6. Descendants as Holocaust Carriers: Bringing the Past into Public Consciousness
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125 6 Descendants as Holocaust Carriers Bringing the Past into Public Consciousness Throughout the previous chapters, the study of the intergenerational transmission of trauma has focused on the ways in which descendants become trauma carriers through identification with and attachment to survivors and survivor culture. This aspect of traumatic inheritance reveals the descendant’s responses to a parent’s or grandparent’s suffering and the internalization of the trauma and pain of the past. For a portion of descendants, this aspect of trauma-carrying crosses over into the public realm. In film, memoir, art, and commemoration, descendants have emerged as a publicly identified carrier group for the telling and retelling of the Holocaust story. Drawing on Weber’s concept of cultural carriers and threatened populations (1968), this chapter considers the social mechanisms whereby descendant populations have become “agents” for the reproduction of trauma for the larger society (Alexander 2004a), thus solidifying their social role in the creation of cultural memory (Bartmanski and Eyerman 2011). Within this analysis, the research explores the multiplicity of representations that have come to characterize Holocaust-carrying in public and cultural institutions, including the telling of survivor stories by descendants and the production of descendant narratives and art. The discussion of Holocaust carriers and public discourse will begin with an investigation into the role of Holocaust descendants in public acts of remembrance. 126 | Descendants as Holocaust Carriers Holocaust Remembrance Day and Multigenerational Carriers Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah Vehagvurah (Day of Holocaust and Heroism), was established in Israel in the 1950s as a day “dedicated every year to remembrance of the catastrophe of the Jewish people caused by Nazis and their aides” (Young 1990, 442). Many decades later, this commemorative event, which typically takes place in the spring, has expanded far beyond the borders of Israeli society to North American and European nations and communities. Today commemorative ceremonies are held in both secular and religious settings and are performed by Jews as well as by non-Jews.1 In the United States, for example, Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated at national, state, and community levels. Writing on the history of Yom Hashoah, James Young offers this perspective on the evolution of Holocaust memorialization: “When conducted at civic centers or at public memorial sites, ‘services’ are as likely as not to be led by a rabbi or member of the religious community. In America, where the main organizing ideology is pluralism, ecumenical ceremonies bring together clergymen from diverse faiths and ethnic groups, Jewish survivors and Christian liberators. Each commemoration reflects the ethos and tradition, the piety or politics of a given community” (1990, 443). Following Young’s observations, the extent to which Holocaust Remembrance Day has become part of the cultural consciousness of the United States is indicative of the symbolic importance of Holocaust remembrance for the larger society, as presidents, members of Congress, and other elected officials frequently participate in the day’s events. Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, these events became marked by the inclusion of survivor testimonies. As the silence surrounding the atrocities and horror of the Holocaust began to dissipate, survivors became central actors in the construction of historical and cultural memory. Through the recitation of trauma narratives, the testimonies of survivors served to connect the audiences at Holocaust events to the suffering, loss, and victimhood of Jewish genocide (Connerton 1989), Descendants as Holocaust Carriers | 127 solidifying Holocaust remembrance within the “generation of memory” that has come to define the commemorative culture of contemporary society (Winter 2001). Since the 1990s a new form of trauma-carrying has emerged within this commemorative sphere. Increasingly, with the aging and loss of the survivor population, Holocaust remembrance, while continuing to proliferate (Flanzbaum 1999), has expanded to include the descendants of survivors who are either joining or replacing their parents and grandparents as social actors in commemoration ceremonies . In communities across the United States, Holocaust ceremonies now typically include descendants whose own stories have become intermingled with those of their parents and grandparents. This shift represents a changing culture of Holocaust memory in which carrier groups have been reconstituted and reinvented. To illustrate this trend in memorial culture, I draw on my research and fieldwork at synagogue and school events. Holocaust Ceremonies and Descendant Testimonies In numerous communities across North America and Europe, the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place within a synagogue setting. During my extensive years of fieldwork, I attended numerous synagogue ceremonies as a participant observer in a diverse number...


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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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