Holocaust survivors live seven years longer on average than other Jewish people in Israel who did not experience the horrors of the Nazi genocide – thanks to their DNA.
In a new study, scientists say survivors may have been genetically more resilient to the severe hardships they endured at the hands of the Germans.
This ‘cruel Darwinistic selection’ – combined with a heightened awareness of their own well-being – has increased their life expectancy beyond that of Israeli Jews who were not caught up in the 20th-century extermination of their people, they claim.
The abominable treatment survivors experienced may have also improved their mental and physical toughness, experts say, and made them more health conscious.
The study of around 83,000 Jewish men and women living in Israel found mortality rates are around 16 per cent lower for those who were not imprisoned.
A combination of these factors has culminated in a life expectancy of 84.8 years of age for survivors.
This is considerably higher than the average lifespan of Israeli Jews who did not live through the holocaust – which is 77.7 years on average.
But the remarkable endurance of these people is made more astonishing by the fact they are also more likely to suffer with hypertension (16 per cent), kidney disease (11 per cent) and dementia (seven per cent).
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Holocaust survivors live seven years longer on average than other Jewish people in Israel who did not experience the horrors of the Nazi genocide. Pictured is Belzec’s Nazi death camp, one of three used for gas chamber slaughter (file photo)
The study compared more than 38,000 Holocaust survivors born in Europe and nearly 35,000 Israelis all born between 1911 and 1945.
Both groups were insured by Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel, providing the team with extensive health data, gathered between 1998 and 2017.
‘Obviously, survivors have higher resilience, both physical and probably also mental, than those who did not manage to survive,’ corresponding author Dr Gideon Koren, of Maccabi Healthcare Services, Tel Aviv told MailOnline.
‘This research can explain the favourable life expectancy in Israel: As a large proportion of Israelis are survivors and their children, it is a cruel Darwinistic selection that caused them to live longer.’
He added: ‘The findings suggest although Holocaust survivors may experience more illnesses, the mortality in the group may be lower.
‘This may be associated with the improved health literacy and unique resilience characteristics among Holocaust survivors.
‘There is a broad understanding that a genocide experience sustained for five years would have serious consequences on the psychologic and physical well-being of individuals because of psychosocial trauma, post traumatic injury, poor hygiene, prolonged malnutrition, and suboptimal preventive means.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?
The Holocaust was the systematic murder of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War.
For the first time in history, industrial methods were used for the mass extermination of a whole people.
Between 1933 and 1945, Jews were targeted for discrimination, segregation and extermination.
On coming to power in 1933, the Nazis began to actively persecute the Jews of Germany with the introduction of discriminatory legislation accompanied by vicious antisemitic propaganda.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the process escalated and Jews throughout Nazi-controlled Europe came under the threat of death.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 was accompanied by the mass shootings of Jews by mobile killing squads – Einsatzgruppen – made up of Nazis and local collaborators.
In 1942, following the Wannsee Conference of senior Nazi officials, the Nazis began the methodical deportation and extermination of Europe’s Jews.
Trains transported them from ghettos and other holding centres to extermination or labour camps, where they were gassed, shot or worked to death.
The Nazis enslaved and murdered millions of others as well.
Political opponents, Roma and Sinti gypsies, homosexuals, prisoners of conscience, people with physical and mental disabilities, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and others were killed or died in camps as a result of neglect, starvation or disease.
Source: Imperial War Museum
But a recent much smaller study of nearly 500 people found Holocaust survivors selected ‘maintaining good health’ as a coping strategy.
This leads to them being more likely to participate in medical screening – for cancer and heart disease for example – and be diagnosed and treated earlier, the scientists say.
Dr Koren said: ‘There may be other factors among Holocaust survivors that have not been appropriately quantified but that may be associated with improved ability to survive.
In a new study, scientists say this may be because Holocaust survivors were genetically more resilient to the severe hardships they endured than at the hands of the Germans as well as being given a heightened awareness of their own well-being, due to the experiences. Pictured, train lines are laid outside the Treblinka death camp
‘It can be argued that the subgroup that survived the extreme conditions… had coping abilities that rendered them more resilient to illnesses.
‘It is conceivable that the stress response among Holocaust survivors is different so that these survivors are less sensitive to the consequences of some illnesses.’
Dr Koren added: ‘Resilience is commonly defined as adaptive characteristics of individuals to cope with and recover from adversity.
‘Psychosocial determinants promoting resilience include optimism, cognitive flexibility, active coping skills, maintaining a supportive social network, attending to personal physical wellbeing and embracing a personal moral compass.
The findings could also have implications for the long term health of the children of Holocaust survivors – thanks to the genes of their parents.