Survivor guilt: A critical review from the lens of the Holocaust

Samuel Juni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Survivor guilt is a construct which is ill defined in the literature. Disparate overlapping and inconsistent formulations are outlined and critiqued from the orientation of reactions of Jewish Holocaust victims. Utilizing the perspective of Defense Mechanism Theory, guilt is explored as an adaptive construct of mastery and survival in extreme conditions. Aspects of culpability in guilt are examined. Brief quotes from survivor narratives are presented to elaborate nuances of guilt experiences. Defensive strategies which coincide with exposure to violence and suffering of others and where there is no overt personal threat experienced by the ‘survivor’ are highlighted. A framework is proposed synthesizing the various motifs, bridging emotions ranging from self-recrimination to traumatic anxiety. The assumptions that survivor guilt is engendered by survival and that it entails feelings of guilt are both challenged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-337
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Review of Victimology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Holocaust
  • Survivor guilt
  • defense mechanisms
  • victimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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