Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Second Generation to Holocaust Survivors: Enhanced Differentiation of Trauma Transmission

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Second Generation to Holocaust Survivors: Enhanced Differentiation of Trauma Transmission

Article excerpt

"Second generation to Holocaust Survivors" is a description of a segment of society, as well as an attempt at characterizing these individuals. It is common to speak of mechanisms of transmission of trauma as characterizing the dynamics of the second generation. This paper intends to advance differentiation between two kinds of transmission of trauma: direct transmission (also called transposition) and indirect transmission. There seems to be some confusion in this realm, since there is some discrepancy between clinical and the experimental publications: Whereas the first usually presents evidence of direct transmission of trauma in the second generation, the second mostly demonstrates indirect transmission. Tie shall present a clinical account of group therapy demonstrating indirect transmission, proposing a distinction between second-generation individuals owing to the relative dominance of each of the mechanisms in their mental structuring. This distinction has significant clinical consequences.

"The Holocaust has touched us all, making us all its survivors, but the offspring of those who were there have intimate knowledge of the meaning of being victims and triumphant at one." Professor Dasberg, psychiatrist and survivor (in Memorial Candles [1]).

The essence of this intimate knowledge of the second generation as survivors is under considerable controversy. On the one hand, Kestenberg (2), and recently Kogan (3), identify the second generation as being immersed in their parents' trauma, as a result of a process of transposition of trauma. This means a process by which the members of the second generation live aspects of their parents' trauma as if they were their own. On the other hand, Hazan (4) claims that relating to someone according to his/her generational belonging amounts to stereotyping, which is the result of the difficulty in grasping the complexity of the human situation.

Between these two, there is a sense among the second generation, and among the professionals dealing with their difficulties, that members of the second generation, though having various things in common, are far from being homogeneous.

Already in Wardi's (1) influential book in Israel, though not stressed, there is a differentiation between two kinds of the second generation: The "memorial candles," that carry their parents' Holocaust trauma within themselves, and their siblings who are not identified as "memorial candles." Wardi does refer to differences among the second generation and their emotional well-being, stating that it is connected to several variables, such as age of the parents during the Holocaust, their background, the type of traumas they endured, and the emotional disposition and assets of the second generation.

Nevertheless, while referring to intergenerational transmission of the trauma and its effects, these differences get blurred, and the mechanism of transmission becomes homogeneous. Danieli (5) proposed a nomenclature of members of the second generation, according to their parents' kind of Holocaust experience. This effort of differentiating within the second generation shows that children of partisan survivors differ from children of camp survivors who, in turn, differ still from those whose parents had been in hiding.

Schwartz et al. (6), in their study of transmission of psychiatric symptomatology from Holocaust survivors to their offspring, attempt to distinguish between two kinds of nongenetic transmission: Direct specific transmission and indirect general transmission.


The children learn to think and behave in disturbed ways, similar to their parents. Their world of associations is that of the Holocaust, and at times one gets the impression as if they themselves had been there. This is the kind of transmission that Kestenberg (2), Kogan (3), and to a considerable extent Wardi (1) describe.


Here, what is transmitted is not the trauma itself, but that, as a result of having being traumatized, the first generations' parenting abilities were diminished. …

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