Published in The Hidden Child Vol. XVI (2008), a publication by the Hidden Child Foundation/ADL.
The big question Holocaust survivors want to know is, “will the Third-Generation continue to tell of the destruction of European Jewry, or will the story die with us the survivors? “ It took two generations -- forty years -- for the silence to be broken, for psychological denial to erode, and for survivors to have an audience not silence them the minute they share their horrific past. Parenthetically, it was also forty years after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain when liturgical poems to commemorate the loss of that era were written. And after slavery in Egypt, according to tradition God waited forty years before deciding that the Israelites were ready to the enter the Land.
Sixty-three years after the liberation, is there an identifiable group of Third-Generation of Holocaust survivors? The Second-Generation became a visible group in America in the mid-1970s, a time when a large cadre, in their twenties, was searching for an identity, along with others of their generation of the “roots” movement. The Second-Generation of Holocaust survivors was transformed from being invisible to visible with the publication of Helen Epstein’s watershed article, “Heirs of the Holocaust”, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine, June 19, 1977 and was read by more than two million people nationwide. The article described awareness groups for children of Holocaust survivors that Bella Savran and I were leading in Boston, which inspired others to begin similar groups elsewhere. Grassroots activities were reinforced by the publication of Epstein’s book Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors (1979), and were followed several months later by the First Conference on Children of Holocaust Survivors, which brought together approximately six hundred participants to New York City from all over the United States. In 1981, these young adults accompanied their survivor parents to the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem and formed the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The political, educational, and commemorative activities of this international organization, along with local groups, catapulted the Second-Generation as a moral voice.
The Third-Generation coalesced as a group in Israel, not in the United States. During the Demjanuk Trial, in 1985, teen-agers flocked to the Court House, and lined up at dawn to get a seat to watch the Trial. At the same time, Claude Landzman’s Shoah was screened, and youngsters saw survivors on the screen being interviewed about their lives in concentration camps, in ghettos, in hiding, and escaping by disguising themselves as non-Jews. The Third-Generation was learning history, and imbibing a language in which to talk to their grandparents.
At home these high-school students found their parents to be almost useless when it came to answering questions about family history during the Shoah. However, this did not deter these teen-agers from approaching their grandparents. This phenomenon of intergenerational dialogue became a national sensation and was recorded in documentaries and television discussion programs. Nava Semel’s novel, The Rat Laughs, starts off with a granddaughter of survivors wanting to know what happened to her grandmother, and what will happen to her memories a hundred years from now. The Rat Laughs was adapted as an opera, which is regularly performed at the Cameri Theater in Tel-Aviv.”
Psychologist Dan Bar-On, along with his students, such as Julia Chaitin at Beer-Sheva University, started to research this phenomenon in Fear and Hope and Children in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Julia Chaitin and Zahava Solomon in Hebrew). They found that it was much easier for the survivors to communicate with their grandchildren than it was with their own offspring. The Third-Generation normalized the process of dialogue. Bar-On and his team developed a paradigm for how to work through the Holocaust through knowledge, understanding, emotions, attitude, and behavior. What they discovered is that for the Third-Generation, the Holocaust either has no relevance, which they call “under generalization” or “over generalization,” where everything is seen through the prism of the Holocaust. A more normalized reaction to a Shoah family background is the “partial relevance,” an “in-between” and more balanced perspective.
When Julia Chaitin interviewed first, second, and Third-Generation members in twenty Israeli families she discovered a fourth reaction, which she calls “paradoxical relevance.” She states that “under generalization” does not work in Israel because the Shoah keeps popping up, and some react with “I don’t understand it.” Others react with emotion but have no detailed knowledge of their grandparents’ survival, or they have an abundance of information and no emotion. These individuals know where their grandparents came from, what they suffered, but personally they feel distant from the events. On the other hand, some are haunted by their grandparents’ Shoah past, but do not know the significance of that family history.
These are some of the paradoxical reactions to this family history. Nonetheless, the Third-Generation has a more balanced view. They did not grow up with the concept of “Jews who went to the slaughter like sheep.” This was a myth to which the Second-Generation was exposed to while growing up with parents who were ostracized and shunned as victims. The Third-Generation also lacks fears of antisemitism, fears that are generally more pervasive in the lives of Holocaust survivors and their children.
The Israeli grandchildren of survivors who go on pilgrimages to Poland, Alon Lazar discovered, find the experience more Jewishly significant as compared to Jewish Israelis, who say that the Holocaust is more universal.
Prior to serving in the Israel Defense Forces, psychologist Miri Scharf observed that the Third-Generation experienced less positive self-perception than their counterparts in families where they grew up with children of survivors whose mothers were less encouraging of independence.
The Third-Generation in America (or “3Gs,” as they are known) have only recently started to become a visible group, but not with the same intensity as the Second-Generation. Age-wise, they span the gamut from newborns to forty-year-olds. Among them, those in their twenties and thirties are grappling with identity formation, with establishing intimate relations, and with having children. The Third-Generation has no collective voice that distinguishes them from others in their generation, with the exception of a symbolic role in the March of the Living pilgrimages to Poland, where they light memorial candles, share their family narrative, or say Kaddish for the group.
In the United States, the theme of communicating between the generations is similar to what is found in Israel, which is that it was easier for survivors to share their lives with their grandchildren. Pychologist Bonnie Bienstock also found that survivors have a warmer relationship with their grandchildren than do American Jewish grandparents.
The flood of psychological research on the impact of the Holocaust on the Third- Generation follows a parallel pattern, similar to research on the Second-Generation. Articles in psychological journals on the subject started with a case study of an emotionally-disabled grandchild of survivors in treatment, and concluded with generalization to the group as a whole. A note of caution is necessary to readers of professional and popular publications. The reader must be aware of the sample being presented. In most cases it is challenging to get a representative sample of this population in order to generalize findings. Also, most studies are based on very limited or skewed samples (e.g. hospitalized grandchildren of survivors or those in psychological treatment).
Being a grandchild of survivors is not a personality syndrome. This means that grandchildren of survivors do not exhibit more depression, or more anxiety, or more psychosis, or borderline-narcissistic symptoms or any other diagnosis than does a comparable group. In fact, a Montreal survey by John Sigal and Morton Weinfeld found that 3Gs are functioning better than a similar group whose grandparents came to Montreal before World War II. Third-Generation members tend to be more affectionate, happy, good mood, friendly, self-confident, peaceful, and easy going.
From the psychological research the only significant finding is that grandchildren of survivors as a group, are higher achievers than their peers. In 2002 Ellisa Ganz found that Third-Generation individuals are twice as likely to choose an occupation in the helping professions. Ganz also found, however, that those 3Gs who are in therapy are in treatment for longer periods than a comparative group.
Flora Hogman conducted a case study of Second and Third-Generation, and in her sample of the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors she noticed that they feel a sense of pride and awe of the survivors. This awareness of the suffering is part of the fabric of their lives, but is channeled into empathy, political activism, greater consciousness of others suffering, and a reluctance to intermarry.
The above findings are further elaborated in Mark Yoslow’s recent doctoral dissertation The Pride and Price of Remembrance: An Empirical View of Transgenerational Post-Holocaust Trauma and Associated Transpersonal Elements in the Third-Generation. He too acknowledges “the Third-Generation takes great pride in being the scion for the family that survived the Holocaust.” Feelings of anger and PTSD symptoms decrease if one is not driven by apocalypse and by an archetype of Nazi Germany. He goes on to explain a presence of a “culture complex,” which shows that when individuals can experience “dispositional forgiveness” --the ability to forgive trauma within oneself rather than forgive the Germans -- they are able to escape the post-Holocaust trauma. Yoslow observed that the Third-Generation has a deep affection for humanity, which is a transformation of the post-Holocaust trauma. This process is the ability to transform the emotional effects of the Holocaust by letting go, and thus increases the quest for meaning in ones life and concern for social issues.
In my interviews with grandchildren of survivors for whom the Holocaust is a central part of their identity, I found that they had a close intimate relationship with one or more grandparents. This relationship increases the propensity to embrace a commitment to remember the destruction of European Jewry. A second factor that enhances the propensity towards Holocaust remembrance is a strong Jewish education that combined the Shoah with other relevant historical understanding of Jewish peoplehood.
Today, Third-Generation individuals whose professional lives have been shaped by their grandparent’s ordeals are found in the creative arts, in helping professions, human rights work and in Jewish studies and communal work. The Third-Generation members are no different from those in the Second-Generation, who gravitated towards the creative arts in order to remember the barbarity committed against the Jews living in German-occupied countries and , the Jewish life that was destroyed, and to raise consciousness about present-day racism, human-rights violations, and genocides. Everyday one hears of new projects -- a musical to commemorate the courageous deeds of Raoul Wallenberg and , a film on the American eugenics movement and how it influenced Hitler’s Final Solution.
Much attention was paid to Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2002 novel, Everything is Illuminated, in which a 3G goes out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He tells a tragic story with wit, truth, and humanity. Poet Sabrina Mark’s imagination published in her book Babies is eerie “…..It is lonely in a place that can burn so fast.” With A Blessing On the Moon Joseph Skibell ….
This is a trans-national phenomenon. In Israel, for example, Miri Ben Ari is a Hip-Hop violinist who won the Israeli Martin Luther King Jr. Award for her unique outreach to African-American culture and youth, particularly through her song and video “Symphony of Brotherhood.”
Some Third-Generation are now gravitating towards interacting with others from a similar background. When Daniel Brooks attended a meeting for Second-Generation, he felt that he did not belong, and he proceeded to set up “3GNY.” Today, hundreds of young adults are meeting on a monthly basis to share a common family history, to socialize, and to educate themselves about common political concerns, such as Israel, Rwanda, and Darfur.
Daniel Gillman, a sophomore at Brandeis University, is always on the lookout for Holocaust-related programs. In the spring of 2008, Gillman drove all night to meet diplomatic rescuers in a program at Ellis Island of Visas for Life. He is the grandchild of Charlotte Gillman, who is one of three hundred children saved by Pčre Benedictine in Bruges, Belgium, When Gillman was twelve years old, Charlotte took him to Belgium, and he has since eagerly listened to her stories and to Charlotte’s sister Flora Singer, who wrote I Was But a Child. This summer he will be an intern at the Office of Special Investigations to assist with Nazi War Crime cases.
A paradigm shift has occurred from Second to Third-Generation. As the world has validated the suffering and resilience of the Holocaust survivors, the central dynamic has shifted from shame to pride. With Third Generation such as Jody Rosensaft, Jessica Meed, Elana Berkowitz, Daniel Brooks, Daniel Gillman, Danielle Tamir, Neil Katz, Daniel Sieradski, and Leora Klein the survivor generation can be assured that the Third Generation will not forget their great grandparents.