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    Little is ever said about survivors for whom mental illness is part of the Holocaust's legacy. For many of those at Israel’s Shaar Menas he Mental Health Center, the nightmare never ended.

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    Holocaust never ends for mentally ill survivors

    By Aron Heller, The Associated Press

    PARDES HANNA, Israel - Some patients refuse to shower because it reminds them of the gas chambers. Others hoard meat in pillow cases because they fear going hungry.

    At the Shaar Menashe Mental Health Center in northern Israel, it's as though the Holocaust never ended.

    On Sunday night Israel begins its annual 24-hour commemoration of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, and next month sees the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

    But little is ever said about the survivors for whom mental illness is part of the Holocaust's legacy.


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    (STORY CONT) There, patients remain frozen in time. Even today, 65 years after the end of World War II, there are sometimes screams of "The Nazis are coming!"




    IN THIS PICTURE: Michael Antushewicz, who was born in Belarus in 1940, survived the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel in 1966 and has been hospitalized for decades at Shaar Menashe Mental Health Center.

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    (STORY CONT) Today about 220,000 survivors are still alive in Israel. About 200 are in Shaar Menashe and the other two homes.

    "These are the forgotten people. These are the ones who have been left behind, the people who have fallen between the cracks," said Rachel Tiram, the facility's longtime social worker.

    Even among survivors with sanity intact, it can take decades to open up about their experiences. Here, most of the patients still won't speak. They are introverted and unresponsive. They mumble and shake uncontrollably, slump in front of blank TV screens and look aimlessly into the distance while sucking hard on cigarettes.

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    (STORY CONT) For many patients, the details of their haunted pasts are sketchy and emerge only from hints in their behavior.




    IN THIS PICTURE: Arieh Bleier, 87, survived a concentration camp in Austria. His parents and brother were murdered in Auschwitz. In Israel, he has been hospitalized for decades at Shaar Menashe, traumatized by his Holocaust experiences. When asked about World War II, he looked away and shook his head.

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    (STORY CONT) For most of these survivors, reminiscing is impossible.

    "It's hard to talk about it, very hard," said Devora Amiel, 78 and toothless, her speech slurred by a tongue puffed up from medication. She escaped a Polish ghetto, was taken in by a Christian family, and later grew up in an orphanage. She never found out what happened to her family.

    "After you go through it, it's hard to tell," she said. "You can only scream about it."

    Here, a survivor sits in a wheelchair in the yard of Shaar Menashe.

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    (STORY CONT) Most survivors in Israel went on to live productive lives, and their ranks include politicians, authors and Nobel Prize laureates. But for decades after becoming a state, Israel tended to look for role models among the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising rather than Jews meekly filing into cattle cars and gas chambers.




    IN THIS PICTURE: Roland Finklestein was born in France in 1931. He survived the war in Paris, but has no recollection of it. He immigrated to Israel in 1949 and has been hospitalized for decades.

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    (STORY CONT) Alexander Grinshpoon, director of Shaar Menashe, said most patients have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and their stories are often unreliable. One man says he was a fighter pilot during World War II, another says he's a ninja. A third is convinced he's an Arab and says he hates Jews. One thinks she is still in Europe and is shocked to see an elderly woman in the mirror.




    IN THIS PICTURE: A Holocaust survivor covers his head with a shirt as he sits in a wheelchair at Shaar Menashe.

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    (STORY CONT) Some Holocaust survivors have lived in mental institutions since their liberation, while others developed mental illness late in life.




    IN THIS PICTURE: Sarah Kaplan smokes in the yard of Shaar Menashe.

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    (STORY CONT) Alexander Grinshpoon, director of Shaar Menashe, said all survivors have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. But the roughly 80 in his care are men and women who could not overcome their wartime traumas, perhaps because their suffering was so profound, or because they were predisposed to mental illness — or maybe because their minds simply crashed under the weight of their experiences.

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    (STORY CONT) Rachel Tiram, Shaar Menashe's social worker, said one elderly patient constantly fears the police are coming for her.

    "This is something that really happened to her. It's not something that she is making up," Tiram said. "Each time they go to sleep, they go back to the Holocaust, to reliving their childhood."

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    (STORY CONT) Eighty percent of Holocaust survivors have trouble sleeping and two-thirds suffer from emotional distress, according to a survey commissioned by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.

    Zeev Factor, the foundation's chairman, is an Auschwitz survivor. He says he has been able to maintain his sanity by focusing on the present but still suffers in his dreams. "I sometimes wake up from them covered in sweat from head to toe," he said.

    It's not uncommon for mental patients anywhere to believe the world is coming to an end. But for these patients whose world really did come apart, paranoia is well-founded.

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    (STORY CONT) At the hospital, patients are not required to wear pajamas, which remind some of the concentration camp inmates' uniforms. They have lawns, arts and crafts lessons and a workshops with pets. Some have developed hobbies, cultivated friendships and even reconnected with children and grandchildren. Many of the volunteers working here are survivors themselves.




    IN THIS PICTURE: A Holocaust survivor sits in the yard of the Shaar Menashe.

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    (STORY CONT) Alexander Grinshpoon, director of Shaar Menashe, said research has shown that those who have experienced emotional trauma are five times more likely to develop serious mental illnesses. Holocaust survivors, he said, have a higher rate of suicide.




    IN THIS PICTURE: Avraham Meuchas was born in Bulgaria in 1935, immigrated to Israel in 1948 and has been hospitalized for decades.

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    For many, even from the safety of the center, the shadow of death camps, crematoria, deportations and gas chambers is never far away, said Factor, the chair of the foundation. "They live in this world and in that world at the same time," Factor said.




    IN THIS PICTURE: Holocaust survivors sit in wheelchairs at the Shaar Menashe Mental Health Center for Holocaust survivors in northern Israel.

    AP / AP