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A Holocaust Survivor’s Story of Resilience (and Skillfulness)

The tension had been brewing to a boiling point the day the Nazis came to collect young Elizabeth and her older sister. Dressed and packed with their best things, the trip began almost as an adventurous escape from the abusive constraints of their dictatorial father. Little did Elizabeth know, this was the beginning of the long road of resilience.

Today, at 90 years old, Tati, as her loved ones call her, has survived three dictators: her father, Hitler, and Fidel Castro. She is an icon of resilience!

Why do some of us thrive in the face of stress, and others struggle? How might we promote resilience in ourselves and those we love? These are the questions I have sought to answer as a Clinical Psychologist.

So I asked Tati to talk to me about resilience and her own skillfulness in the face of the many stressors in her life.

Resilience is Coping Everyday

For Tati, resilience came from coping everyday. Growing up in an abusive family environment, she learned early that she could not let herself fall apart. She set about making herself useful by helping with tasks, like managing the family budget, to ensure her survival.

The Wisdom: Those who know and love Tati, know she is more like a Castle Person when it comes to coping with stress. When the environment is not safe, we all need effective defenses to keep going. Sometimes, being tough is the best thing you can do to survive! At 90, Tati continues to stay busy, making brownies and cooking for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Resilience is Being Courageous

Tati watched the mistakes of her sister and learned to be courageous. She did not allow fear to prevent her from promoting herself to the Nazis to work in the kitchen. Once there, she could collect small bits of food to redistribute them as she could!

The Wisdom: Tati had a natural ability to use her assertiveness skills rather than a more passive ‘hope for the best’ approach. Sometimes we have to be brave and risk failure to get our needs met. Tati has what we call an internal locus of control. If she wants something, she goes out and gets it!

Resilience is Accepting that Life is Difficult

But Tati’s underlying wisdom has come from her acceptance that life is difficult. She frequently expresses surprise that others consider her resilience to be different, or special in some way. “Of course, it’s not easy, life!” she says. “But you can make it easier on yourself.”

Tati describes one day in the camps, when she stumbled upon an old fountain in a square near her area of the camp. The fountain no longer worked, of course, but “it was nice to look at.” “I refused already then to forget to search for the positive.”

The Wisdom. Tati can be an inspiration to all of us to accept reality on reality’s terms and do what we can to build our resilience. If we begin with the assumption that life is difficult, we are in a position to make it better. This means doing the hard work of self-care and skillfulness.

Tati continues to foster her resilience with regular walks and yoga. She maintains her engagement with her loved ones, and keeps her mind sharp by reading and staying current with the news.

Resilience is Honoring Loss with Your Feelings

But Tati is not all bravery and acceptance of the difficult. In intimate moments she will tell you that she has never ‘gotten used to’ the losses. Few of us have been faced with as much loss as Tati. The list of relatives and loved ones in long. Like all of us, when she has opened her heart, and then lost, the pain has been the worst.

In Theresienstadt, a young cellist found her crying in the square. Her ‘prince charming’ wiped her tears, and she fell in love. But it was only a short time later that he was chosen for transport to Birkenau. Tati volunteered to be transported as well, but was sent to Auschwitz instead (Yes, sometimes assertiveness can backfire, particularly when it is driven by love).

Shortly before I met Tati, she suffered the devastating loss of a beloved grandson, Michael, in a car accident. I asked her, “How do you manage to honor such a loss Tati?”

The Wisdom

“I honor them with my feelings. There you have to be really resilient. . . It is true, because I believe that every person that is taken from us, is taken, but there is something left behind. There is the spirit. There is something that we call the soul, if it exists I don’t know. But there is the memory of the person. What I felt, I still feel.”

The Practice: Summoning Your Inner Tati!

It is true that Tati tends to rely more heavily on her change skills than her acceptance skills. But when I feel like life is getting the best of me, I think of Tati. Resilience may be something you naturally have more or less of. But it is also something you can build with self-care and skillfulness!

Next time the stress in your life gets heated, and you are feeling overwhelmed, practice summoning your inner Tati:

If you would like to learn more self-help skills to build your resilience and self-mastery, sign up for the Mindful-Mastery Skills Weekly here. Or follow me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!





A Holocaust Survivor’s Story of Resilience (and Skillfulness)

Dr. Fielding

Lara Fielding is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, who teaches, supervises, and specializes in the Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT). Her private practice is in Los Angeles, where she is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and a Supervisor Psychologist at the UCLA Department of Psychology Clinic. Dr. Fielding teaches clients how to master the auto-pilot tendencies of the mind-body emotional system with mindfulness and self-care skills. As a behavioral psychologist, she works with clients to empower their skillfulness in managing stress and regulating difficult emotions. The skills she teaches are based on her research at UCLA, Harvard, and Peperdine, to incorporate the psycho-physiology of stress, emotion and cognition. Dr. Fielding has exhaustively studied the Mindfulness-Based CBT treatments (DBT, ACT, MBSR, MBCT) and their application for problems with Emotion Dysregulation. From this study, she derived a set of therapist guidelines for evidence-based practice. Dr. Fielding’s work is further informed by her research experience at UCLA and Harvard. Her research there explored the relationship between health behavior and the psycho-physiological effects of stress on cognition and emotion. Dr. Fielding is trained and experienced working with groups and individuals suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences, anxiety, and mood disorders. She has taught hundreds of clients concrete skills to better manage difficult emotions in the face of stressful life situations. With these cognitive and emotional skills in place, clients are guided towards personal values consistent behavioral change, in order to achieve their life goals.

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APA Reference
Fielding, L. (2016). A Holocaust Survivor’s Story of Resilience (and Skillfulness). Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Apr 2016
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