"Survivor guilt" is the term used to describe the feelings of those who, fortunately, emerge from a disaster which mortally engulfs others. On an irrational level, these individuals wince at their privileged escape from death's clutches. From a psychodynamic viewpoint, the Holocaust survivor's guilt may reflect constraints against the expression of rage toward the perpetrators of his misfortune, toward the Nazis and their collaborators, and toward parents who failed to provide protection from those torturous events. Instead of expressing rage outwardly, the survivor turns it upon himself. Guilt is the embodiment of anger directed toward the self.
Survivor guilt may also motivate an individual to bear witness and to remember those who were murdered. The call to memory which many survivors answer has the salutary effect of educating others about the Holocaust and ensuring its victims are commemorated. However, survivor guilt also has the potential to compel an individual to remain mired in his past, to the relative exclusion of his present or future. Guilt is the penance one pays for the gift of survival.