Introduction
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1 Introduction The study of the Holocaust has taken many turns and directions over the past two decades, generating a plethora of scholarship across a wide range of orientations from historical analysis to the social-psychological effects of mass trauma on individuals, groups, and society. Within this extensive and far-reaching field of research, the intergenerational transmission of trauma has become a particularly significant area of study that continues to inform the way in which scholars address and understand the reproduction of trauma-based knowledge and emotions across generations. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the children of Holocaust survivors have been recognized as members of a unique population who have “inherited” the psychic markers of those who lived through and survived a horrific past. Early on in the study of the intergenerational transmission of trauma, the psychological studies in the field confirmed that the suffering and wounds of genocide do not end or disappear when the threat of death and annihilation no longer exists. Rather, the research found that the traumas of the past remain embedded in the psychic life of victims whose emotions, memories, behaviors, and thoughts are passed on to descendant generations. According to the plentiful and diverse scholarship in the field, this process of traumatic transference has resulted in the creation of successive generations of trauma carriers whose lives and social actions remain deeply connected to the genocidal history of the Nazi regime (Bar-On 1995; Herman 1997; Baranowsky et al. 1998; Binder-Byrnes et al. 1998). In a departure from the heavily psychological orientation of previous research, the primary interest of this book is on the social structures through which the trauma of the Holocaust is conveyed to the children and grandchildren of survivors who today constitute the first and sec- 2 | Introduction ond generation of Holocaust descendants. Through an exploration into family narratives, belief structures, and social relations, this work reveals the multiple social forces that shape and inform the worldviews of descendants and the diverse ways in which descendancy is understood and expressed by succeeding generations. Using the social frameworks that highlight the study of relationality, social interaction, and the transmission of family memory and history, this book offers new perspectives on the social meanings of the Holocaust and the formation of “communities of memory” (Kidron 2003, 515) among both first- and secondgeneration descendants who retain the knowledge and feeling states of a terrible past. Expanding on the extensive psychological literature and the foundational sociological scholarship (Gottschalk 2003; Stein 2009a), this volume contributes to the field of genocide and Holocaust studies in a number of important ways: (1) through an exploration into the social structures by which the experiences and memory of trauma are transmitted across generations; (2) through an examination of the social relations of traumatic inheritance among survivors and their adult children and grandchildren; and (3) through an investigation into the formation of trauma-based identities among Holocaust carrier groups. Significantly, the book comes at a crucial time in the study of genocide and the transmission of Holocaust trauma. As the number of survivors has vastly diminished over time, their children and now their grandchildren are seeking ways to better understand and connect to their families’ traumatic past. This work sheds light on this growing trend among Holocaust descendants and the social impact of descendancy on the preservation of Holocaust memory for the wider society. Descendants as Research Participants: Methods and Respondent Backgrounds The research for this book began more than a decade ago, when I undertook a qualitative study of children of Holocaust survivors. Initially, Introduction | 3 my contacts with descendant populations began with two Children of Holocaust Survivors organizations that met regularly to share their experiences and to create friendships and social support systems with others who had grown up in a post-Holocaust family environment. In approaching the organizations, I explained that I was interested in studying the intergenerational transmission of trauma and, if permissible, would like to attend their meetings and interview members of the organizations. Both groups were open to my research and invited me to their events and social gatherings. Additionally, the majority of group members agreed to be interviewed individually. From these initial contacts with firstgeneration descendants, snowball sampling led to an expansion of the research population and to the inclusion of grandchildren of survivors who, as an emerging generation of Holocaust culture bearers, currently represent a new and important descendant carrier group. Altogether, I interviewed seventy-five descendants: sixty children of survivors (thirty-three...


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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Psychological aspects.
  • Holocaust survivors -- Psychology.
  • Children of Holocaust survivors -- Mental health.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Social aspects.
  • Intergenerational communication -- Case studies.
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