Often when I complain to my therapist about how stressed out I am by a problem I’m having, she says a variation on the same thing:
“Well, like all Ashkenazi Jews, you have a lot of intergenerational trauma. You know, because of everything that’s ... happened.”
Of course you’re anxious, she seems to say; you’re Jewish! I think it’s meant to help me feel more at peace with my emotions, but I must admit I find this response deeply unsatisfying.
I am, of course, grateful that my life is easier than the lives of my relatives—Jewish and otherwise—who survived World War II. At the same time, I can’t do anything about the fact that the Holocaust happened, so I don’t want to spend time thinking about its effects on my cortisol levels. I can, however, write the perfect email to get myself out of a scrape, or find a way to stop thinking about why I didn’t get some plaudit or another.
“The Jews have nothing to do with it!” I always want to say in response, as though I’m debunking some George Soros–related conspiracy.
But a growing body of evidence suggests my therapist might be right and I’m wrong.
The most recent chapter is a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week by researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research. They found that the sons of Union Army soldiers who endured grueling conditions as prisoners of war were more likely to die young than the sons of soldiers who were not prisoners. This is despite the fact that the sons were born after the war, so they couldn’t have experienced its horrors personally. In other words, it seemed like the stresses of war were getting passed down between generations.