Conclusion: The Changing Landscape of Holocaust Remembrance and Future Directions in the Study of Traumatic Inheritance
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149 Conclusion The Changing Landscape of Holocaust Remembrance and Future Directions in the Study of Traumatic Inheritance Throughout this book the research has shown that the intergenerational transmission of Holocaust trauma is complicated and multifaceted. To a large extent, the expansive psychological literature in this field has shaped the way in which descendant populations are constructed in popular culture and defined by the scholarly community. In the vast majority of the existing research, descendants are portrayed as members of successor generations who have been wounded by the conscious and unconscious transfer of Holocaust loss and suffering. Although elements of this interpretative framework are found in the findings that have been presented here, the examination of the social structures of traumatic transference provides alternative perspectives through which to view the social inheritance of genocidal trauma and the creation of selfhood and carrier-group identity among children and grandchildren of survivors. Taking as a starting point the family as the socio-cultural setting in which trauma is conveyed across generations, the research illuminates the role of narrative in shaping descendant selfhood and in connecting descendants to a terrible past. According to Ron Eyerman, it is through narrative and discourse that the past “is recounted, understood and interpreted through language and through dialogue” (2004, 162). In the case of Holocaust descendants, the children and grandchildren of survivors draw on multiple “founding stories” in which the past is evoked to create identities of victimhood, heroism, and moral agency. The past, then, as conveyed through narrative, becomes a frame of reference for 150 | Conclusion the construction of a descendant self that is tied to the social and historical conditions of physical and cultural annihilation. Narratives of traumatic histories, however, provide only one social mechanism through which the past is imparted, felt, and relived. As this research confirms, rituals are also instrumental in transmitting trauma and in influencing the development of the descendant self through the preservation and reinvention of tradition. As a space of emotional exchange and emotional distancing, ritual functions both as a vehicle for cultural persistence and as a site of cultural innovation within the historical framework of a genocidal legacy. Like narrative, ritual practices are part of the “cultural tool kit” (Swidler 1986; Wertsch 2002) from which descendants draw in constructing identities that are embedded in the past and that at the same time offer the possibility of separation from a tragic legacy. In addition to ritual practices, descendants also turn to the spiritual realm to develop and sustain an individuated and separate sense of self. Here the research points to the ways in which descendants reject the religious beliefs of their ancestors even while they seek a spiritual orientation that can help to mitigate the despair of traumatic inheritance. In resisting a nihilistic worldview, descendants turn away from both theodicy and religious orthodoxy, choosing instead alternative spiritual paradigms that are individualistic and life affirming and that transcend the material realities of human suffering. Taken together, narrative, ritual, and spirituality constitute the interactive social and cultural frameworks that characterize the intergenerational transmission of trauma and contribute to the formation of descendant identity. Further, the social dynamics of traumatic transference are also informed by the strains of familial attachment, the significance of extended kinship ties, and the importance of place as a source of identification and belonging. While previous work has pointed out the conflicts and tensions that arise within survivor families, the research that has been presented here reveals the tensions that emerge specifically over Jewish constancy and the attending fears surrounding intermarriage and “out- Conclusion | 151 sider” social relationships. This analysis helps to frame the social discord that has been found in survivor families within the threat of cultural and religious annihilation that is a legacy of genocidal trauma. Moreover, the research brings a more nuanced understanding to the findings on family dysfunction and unresolved strain that tend to dominate the prevailing studies of the intergenerational transmission of Holocaust trauma. Perhaps because so much of the earlier work in this area was done on postwar adolescents in Israel or retrospectively on descendants coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s in North America, many of these studies focus on children of survivors who had not yet resolved the difficulties of a postwar childhood. By contrast, this study brings a more contemporary perspective to the relational world of survivor families. With the passage of time and the aging of both survivors and their descendants, the accounts reflect a longing for reparation and...


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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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