July 2, 2009

Study: Holocaust survivors share their pasts with their children only indirectly

Source:

According to a sociological study of the children of Holocaust survivors by a lecturer at Haifa University, the majority of survivors’ descendants don’t learn about their parent’s wartime experiences directly, but rather through the silent presence of the past in daily life.

The study was carried out by Carol Kidron of Haifa University’s department of sociology and anthropology between 2001 to 2005 and its findings are due to be published in the fall as part of a collective work titled In Remembering Violence: Anthropological Perspectives on Intergenerational Transmission.

Following a series of interviews Kidron conducted from 2001 to 2005 with 55 descendants of Holocaust survivors, she found that the majority of them were silent about their parents’ experiences not out of embarrassment or fear, as previously thought, but rather due to a lack of knowledge. Kidron said most survivors’ descendants felt their parents had brought the past into their daily lives in a non-verbal way rather than telling them about it directly.

”Even when there is silence, the past is present in the home,” Kidron told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

One interviewee told Kidron she remembered her father frequently looking through a drawer filled with old photographs and toys. Her father never told her who was in the pictures, where he got the toys or where he had been during the Holocaust.

”She knew they were part of [her father's] past, even though she didn’t know the history,” Kidron said.

Another participant in the study always put a pair of shoes at her bedside before going to sleep. It was something her parents had taught her, she said, and something she didn’t think twice about. She felt the need to be prepared should someone come, although she had never been told the story of how her parents were taken away.

”Children [of survivors] feel it’s too much for them to introduce the topic of what their parents chose not to tell them,” Kidron said.

”They view the family history as a private story, in the same way that their parents thought it was something you didn’t share.”

In 2006, Kidron did a comparative study of the children of Holocaust Survivors and Cambodian refugees who are now living in Canada. She interviewed 25 descendants of Cambodian refugees who had suffered trauma. Among the refugees, she found that not only was the past not often spoken of, it wasn’t felt in the present as in Holocaust survivors’ families.

”Children of survivors have a different legacy,” said Kidron, herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors. ”We have different family memories, but that doesn’t mean that our whole lives are overwhelmed by damage and suffering.”