Saturday, January 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Nearly 6 million Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II; thousands more who suffered unimaginable atrocities were liberated at the end of the war. Approximately 245,000 survivors are still alive. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, survivors are asked to tell their stories, painful as they might be, to ensure that these memories do not die along with all those who perished.

This Holocaust Remembrance Day was particularly difficult because it came just after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The ensuing war highlights deep and divisive world views and reminds all of us that peace is elusive. The Tisch Center at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv organized a special Holocaust Remembrance Day Zikaron BaSalon—small gatherings in someone’s home to listen together to survivors’ stories and share their own stories as a way of bonding and, maybe, to begin healing. They have put together a Hope Kit to help facilitate conversations and storytelling around these traumatic experiences. How can telling stories of such trauma be healing?

One answer comes from research in The Family Narratives Lab at Emory University, where we study how families share the past—both their shared past and intergenerational stories. We find again and again the powerful impact these stories have on adolescents and young adults as they begin their adult journey. Family stories, especially stories of challenge and stress, help young people build a sense of resilience and self-reliance. Hard things happen, but we get through them—together. But the Holocaust seems different, so horrendous, so much death and destruction of family. How can these stories be a source of strength?

Research on stories told among families of survivors paints a complicated picture. Survivors themselves most often did not speak of their experiences for many years. Often their spouses and children barely even knew that they had been in the camps. The world wanted to put this chapter in the past; people did not want to hear about it. Through what has been called a “conspiracy of silence,” survivors were encouraged not to tell.

As survivors grew older, they began to realize that the stories would die with them, and they felt that they could not allow this to happen. They had survived to bear witness to those who were killed. They could no longer remain silent. The world, too, changed. There was growing awareness that these stories needed to be told both to heal and to, hopefully, prevent, future repetitions of such horror. Archives of survivors' stories were established, such as The Shoah Foundation collection and the collection at Yad Vashem. Survivors told their stories, often for the first time. And now that so few survivors are still alive, survivors themselves feel more compelled than ever to tell their stories, to bear witness to those who perished in the camps.

Children of survivors talk about how they grew up with dark secrets—they knew something happened but no one would talk about it. Their guilt and anxiety festered. In fact, children of survivors often display the neurological and psychological symptoms of trauma even when they themselves never directly experienced trauma; trauma was passed down to them intergenerationally. When children of survivors began hearing their parents’ stories, they wept but also felt relief. For them, knowing was better than not knowing.

Grandchildren of survivors are growing up in a conflict-laden world; peace seems unattainable, and many ongoing conflicts around the world reflect deep historical cleavages that seem almost impossible to bridge. For the grandchildren, their grandparents’ stories provide a source of unbelievable survival and strength that they can draw on.

Grandchildren of survivors may be the last generation that will be able to hear these stories from the lips of those who lived them. Intergenerational stories of lived experience, stories told by the older generation of their own experiences to younger generations, are more powerful than stories that pass into history. Grandchildren of survivors feel a special obligation, or perhaps a blessing, to make sure these stories do not die with their grandparents. In some intangible way, all Jews feel like the children and grandchildren of survivors. All of us must bear witness.

We may only set aside one day a year to hear these stories, but these stories are the background of our lives. In the words of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “Every new generation must learn the truth about the Holocaust…Eternal memory to all Holocaust survivors.” We must be attuned; we must listen, and we must hear. And we must not let these stories die.

References

Greenfeld, D., Reupert, A., Harris, N., & Jacobs, N. (2022). Between fear and hope: The lived experiences of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors: A qualitative systematic literature review. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 27(2), 120–136.

Chaitin, J. (2002). Issues and interpersonal values among three generations in families of Holocaust survivors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19(3), 379–402.

Payne, E. A., & Berle, D. (2021). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among offspring of Holocaust survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Traumatology, 27(3), 254.

QOSHE - Never Forget: Listening to Stories of the Holocaust - Robyn Fivush Ph.d
menu_open
Columnists Actual . Favourites . Archive
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

Never Forget: Listening to Stories of the Holocaust

10 0
29.01.2024

Saturday, January 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Nearly 6 million Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II; thousands more who suffered unimaginable atrocities were liberated at the end of the war. Approximately 245,000 survivors are still alive. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, survivors are asked to tell their stories, painful as they might be, to ensure that these memories do not die along with all those who perished.

This Holocaust Remembrance Day was particularly difficult because it came just after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The ensuing war highlights deep and divisive world views and reminds all of us that peace is elusive. The Tisch Center at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv organized a special Holocaust Remembrance Day Zikaron BaSalon—small gatherings in someone’s home to listen together to survivors’ stories and share their own stories as a way of bonding and, maybe, to begin healing. They have put together a Hope Kit to help facilitate conversations and storytelling around these traumatic experiences. How can telling stories of such trauma be healing?

One answer comes from research in The Family Narratives Lab at Emory University, where we study how families share the past—both their shared past and intergenerational stories. We find again and........

© Psychology Today


Get it on Google Play