Family Relations: Healing the Gap between the Generations by Valerie Read

The inner workings of a family are based on the order of how each member has a place. You have the grandparents who are the matriarchs of the family, than their children, and later on the arrival of the grandchildren. In other families where the grandparents are Survivors of the Holocaust and their children are the Second Generation and the Third Generation who are the grandchildren. How are their inner family relations compared to other families? In this order of relationships the Survivors are immersed in the lives of the Second Generation where they are more concerned on where they should go to school and how successful there are. This puts a strain on the Second Generation who feels pressured to please their parents and be successful, but deep down they feel constricted or suffocated by their parents. The Third Generation are the children of The Second Generation who have experience affection and connection to their parents. They are not exposed to the grisly, detail, story of the Holocaust that their grandparents, had experienced. The Second Generation has given them some account of the story, but not the extreme detail they were exposed to. The Third Generation than can have an open mind to this history and can go to their grandparents who are survivors to ask questions. This allows The Second Generation to be involved and add their own comment to what they were told by their parents. “The Third Generation, one generation removed from the survivor, provides a more comfortable and, in some cases, more receptive and interested audience” (Hass 162). The relationship of the Survivor and the Second Generation seem to rely on the involvement of the Third Generation. Their insight can help heal the gap between the survivor and the child of a survivor.

After the Holocaust the Jewish survivors were sent back to Germany and given aide by the Allies. In the camps the Allies had to help the displaced Jews who were looking for their families and had no proof of who they were. The doctors aided them by x-raying them to determine age and teaching them to take care of themselves. The Jewish survivors had scabies, lice, and were living skeletons. It was hard for the Survivor to trust a doctor or to be given medicine because of the torture the Nazis had put them through in the camps. After a while of getting better the Jewish survivors were ready to start a new life and have a family again. “Survivors quickly entered into loveless marriages in their desire to rebuild their family life as quickly as possible” (Katz 1). This led them to find a spouse or wife and start a family right away. It was a mission to replace what they had lost. The allies aided them with getting visas and sending them to the United States or Israel. The survivors can start a new life with their families with a country that will embrace them and help them to succeed for the future. When the Survivors had arrived in the United States at first they were welcomed by friends and relatives. Their relatives helped them to find a place to stay and to be employed. After telling stories of their experience in the camps it seemed to unease their new friends and relatives who didn’t want to hear anymore about what happed to the survivor or their families. “Reactions such as “that’s in the past,” “let bygones be bygones,” be grateful and happy for getting to America,” or “look at the positive side of things” led most survivors to keep silent” (Williams 10 of 24). In keeping the peace the survivors didn’t talk about the Holocaust anymore. By keeping this subject opened the relatives could have helped the Survivor deal with what they experienced in the camps and give them a sense that someone cared about them.

The silence only added to the Survivors feeling of isolation and loneliness. This caused them more psychological damage and only proved to the Survivor that they were a lone in their pain. In some studies by psychologist the symptoms of this damage began to resurface and they began to have feelings of depression, quilt, anxiety and agitations, and behavior problems (Williams 11 of 24). The survivor began to feel guilty because they had made it and their families or friends had not. This experience led them to feel depressed and have thoughts of suicide. It also led to other behavior problems where anyone could cause them to be agitated and would trigger their anger as a defense mechanism. The survivor had a mistrust of anyone in uniform such as a policeman or doctor and this would cause them to be anxious. This sense of mistrust to anyone who wasn’t family would always be part of the survivor. “A survivor is one who has encountered, been exposed to, or witnessed death, and has himself or herself remained alive’ (Williams 11 of 24). A psychologist who wants to administer aide to a survivor and to help them through what they are experiencing has to learn about their history. By asking relatives and family members can help the psychologist to better understand the survivor. The psychologist has named the symptoms the survivor is going through and it’s called The Survivor Syndrome. This syndrome affects the survivor and their family members. The cure of this syndrome seems to be focused on the relationship the survivor feels with his or her own children and grandchildren.

The Second and Third Generation can work on helping the survivor cope with their past and focus on the future. This can cause difficulties because of how the Second Generation was raised by the survivor and their personal feeling toward their parents. The Second Generation is a child of a survivor and was raised in a family where both parents were Survivors of The Holocaust. Their childhood was not a pleasant experience. The child of the survivor was exposed over and over again to the horror their parents experienced in the camps. The parents would tell them in detail of how they survived and their search for food. This story was told to the child as a way to make them feel guilty that they were living a better life. The over exposure traumatized the child and this causes them to experience what the parents had gone through. This is diagnosed as PTST (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and the four symptoms are: re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares, emotional numbing, avoidance of things, and increased irritability and difficult sleeping (Katz 2). The child of the survivor is convinced that he or she can help their parents by doing whatever will please them. This assertive feeling gives them a purpose to fulfill their parent’s dream of success and position in society. The Second Generation is the most successful people of teachers, doctors, lawyers, or starting their own businesses. Even thought they had to endure their parent’s over protecting them or a zealous interest in their lives. Their generations are the most successful because they were taught to survive and trust their instincts. In this case learning about the Holocaust helped them have a sense of history. Other Second Generations were never told about what happened to their parents and it caused a break in their families. The relationship between the Survivor and the Child of the Survivor will be on some level difficult, but the family connection will always be strong. They are taught to be strong and to keep the family bonds together. The mistrust of strangers and never having a social life outside the home is a not a strain on the Survivor, but is on the Second Generation. Their intrusion and interest in their children and grandchild lives gives the Survivor a chance to live. The Survivors’ hope and dreams are lived through their children, The Second Generation and the grandchildren, The Third Generation.

The Third Generation are the ones who seem to have a mission to accomplish what their parents, The Second Generation couldn’t finish. So they go out of they way to find something that will carry on and seal the gap that haunts the Survivor Generation. “Community was the word repeated by every child of survivors” (Epstein 332). Their generation goes out in the community to start support groups and talk about being a grandchild of a survivor. This helps the Third Generation in exploring different ways to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for future generations. One of many ideas is writing a book on the Holocaust through interviews with Holocaust Survivors and their families. “Unless we start examining the Holocaust with our emotions, all we will pass on to the future generations is numbers” (Epstein 334). The idea of writing a book about the Holocaust is a way that the Third Generation can keep the memory of the Holocaust alive to the community, and for their grandparents, who survived it.

A second idea of the Third Generation is to take a trip to where it all started for their grandparents. This helps the Third Generation have a glimpse into the lives of the Survivor by visiting their home and walking through their home towns. The truth seems to be the one thing that hurts the most, and what is left of Jewish synagogue is reduced to rubble after the Nazis tore it down, and the grave sites of Jewish cemeteries are buried beneath bush. In some countries such as a Vienna, the community had come together to clean out the Jewish Cemeteries and rebuild the grave stones. The church pulled out all the records and reentered them into the computer. This allowed many relatives from the United States and Israel to find their families that were thought lost (Epstein 308). In the Czech Republic one author Helen Epstein found her grandmother Therese Sachesel and saw that the neighborhood was taking good care of the Jewish cemeteries. This act of kindness showed Epstein that not all of Europe followed the Nazi’s view on Jews. “There is a long Jewish tradition of placing a stone on a tombstone but, given the length of time no one had visited, a stone seemed to cold a thing to leave. I wanted Therese to have something alive. The next day, I returned with a pot of heather and a trowel. It began to rain. People were saying that it would be a wet fall. I did not know when I would be back but it seemed possible that the purple heather I planted would prove hardy and take root” (Epstein 309). In doing this Epstein wanted to show to herself and her mother that this relative wouldn’t be forgotten. This act would prove that someday Epstein would be back to see how well the plant took root and come back to visit her grandmother’s grave. It gives a sense that not all is lost and that family ties are still strong.

The last idea of the Third Generation is to be a voice of history and to fight injustice aimed at their Survivor grandparents. “For most of the moral voices, the public and personal are intertwined” (Berger 223). The Third Generation devised ideas to create memorials to keep the history for the public and their families. In the mid-1970s a Holocaust Resource center was established and called The Brooklyn Center for Holocaust Studies founded by Dr. Yaffa Eliach (Berger 223). When it comes to fight injustice the Third Generation make it a public issue by revealing the truth about an important person in politics. A man named Elan Steinberg made it public about Austrian Prime Minister Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past and spoke out about the stolen property of survivors in Waldheim’s Swiss Bank accounts. “Although we cannot undo the pain and suffering they endured, we can overcome this defenselessness by speaking up against injustices today and helping oppressed people” (Berger 223). This act shows the Survivors that the Third generation will continue to fight for them and all the unheard voices that can’t come out to speak their outrage. The third Generation is the voices that are being heard by their grandparents and parents.

It seems that the Third Generation are the ones that keeps the gap of communication opened between the survivor grandparents and their own parents who children of the survivors. “The grandchildren may have introduced a new sense of hopefulness into the family by establishing a natural life cycle and open communication with grandparents” (Bar-on 32). They heal the relationship by crating a loving relationship with their grandparents and asking questions about the holocaust. This helps the Second Generation by giving their input on the stories being told by the grandparents. It shows that the stories will be told to future generations and the history will not be forgotten.

Survivors of the Holocaust put a great responsibility onto their children and wanted them to be a tribute to what was lost. The child of the survivor had a goal to be successful in life and replace what was taken. It leads to a difficult relationship between child and parent. The Second Generation had a hard time with their Survivor parents because of the horrific details of their experiences. Their children the Third Generation helped by approaching their grandparents by a different prospective. It helped in healing the gap in their relationship with each other.

What about those who risked their lives in saving the Jews in World War II in Germany? Where are they today? The Jews who stayed in Germany had a difficult journey in store for themselves. Their affection and connection to the Germans who risked their lives to save them was too strong. They knew if they left and didn’t help it would be an act of cowardice. So the Jews stayed and helped Germany rebuild after the end of World War II. “This Reconstruction-Era generation then made it possible for their children to do what they had not been able to do themselves” (Stern 31). The Allies help the displaced Jews by giving them licenses to open and operate a restaurant. This helped them pay for their children’s education. Today in Berlin there are still restaurants owned by the Jewish community and are still run by the surviving relatives. The schools that were established by the Jewish community are still opened today in Berlin and many forms of the religion are still being practiced today. Even though the religion is broken up by three factors of Orthodox, Reformed, and Liberal, it’s a living tribute to what the Survivor fought for after the war (Stern 62). There are still small groups of Neo-Nazis or Nazi groups, who use the youth of Berlin to vent out their hatred toward the Jewish community, but the country is aware of them and these groups are now being subject to harsh laws in their country.

In the end, the Second Generation, and Third Generation cannot know what the Survivor had endured, but they have found a way to keep it for future generations with resource centers, Memorial museums, websites and books about the Holocaust. The history of the Holocaust and its survivors will be told to the future generations, and their children. This will give the Survivor hope that their family will never let that time in history be forgotten.

Works Cited

Bar-on Dan. Fear & Hope: Three Generations of the Holocaust. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995: 31-39.

Berger, Naomi. Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators. New York, 2001: 208-223.

Epstein, Helen. Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters. New York, 1988: 332-340.

Epstein, Helen. Where She Came From: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History. New Jersey, 2005: 306-309.

Hass, Aaron. In The Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation. New York, 1996: 154-162.

Katz, Lisa. The Effects of the Holocaust on the Children of Survivors. New York, 2007: 1-3.

Stern, Susan. Speaking out: Jewish Voices from United Germany. Illinois, 1995: 28-38, 60-66.

Williams, Sandra S. The Impact of the Holocaust on Survivors and Their Children. University of Central Florida, 1993: 1-24.


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