Holocaust is a tragic event where Nazi Germany wiped out over six million European Jews. The genocide took place during World War II. Trauma can be defined as a type of harm caused to the mind by an occurrence of a distressing event. It results from an overwhelming magnitude of stress that goes beyond a person's ability to cope with the happenings. In this regard, they are not able to incorporate the emotions involved with the experience. In a study of the Holocaust, it is evident that the victims of war were left with significant trauma that did not only affect them but also their offspring's and the generations from this lineage. Controversies have risen on whether stress can be passed down from one person to another through the genes. Some scholars argue that it is possible to pass down genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by parents to their children and their lineage. It is a clear explanation that the experiences of an individual can be passed down to his or her generation. Rachel Yehuda from Icahn School of medicine and a professor of psychiatry and trauma stress studies explores the concept of trauma being passed down to generations by the Holocaust survivors. In her investigation, Yehuda sampled out 32 men and women who had either witnessed or experienced torture in the Holocaust or were interned in the camps. The study became a confirmation that the gene changes in children could be attributed to the exposure of the Holocaust on their parents. The paper will, therefore, critically examine the Study of Holocaust survivors to establish whether trauma passed on to children's genes.
Holocaust survivors studies indicate that trauma was passed down to children genes. The occurrence was made possible through the epigenetic inheritance. The theory of epigenetic inheritance explains that environmental factors can affect the genes of children, and in this case, the alteration in genes can be passed down from one generation to another. It further explains that the type of inheritance affects the genes of children without the change of the primary structure of DNA. Epigenetic inheritance can take place cell to cell or organism to organism. Epigenetic inheritance and variation can take place in four ways. Firstly in sexually reproductive plants, it takes place through removal and retention where some are taken away, and others remain. It can also take place in mammals through the first phases of their life cycle and this immediately after fertilization and during the development of primordial germ cells. Human beings, therefore, fall under this category of sexually reproductive organisms and also mammals implying that epigenetic inheritance is possible. In the Holocaust genocide, the trauma could have been passed down from the victims and witnesses to their children and subsequent generations.
The parents and young children who experience the horror developed traumatic stress, and they passed through reproduction as explained in the epigenetic inheritance process. Yehuda explains the concept through a study done on the genes of 32 Jewish men and women and 22 children born of the Holocaust survivors. She explains that children who were born of Holocaust survivors tend to experience more post-traumatic stress disorders because they inherited the genes from their parents who were victims or witnessed of the Holocaust. Previous studies also explain that children tend to develop PTSD if their parents had the same issue. From the in-depth analysis that Yehuda's team did it is evident that trauma can be passed down from one generation to another. The gene changes in children can be attributed to the experience of their parents during the holocaust incidence. Yehuda explains that through epigenetic inheritance, environmental impacts can affect the genes of the unborn children and the generations to follow. She states "the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet, and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren"(Hellen, 2)
Yehuda and her research team explain that traumatic involvements affect the DNA in the forms that can be passed down from one generation to another. An aspect that she explains resemble the little scars. In this regard, the children who were born of the Holocaust survivors got the affected genes, which made them have the PTSD in the form of genetic inheritance from their parents. She further explains that genes can be altered to obtain desired traits, and this can also happen involuntarily; for instance, characters are passed down from parents to children as a result of environmental factors existing at the moment. She does not stop at the Holocaust victims, but she also enriches her studies by using another similar example of the 9/11 attacks on expectant mothers. Yehuda argues that children born of parents who have experienced a traumatic incidence tend to develop trauma because of the inheritance they get from their parents, the author explains that when something cataclysmic happens to a person they no longer remain the same but instead change, and she argues that it can better be explained through epigenetic theory.
According to her research, epigenetics enables the genes to be turned on and off portrayed differently by the influences of the surrounding occurrences and behave or. Yehuda explains that there two ways that one can transmit something to another person biologically. She states, "So let's say a change has been made onto your DNA - an epigenetic mark now sits on a promoter region of your gene, for example. And through the magic of meiosis, that mark gets transmitted through the act of reproduction. The cell divides, there's reproduction and the change sticks, and it's present in the next generation."(Yehuda, 13). She explains that another way of transmitting a trait or something form a parent to the child is through conception or after they have been born and they are forced to adapt to changes in their immediate environment.
In her study done on the participants who were Holocaust survivors together with the children born by survivors of the incidence, it is evident that trauma and stress can be passed down from one generation to another. She explains that when a clinic was established at Mount Sinai to serve the Holocaust survivors, Yehuda states that the children called more often to express the suffering they were going through seeing their parents experience PTSD. The scholar adds that among the group of participants were adults in their 30s, 40, and 50s and were also parents but still have the stress of what they witnessed their parents go through. She explains that from the research they found out that Holocaust victims were three times vulnerable to trauma than those who were not victims when they are exposed to a traumatizing event. The study also revealed that holocaust offspring also depicted the traumatic experiences but with a bit of resilience. She states that "Holocaust offspring had the same neuroendocrine or hormonal abnormalities that we were viewing in Holocaust survivors and persons with post-traumatic stress disorder. And later on, we refined that even more, so that we realized that the specific risk for certain things, like post-traumatic stress disorder..." (Yehuda, 15). The results from her studies depict that trauma can be passed down from one generation to another and therefore, found in children's genes. In affirming her argument of passing down of injury from parents to children and subsequent generations, Yehuda explains the case of the 9/11 pregnant mothers. She compares the incident with that of the Holocaust, stating that most children born by victims or witnessed of this incident had the same symptoms depicted by the Holocaust survivors or offspring.
On the contrary scientific research explains that the only way to transmit vital information is through genes carried by DNA. Yehuda argues that genes are modified by the environmental factors that people encounter in their day to day lives. She explains that the process of modification takes place with the help of tags that attach themselves to the DNA and as a result, the switch the genes on and off. The cards are then transmitted to generations implying that children can have the effect of their parent's environmental changes. Yehuda argues that there is one particular gene which shapes how people respond to trauma. She did this by comparing the children who controlled experiment to those born of the Holocaust survivors, and she established that those born of the victim parents had the epigenetic tag while those from the control group did not have such cards. Another affirmation that trauma can be passed to children genes is that even those of the next generation of Holocaust victims had the epigenetic tag implying that the trauma gene could be passed down from one generation to another. She explains "To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans," (article, 6). The explanation is, therefore, sufficient that trauma genes can be passed to children from their parents.
Although it is not clear how tags can be passed down through sperm and egg because during fertilization a cleaning process takes place, Azim Surani demystifies the issue by explaining that during the cleaning process there are tags that escape and this justifies the issue of epigenetic inheritance. She sums up her argument by explaining that whether there is switching on and off of the gene, it still has a great influence in passing down the stress hormone to the child.
In conclusion, it is essential to note that the study of Holocaust survivors confirms the passing down of trauma genes to children. From the research done by Yehuda and her team using 32 adults and 22 children, it is evident trauma genes were transferred to children from parents. It is through the epigenetic tags that the trauma genes are transmitted. Through the genes in the DNA, modification is possible, and the genes can be changed to adapt to the current state of the environment. Research indicates that it is possible to pass down genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by parents to their children and their lineage. It is a clear explanation that the experiences of an individual can be passed down to his or her generation. Rachel Yehuda from Icahn School of medicine and a professor of psychiatry and trauma stress studies explores the concept of trauma being passed down to generations by the Holocaust survivors. The children who were used as a control experiment never had any epigenetic tags while those born of the Holocaust survivors had the tickets implying that they had gotten them from their parents. According to her research, epigenetics enables the genes to be turned on and off portrayed differently by the influences of the surrounding occurrences and behavior. It is, therefore, possible to pass trauma to children genes as shown through the holocaust case study.
Thomas, Helen. Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/21/study-of-holocaust-survivors-finds-trauma-passed-on-to-childrens-genes
Thomson, Helen. "Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes." The Guardian 21 (2015).
Tippet. Krista. How Trauma and Resilience Cross Generations retrieved from https://onbeing.org/programs/rachel-yehuda-how-trauma-and-resilience-cross-generations-nov2017/
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