Echoes from the past: adjustment of aging former prisoners of war to the COVID-19 pandemic

Karni Ginzburg*, Mario Mikulincer, Avi Ohry, Zahava Solomon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background. The aim of this study was to examine whether exposure to previous traumatic events is a risk factor for stress reactions during this pandemic. Capitalizing on a 29-year longitudinal study of Israeli ex-prisoners of war (ex-POWs) and combat veterans, we examined whether captivity is a risk factor for fear of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and COVID-19-induced acute stress disorder (COVID-19 ASD) beyond the effects of combat exposure and other stressful life events. In addition, we examined the contribution of captivity experiences (severity of captivity, experience of solitary confinement, and suffering during captivity) and veterans’ appraisal of the impact of their war-related experiences on adjustment to the current quarantine and isolation to fear of COVID-19 and COVID-19 ASD. Methods. One-hundred-and-twenty Israeli ex-POWs from 1973 Yom Kippur War and 65 matched controls (combat veterans from the same war) filled out self-report questionnaires 18 (T1), 35 (T2), 42 (T3), and 47 (T4) years after the war. Results. Findings revealed that although ex-POWs and controls did not differ in their level of exposure to COVID-19, ex-POWS reported higher levels of fear of COVID-19 and COVID-19 ASD than controls. Suffering during captivity, measured at 1991, and participants’ appraisal of the extent to which their war-related experiences affected adjustment to COVID-19 were significantly associated with fear of COVID-19 and COVID-19 ASD. Conclusions. The findings of the study demonstrate the long-term effects of exposure to traumatic experiences (captivity) during young adulthood on adjustment to an unrelated collective stress, such as COVID-19, 40 years later.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4188-4196
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number16
StatePublished - 18 Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • acute stress disorder
  • prisoners of war


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