impact” that it still causes her to “save” and
of “such a rage that they could dare” orchestrate this genocide; (iii) “store” “dry bread,” “sugar,” “flour” in order “to prepare for any
anger associated with the inhumanity of genocide in terms of “how unforeseen situation.” In turn, having been taught statements like
people were judged as being so terrible, humans did this to other “you never know what life will bring next,” in relation to food, the
humans.” (iv) anger over the denial of the Holodomor; (v) anger second and third generations reported how their “mentality” of
related to the genocide's destruction of identity and way of life; and creating stockpiles of surplus foods were learned from parents and
(vi) anger that there has been no justice for the perpetrators. grandparents as protective strategies to defend against future
Only women raised the issues of stress and anxiety and decreased threats. Although the second and third generations emphasized
self-worth as Holodomor-related impacts still affecting their own that “the need to always have a surplus” is not rational, they “still
lives. A few first generation females spoke of anxiety, in terms of cannot allow one's self to live without a surplus” as explained by a
being “nervous and worried,” as a result of surviving the atrocities third generation female:
of the Holodomor. The second generation did not raise this issue.
We once purchased a lot of salt. We had not managed to
However, differing from their grandmothers' reports, some third
consume this salt over a period of years living in our original
generation female participants reported observing their parents'
apartment. We still transported this salt to our new apartment.
and grandparents' perpetual motion in a “survival mode” to influ-
Plain rock salt. Similarly, I remember a surplus of sugar and flour
ence and direct their own “constant regimen of work and activity,”
in sacks in her [great-grandmother's] attic. This surplus was
maintenance of food and other “surpluses,” (as described below in
prepared and stored at regular intervals of frequency. This is yet
the trauma-based coping strategy theme) and the need to always
another example of the consequences. This is what my grand-
strive to do “more.” Further, “this constant need for survival” was
mother did. This is what my mother did.
reported to result in stress and anxiety that affected the ability to
enjoy life, in terms of making time for personal development and
forging stronger interpersonal relationships with friends and A few of the first and many of the second and third generations
family. A third generation female's account illustrates how her also reported that the genocide produced an extreme reverence for
family members' constant motion in “survival mode” affects her food. The first generation reported their life-long reverence as
life: stemming from the safeguarding and confiscation of food during
the forced starvation. In turn, the second and third generations
I believe today that this [survival mode] approach was detri-
explained that they were directly taught by their parents that food
mental to discussion and interaction between family members,
was life-saving and, hence, very valuable during the Holodomor
as there are times when you just want to sit and share-speak and
and, therefore, should never be discarded. One male second gen-
my mother is constantly busy … Similarly, my grandmother is
eration participant captured this learned sentiment with parental
constantly focused on planting her garden, planting potatoes,
statements from his childhood such as “you have to understand
frankly, we are not able to eat all that she grows. It is a constant
that for every little bit of crumb a person could live for another
battle … But, if to take my life example, this provides us with
week” and “if only we had the good fortune of finding a piece of
opportunities to strive for more and to try harder. Because when
bread in the field, and, you on the other hand are scattering your
I see that when my grandmother can barely stand and move and
bread about.” One female third generation participant spoke of the
she continues to do more and more, then I realize that if I have a
realization of this reverence in her life:
pain I simply have to think, well if my grandmother can do ten
times more, then you somehow manage to force yourself to do The Holodomor made this valuing of bread even more extreme.
more despite the moaning … There needs to be time for inter- A piece of bread can save a person from hunger if you eat just a
action with my children as this is something that is lacking for little bit. Then, when I travelled outside of Ukraine, I realized
me. This is something that was lacking for me as a child with my that this is only prevalent in Ukraine. This safeguarding and
parents because they were constantly busy with something. sacredness of bread. Beyond our borders, people can throw
bread away. For me, this was a genuine shock. Then, later I un-
derstood that people who have not experienced such a thing or
All female grandchildren who noted stress and anxiety also
whose ancestors did not survive such an experience, have a
commented on its negative impact on self-worth. Specifically, the
completely different frame of reference.
stress and anxiety of the “survival mode” were noted as being
responsible for feelings of regret and doubt associated with per-
ceptions of not being able to do “more” and the lack of achievement One first, one second and a few third generation participants
in stockpiling (noted in trauma-based coping strategies, below). also expressed an overemphasis on food and overeating as stemming
This regret and doubt periodically extended to other areas in their from a means to compensate for the restricted food access during
lives as perceived “lost opportunities” from never having achieved the Holodomor. One third generation participant referred to this
enough in the past and doubts about ever being able to adequately issue as “the cult of food in our family,” learned and “passed down”
achieve in the realms of employment, personal development and from generation to generation, whereby “primary consideration” is
everyday tasks. In turn, these regrets and doubts were reported to given to food preparation and the notion of “am I providing enough
be responsible for decreases in self-worth. A few female grand- to eat?” As such, “all other needs are not seen as important”
children reported the lowering of self-worth to the point where including “discussion and interaction between family members.”
they referred to themselves as “stupid” or “losers.” This “cult of food” was said to be irrational and her survivor
grandmother's “number one rule” that is maintained by her mother
3.2. Trauma-based coping strategies and now herself as a “consequence of the shock and horror that was
experienced at that time. Something could happen and we could be
A few of the first, some of the second, and many of the third left without food.”
92 B. Bezo, S. Maggi / Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94

Additionally, some second and third generation participants period, coupled with the perceived need for self-preservation and
reported being overweight due to a Holodomor-instilled, fear- “survival” created an increased social hostility. As a result, “people
based, parental pressure for overeating in their childhoods, as became more harsh with one another and would take advantage of
illustrated by a second generation male participant: one another.” In this context, one third generation female partici-
pant reflected:
I feel that my generation, those children who are born to those
people who survived the Holodomor, they are physically larger As you walk the streets in a different country, you do not have
and overfed. This fear that there will be nothing to eat. My the same feeling of survival mode that you feel in Ukraine. In
mother would literally stuff me. I would say, ‘I do not want to Ukraine, this survival mode is felt and exists. And, regardless of
eat.’ She would force me, ‘eat, eat, eat.’ … Our parents, fearful of where you travel, it is always felt among people. I think that one
this reality would stuff our refrigerators and freezers with food. of the consequences is that people are more abrupt as if you are
They would force their children to eat. They would ask, ‘the surviving in a jungle. More biological relationships. You find
sandwich we sent to school with you, did you eat it? Eat it. Eat it. yourself responding more abruptly to certain things, circum-
Eat it.’ This fear, it is not normal. For instance, this is a violation stances that would usually require you to be softer and more
of the natural function of the human body, because to overfeed respectful.
an individual is not proper … I remember that I was never thin.
Despite my not being thin, average weight, I was always being
This social hostility was also reported to have been learned at
forced to eat. This obviously stems from that reality.
the community-society level, by each successive generation, and
was held responsible for witnessed bullying and physical fighting
A few of the third generation participants attributed their “about absolutely nothing” among Ukrainian children as “the
inability to discard an excessive build-up of unwanted and un- young in particular” “do not have trust in each other.”
needed items in their living spaces to the impact of the Holodomor. Some first and second generation participants raised the issue of
These participants reported that, as a response to having lost risky health behaviours, such as alcohol and drug abuse and the
everything during the genocide, their grandparents excessively spread of AIDS, as stemming from the impact of the Holodomor.
saved items with the belief that they will have future value should Specifically, alcohol abuse was reported to have emerged as a coping
another massive calamity occur. This need to save was reported to strategy to lessen stress in the aftermath of genocide. None of the
be learned intergenerationally as explained by a third generation participants reported alcohol abuse in their own lives, but felt the
female: issue warranted being raised. Alcohol abuse was described as a
men's issue. Participants noted that males began using alcohol after
If you were to look at her house, she [grandmother] has a lot of
the Holodomor in an attempt to counter the likelihood of appearing
different stuff that she will never need but she still has it just in
independent and anti-Soviet. In this context, any appearance of
case. Because she did not have before, so just in case. It is her life
independence, good health, strength, and anti-Soviet sentiment
motto now. In our attic, it is overwhelmed with, sometimes,
was used by the regime as a pretext to execute men. Therefore, as a
with strange things. Because she is collecting everything. She
survival and coping strategy, the appearance of isolation, poor
cannot force herself to throw something away … It is even true
health, and weakness was more advantageous. This weakness was
for my parents' generation. I can see it … I notice that, for me it is
then learned and reinforced by each successive generation of men
not always easy to get rid of old stuff … I will find one hundred
and still persists because “it is easy to be weak,” “very passive” and
ways to not throw it away.
“just abuse alcohol.” This learned passivity was also posited to be
the root cause of ambivalence toward risky health behaviours that
Most participants, of all generations, reported that the extreme leads to the contraction of AIDS and drug abuse where “the young
conditions during the genocide forced individuals to focus greater generation still suffers from the impact of the past [Holodomor].”
emphasis on the struggle for personal and familial survival as
opposed to the survival or struggle of others. Hence, an indifference 4. Discussion
toward others emerged, that was reported not as an intrinsic self-
ishness, but rather the result of the perceived need for self- For this study, narratives of grandparents and their adult chil-
preservation that emerged during the Holodomor, as explained dren and grandchildren were analyzed to obtain a three generation
by one first generation survivor: perspective on survivor families' perceptions of the Holodomor and
People were pushed to the brink where there was nowhere else its intergenerational impact. The findings suggest that the genocide
to turn and nothing else to do … She [childhood friend] jumped still exerts an impact on survivors and their adult children and
out into the street and said, ‘my mother died.’ And, they grandchildren, even decades later. All generations spoke of the
responded, ‘we may die along this roadway. And so what if she intergenerational genocidal impact in terms of what we identified
died?’ You see this is what it did to people. They were not even as two superordinate themes: (i) emotions and inner states, and (ii)
able to grasp the situation of a young child left without family. trauma-based coping strategies.
Some aspects of these themes are consistent with the results of
previous studies in this field, while others are novel. In terms of
Second and third generation participants also reported that this emotions and inner states, this study's findings of fear of another
indifference toward others still affects their generations and is genocide, fear and mistrust of others, sadness, shame, and anger have
responsible for Ukrainians being “less generous and caring,” whereby been previously reported in studies of survivor families of the
individuals in communities and society are not concerned with each Holocaust (Rowland-Klein and Dunlop, 1997; Iliceto et al., 2011),
other's well-being and “no one is concerned with helping one the Armenian genocide (Karenian et al., 2010) and/or the WWII
another.” The indifference was noted to have been learned by each internment of Japanese-Americans (Nagata, 1993). However, novel
successive generation in their community-societal environments. to this study were the reported intergenerational emotions and
A few third generation participants reported that the break- inner states of horror, fear to take action, stress and anxiety, and
down of amiable, interpersonal relationships during the genocidal decreased self-worth. Also, unique to this study is its findings of
B. Bezo, S. Maggi / Social Science & Medicine 134 (2015) 87e94 93

trauma-based behaviours that persist into the second and third trajectory differing from their counterparts in modern-day Ukraine.
generations and include stockpiling of food, extreme reverence for For those that remained in Ukraine, future study might determine
food, overemphasis on food and overeating, inability to discard un- whether the “survival mode” strategy is maladaptive or beneficial,
wanted and unneeded items, indifference toward others, increased given the continued acts, post-Holodomor, against Ukraine.
social hostility, and risky health behaviours including alcohol and
drug abuse, and increased HIV/AIDS. 5. Conclusion
Participants from all generations summarized the “survival
mode” emotions and internal states, and trauma-based coping Our results give credence to the notion that a distinction needs
strategies as being part of a perpetual need for self-preservation or to be made between individual and collective traumas, in terms of
coping with the long-term impacts of genocide. In this sense, definition and healing. Specifically, trauma afflicted on the indi-
participant descriptions are congruent with Chemtob et al. (1997) vidual has achieved clinical and political recognition via construc-
conceptualization of trauma survivors' “survival mode of func- tion of posttraumatic stress disorder that emphasizes an ahistorical
tioning” (p. 22) as a means of self-preservation, characterized by perspective (Crawford, 2013). However, our results suggest that
the perceived presence or expectancy of external life-threatening collective trauma and its intergenerational transmission affects not
situations. However, the second and third generations of this only the individual, but also the family and community-society, and
study, who never experienced the Holodomor, also emphasized retains a historical perspective. One poignant example of the latter
their continual need for survival as stemming from the trans- is that even almost eight decades later, the second and third gen-
generational impact of trauma inflicted by this genocide. In terms of erations continue to use coping strategies like stockpiling of food, a
gender differences, intergenerational alcohol abuse was reported as behaviour that originally emerged in survivors faced with geno-
a male issue, while anxiety and self-worth were noted as female cidal starvation in 1932e33. Thus, given the more complex nature
ones. Our results are consistent with the literature that suggests of collective trauma, our results suggest its study and healing
male and female trauma survivors, respectively, are more likely to require multi-level frameworks that include the individual, the
engage in externalizing (Chandy et al., 1996; Hamburger et al., family system, and the greater community. Lastly, our findings
2008) and internalizing behaviours (Chandy et al., 1996; Ghafoori resonate with Hirsch's (2008) concept of “postmemory” (p. 106),
et al., 2013). However, our results suggest that these latter issues, whereby the communication of knowledge and oral accounts be-
stemming from collective trauma, also persist into the second and tween generations, whether verifiable by independent sources as
third generations. Participant reports of risky health behaviours and fact or lore, constitute memories in their own right that operate in
social hostility might at least partially provide an explanatory the present and impact descendants.
framework, from the participants' perspectives, for cross-national
data of mostly northern hemisphere countries showing that Acknowledgements
Ukraine has the highest youth (World Health Organization [WHO],
2008) and adult (Bezo et al., 2012) alcohol use. Comparatively in This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities
Europe, Ukraine also has a high prevalence of HIV (UN, 2010) and Research Council of Canada's (doctoral fellowship) reference
physical fighting in adolescents (WHO, 2008). number: 752-2013-2539, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Pro-
Previous studies have shown the family as the vehicle for gram and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the Uni-
trauma transmission. However, our findings suggest that the versity of Alberta.
mechanism for transmission e at least in the Ukrainian context -
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