Holocaust survivors’ silent behaviours tell their children about their experiences

June 23rd, 2009 - 5:47 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 23 (ANI): A new ethnographic study suggests that the aspects of knowing about a parent’s or grandparent’s Holocaust experiences and traumas are transmitted to other members of the family through unspoken and sometimes unintentional behaviours in the home.

Lead researcher Dr. Carol Kidron, an anthropologist at the University of Haifa, says that this leads to a “knowledge” and presence of the Holocaust that, despite remaining unspoken, contributes to the life experiences and constitutes the personality of the person exposed to it.

During the study, the researchers interviewed 55 children of Holocaust survivors, and found the large majority to reveal that their only knowledge of their parents’ Holocaust experiences were transmitted to them via silent, taken-for-granted everyday interpersonal interaction.

According to them, the children were able to get a sense of their parents’ experiences through the unspoken.

One recalled hearing a parent’s nightly cries. Another remembered wondering about the numbers branded on a parent’s arm, and others described watching their parents reminiscing or looking through old photographs or memorabilia.

Contrary to previous studies that suggested that the children of Holocaust survivors suffer effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Dr. Kidron concluded that 80 percent of the interviewees in the current study did not perceive themselves as suffering from such effects.

Moreover, the “knowledge”, the silent day-to-day presence of Holocaust memories that the descendents of Holocaust survivors gleaned, sufficed: As children, they frequently felt no need to question their parents in depth.

A prominent 95 percent of the interviewees assured that they were not interested in telling the story of their parents’ Holocaust experiences in the public domain, or their own.

“By forming an experiential matrix, these silent traces maintain an intimate and nonpathological presence of the Holocaust death-world in the everyday life-world,” Dr. Kidron said.

According to the researcher, the findings of this study contrast the common belief that a survivor’s silence results in a damaged relationship with his or her children, or in the absence of an inter-generational Holocaust legacy transmitted to the second generation.

It is precisely the presence of the Holocaust past in everyday silent interaction, rather than the vocal transmission of Holocaust testimony or history, that sustains and commemorates the genocidal past in the private familial domain.

The accounts provided by the interviewees in this study “depict the dynamic, normative, and self-imposed silent presence of the Holocaust death-world interwoven with everyday life,” and indicate that children’s relationships with their survivor parents were equally normative.

Dr. Kidron presented the study at a conference hosted by the University of Haifa. (ANI)

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