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Male Holocaust Survivors May Live Longer Than Prewar Jewish Emigrants

Study looked at Polish people who went to Israel around World War II

FRIDAY, Aug. 2, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Male Holocaust survivors from Poland have a longer life expectancy than Jewish men in the same age group who left Poland before the start of World War II, a new study finds.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 55,000 Jewish men and women who were aged 4 to 20 in 1939. They compared those who immigrated from Poland to Israel between 1945 and 1950 and those who did so before the war started in 1939.

Overall, life expectancy was 6.5 months longer among those who survived the Holocaust than among those who left Poland before the war. However, further analysis revealed little difference between women in the two groups. The difference in men was significant, with Holocaust survivors living an average of 14 months longer.

The older the surviving men were at the time of the Holocausts, the bigger the difference between them and those who left Poland before the war, according to the study recently published in the journal PLoS One.

"Men who were 10-15 years old during the war and in their early adolescence had a 10 month longer life-expectancy compared to the comparison group. Men who lived through the Holocaust when they were 16-20, had an even bigger difference in life-expectancy, 18 months longer than their peers with no Holocaust experience," study leader Avi Sagi-Schwartz, head of the Center for the Study of Child Development at the University of Haifa in Israel, said in a university news release.

The researchers said that one possible explanation for their findings is that the extreme physical and mental trauma experienced by the Holocaust survivors may have spurred them to develop personal and interpersonal skills, gain new insights and find a deeper meaning to life. All of these things could have contributed to their longevity.

"The results of this research give us hope and teach us quite a bit about the resilience of the human spirit when faced with brutal and traumatic events," Sagi-Schwartz said.

Previous research has shown that traumatic experiences may shorten life expectancy, the release pointed out.

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SOURCE: University of Haifa, news release, July 31, 2013
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