Intergenerational Memory of the Holocaust

  • Nanette C. Auerhahn
  • Dori Laub
Part of the The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping book series (SSSO)


The literature on Holocaust survival and second-generation effects has been prone to controversy beyond criticisms of research methodology, sample selection, and generalizability of findings (e.g., Solkoff, 1992). A critical backlash has also been evident (Roseman & Handle-man, 1993; Whiteman, 1993), even from among the children themselves (Peskin, 1981), against the penchant of the early Holocaust literature to formulate the transmission of deep psychopathology from one generation to the next. Such an unbending formulation has understandably aroused readers’ strong skepticism and ambivalence, in part because to expose the magnitude of the Nazi destruction is to confirm Hitler’s posthumous victory (Danieli, 1984, 1985). But seeking to correct this early bias wherein Holocaust suffering is equated with psychopathology has, often enough, also created an overcorrection that discourages understanding the Holocaust as a core existential and relational experience for both generations. This stance also has made it difficult to integrate the Holocaust literature with the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) literature (that followed it), which appears thus far not to have been similarly burdened with the accusation that to explore negative effects is to pathologize and demean survivors. What the extensive clinical and research material on the Holocaust—its contradictions as much as its consistencies—has taught us is the diversity of meanings of Holocaust suffering for both generations that can neither be accounted for by narrow psychopathological diagnoses (Bergmann & Jacovy, 1982) nor be contradicted by survivors’ and their children’s undeniable resiliency and coping. In the growing polemic between those who stress the negative effects of trauma (e.g., Krystal, 1968), and those who focus on survivors’ strengths and coping skills (e.g., Harel, Kahana, & Kahana, 1988), our body of work (e.g., Auerhahn & Laub, 1984, 1987, 1990; Auerhahn & Prelinger, 1983; Laub & Auerhahn, 1984, 1985, 1989; Peskin, Auerhahn, & Laub, 1997) has rejected the polarization of researchers into those who claim that no (ill) effects of the Holocaust are to be found in survivors and their children versus those who claim that there are (negative) effects. Instead, we have shifted the focus away from value-laden judgments of psychological health to the issue of knowledge, and have come to view both generations as heterogeneous and therefore as consisting of individuals with different kinds and degrees of Holocaust knowledge. We find that it is the very individualized quality of knowing massive psychic trauma that compellingly informs as well as shapes one’s subsequent life experiences, world view, fantasy world, relationships, decision making, and action. Therefore, both character and psychopathology indelibly bear the marks of knowing trauma, and it is through this lens that we attempt to examine the intergenerational effects of massive psychic trauma. Much of our work has sought to examine the question of what kind of knowledge of the Holocaust is possible, and to trace the threads of different forms of traumatic knowledge as they have woven through the conscious and unconscious of both generations. Indeed, we view the ongoing debate among researchers and scholars as to the extent of impact the Holocaust has had on individuals as part of the continuing struggle of all of us to fully grasp the nature of massive psychic trauma.


Traumatic Memory Holocaust Survivor Vicarious Traumatization Massive Psychic Trauma Life Theme 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nanette C. Auerhahn
    • 1
  • Dori Laub
    • 2
  1. 1.Bellefaire Jewish Children’s BureauShaker HeightsUSA
  2. 2.Yale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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