Rethinking Jewish Faith: The Child of a Survivor Responds

By Steven L. Jacobs | Go to book overview

Foreword

The existence of a second generation, daughters and sons of Shoah survivors, who self-consciously grapple with the meaning of their parents' experience is an important development in the study of the Shoah and its aftermath. Second generation membership is universal, reflecting the various countries where survivors built new lives. Brought to public attention in America during the late 1970s, the reflections of this group reveal much about the ferment of post-Auschwitz Jewish life and thought. Second generation members display a variety of orientations to Judaism ranging from Orthodox to atheist. However, all members of this group are defined and united by a central paradox: The most important event in their lives occurred prior to their birth. They are second generation witnesses, inheritors of a traumatic memory whose outlines were communicated both through verbal expression and by silence. Watching their parents' continuing survival, the second generation raised questions first about what had happened in the Shoah: and then proceeded to inquire about the meaning of the defining event of the twentieth century. These questions are multiple, having artistic, psychological, sociological, and theological import. For example, "Where was God during the time of radical evil?" "Is it still possible, or important, to live a Jewish life?" "What is the meaning of a post-Auschwitz Jewish identity?" "Can Jews trust Christians? Or anyone?" Even as members of this generation are plagued by doubts that they are entitled to write about the Shoah, they cannot resist the obligation to do so.

The second generation has a particular angle of vision in their reflective process. Unlike their peers who are children of nonwitnesses, children of survivors know first hand the on-going impact of the destruction both on their parents' lives and on their own. They also understand the enormous significance of family and children. Moreover, they are committed to testify to the experience of the Jewish people during the Shoah. Consequently, this generation views the Shoah as both an historical event and a deeply personal trauma. With the passage of time, they have begun to bear their own witness to the destruction of Europe's Jews. Artistic, journalistic, psychologi-

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