4. The Social Relations of Inherited Trauma: The Meaning of Attachment and Connection in the Lives of Descendants
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83 4 The Social Relations of Inherited Trauma The Meaning of Attachment and Connection in the Lives of Descendants As the research on trauma and family dynamics illustrates, descendants of Holocaust survivors report a wide range of social and cultural response to the intergenerational transmission of trauma. In this chapter the analysis of the social dynamics of the postgenocide family is further explored through a discussion of the multiple ways in which attachments are formed, contested, and negotiated across generations. Expanding on prior research that documents the tensions and strains in post-Holocaust families (Bar-On et al. 1998; Gottschalk 2003; Wiseman, Metzl, and Barber 2006; Lev-Wiesel 2007; Stein 2014), the chapter investigates a diverse set of findings on relationality and connectivity among descendants. More specifically , the chapter examines attachment and strain across generations, the significance of extended family ties, death and connection in the realm of the supernatural, and the importance of place and belonging among descendants. Attachment and Strain across Generations Turning first to the children of survivors, first-generation descendants report a broad spectrum of feelings toward their survivor parents that reflect both their deep attachment to the survivor and the struggles of coping with a traumatized parent. The data therefore offer a fascinating window into the ways in which the trauma of the Holocaust shaped 84 | The Social Relations of Inherited Trauma the bonds between parent and child in the postwar household. Within this relational sphere, children of survivors describe a wide range of maternal and paternal relationships in which love, empathy, anger, and confusion represent the complexity of feelings that emerged and reemerged within the emotional culture of family life (Wiseman, Metzl, and Barber 2006; Stein 2014). While the participants varied in their descriptions of their parents’ emotional health, respondents frequently referred to their roles as caretakers of a fragile parent. In this regard, a number of accounts provide insight into the role reversals that typified the relationship between the child of survivors and a traumatized parent. In the first example, a daughter, the younger of two children, expressed the belief that she was born with the knowledge of her parents ’ suffering and thus came into the world with the responsibility to soften their pain: I think in general who they were and the pain I picked up from them was what affected me. Part of it is my belief system. . . . I didn’t know if I was causing the pain, if it was my job to fix the pain. Whatever my unconscious experience was, my life was about their pain and how to make it better, whatever it was about. The social responsibility to “fix” or care for a hurt or wounded parent was expressed by other first-generation descendants, primarily daughters , who as children somehow understood that their parents required a certain kind of attentiveness and care. Here the eldest of three sisters offers this perspective on the descendant child as caretaker for her mother: One of the things that [were] very hard growing up was that she would sometimes go into this place where she was like a very young child. We would have to mother her. It got to the point where I had very little patience with it. It was as if she [were] helpless. What I recall is that some- The Social Relations of Inherited Trauma | 85 thing would happen and her eyes would get really big and her breathing would get way high in her chest. She’d take these little quick breaths and there’d be this pervasive panic and anxiety. We would try and do nice things for her, make her tea, sit and hold her hand, wait through it. Poor mommy. It was like we were doing for her what she should have been doing for us. . . . There was this freezing up that would happen, needing to pay attention, sort of coddling her. Similarly, another daughter, the eldest of three children, reported a role reversal in which “my mother told me things she should never have told me, personal things about her relationship with my dad. I became her mother and when my sister was born, I became the surrogate mother for my sister.” As research suggests, caretaking among children of survivors often results in anger and resentment for a parent who could not nurture and who often had little sympathy or patience for the problems or difficulties associated with a more typical childhood and adolescence. As one fiftytwo -year-old woman recalled: “I...


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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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