Henry Krystal

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 01 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6470
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Holocaust survivor who became a pioneer of trauma therapy and leading expert on “survivor guilt”

On 22 April 1945, in the final days of the second world war, Henry Krystal began his last “death march.” It was his 20th birthday. He and other slave labourers were leaving the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen, moving westward with retreating German soldiers as Soviet soldiers advanced from the east. During the previous three years of the Holocaust, Krystal had been a slave labourer at half a dozen Nazi concentration camps and factories.

On this, his last march as a camp inmate, he was so “run down” he did not know “exactly what was happening,” he recalled a half century later.1 2 His legs were swelling, which he knew was a sign of “being very near to death”—by starvation. On the march, he was smacked in the head by a German soldier’s rifle butt. His knew that his mother was dead and most likely also his father and brother. Most of his aunts and uncles and cousins were dead. He realised that if he did die nobody would know and nobody would miss him.

But Krystal did not die then and he went on to live a long and successful life—as a survivor.

On the march from Sachsenhausen, he recalled that “suddenly one morning, I realised I was liberated as the Germans had fled during the night.” But liberation did not evoke joy. “I don’t recall any celebration,” he said. “Just a struggle for continuing survival.” He felt numb, a feeling that he would experience “for a long time” over the years during stressful or happy …

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