Raised on fear and depression, children of Holocaust survivors say the Nazi terror has crossed generations, and want the German government to pay for their psychiatric care.
On Monday, Israelis who call themselves second generation survivors are filing a class action suit in a Tel Aviv court against the German government to finance therapy.
Thousands of people from Holocaust families are incapable of working, live with an irrational fear of starvation and suffer incapacitating bouts of depression, said Baruch Mazor, the director of the Fisher Fund which is filing the suit.
Mazor said 4 to 5 percent of the 400,000 children of survivors in Israel require treatment. Since many cannot hold steady jobs, they cannot pay for their own treatment, and aid from the Israeli government and health insurance has been inadequate, he said.
The suit seeks to set up a German-financed fund to pay for biweekly therapy sessions for 15,000 to 20,000 people, or about US$10 million (€7.3 million) annually for three years.
It was unclear what standing the Israeli court would have in a damages case against a foreign country.
Mazor said the Tel Aviv suit was a first step aimed at winning recognition that Germany should bear responsibility for the suffering of survivors' children. Armed with that ruling, the plaintiffs would try to negotiate a settlement, or would take their case to a German or an international court, he said.
Since the 1950s, Germany has paid more than US$60 billion (€44 billion) in reparations to concentration camp survivors, families of the some of the 6 million Jewish victims, and to the state of Israel. Much of that money went to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a New York-based organization that negotiates with Germany and distributes the payments.
Mazor said money handled by the Claims Conference is earmarked for survivors, and their children did not want to detract from those funds.
Instead, they wanted "recognition and responsibility of the German government" for their problems, he said.
The German Foreign Ministry declined comment.
But Germany was likely to see the suit as opening an indefinite channel for future claims, just as the generation that lived through the Holocaust was reaching its end.
The suit claims the second generation grew up "in the shadow of depression, grief and guilt of their parents, which created a powerful inclination among the children for paid and suffering."
Children had a "twisted relationship with their parents" that impeded their development and led to severe psychological problems, the suit claims.
One 58-year-old woman told her story to Israel Radio Sunday, saying the fear of starvation experienced by her parents in Auschwitz, where inmates prized any crust of bread they could obtain, had been passed on to her.
"I have and had obsession over food, especially bread," said the woman. "If you come to my house and open the freezer, loaves of bread fall on you, without any proportion to what I really need."
She declined to disclose her name, but Mazor said she spoke for thousands.
She had no childhood, she said, but felt as if she jumped directly into adolescence. "In our house it was forbidden to exhibit pain or say that you are sad. My father taught us not to show people how we feel, that it is forbidden to show people you are hurt, or that things are hard for you. And this was very, very hard," said the woman.
The feeling conveyed by her father was: "I went through hell, and what you are going through is nothing."
Others of the second generation say they cannot ride buses because it reminds them of the transports their parents took to the concentration camps, or they fear dogs because they were used by the Nazis to control crowds.
Mazor said the Fisher Fund, a charity representing the second generation, held lengthy negotiations with the German Embassy over the compensation claims, but the talks were cut off by the Germans.