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Survivors’ guilt

Posted April. 22, 2014 02:53,   


A German officer forces Sophie to choose to save either her son or her daughter on her way to Auschwitz. He says he would send both of them to the gas chamber otherwise. Sophie sends her daughter to the gas chamber. After the World War II, she moves to the United States and gets close to a Jewish biologist. When he loses temper, he swears at her saying how she could return alive from the Auschwitz concentration camp. “Sophie’s Choice,” a 1982 movie starring Meryl Streep based on William Styron’s namesake novel, depicts the tragic life of a woman who blames herself and suffers in pain after surviving horrible conditions.

Experts who treated the survivors of the Holocaust in the 1960s learned that the survivors tend to blame themselves. Similar symptoms have been found among the survivors of wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and large accidents, and even rescue workers and medical staff. They felt guilty about surviving alone while others died and being helpless about the situation, and suffered a depression, nightmare, and social phobia. This is namely “survivor’s guilt.”

The soldiers who survived the sinking of the naval corvette Cheonan in March 2010 were not exceptions. Thirty nine surviving soldiers who were discharged from the hospital met with 59 bereaved family members at the Navy’s second fleet command on April 8. The family members embraced the survivors as if they were their sons and thanked them for coming back alive. Their own sons did not come back but tried to take consolation from their sons’ fellow soldiers.

A large number of the 174 survivors of the Sewol ferry disaster are said to have been traumatized. The vice principal who committed suicide after being rescued must have blamed himself for losing his students. The survivors need counseling sessions and therapy. It is sad to think about those who are missing but those who miraculously survived deserve encouragement.

Editorial Writer Han Ki-heung (eligius@donga.com)