Post-Holocaust / Post-Genocide / Post-Emigration, Second-Generation Issues
Post-Holocaust / Post-Genocide, Second-Generation DialogueStudying the post-war psychology of Germans, Barbara Heimannsberg reflected,
Probably a knowledge of history in and of itself makes up a comparatively small part of one's sense of identity. More relevant is one's relationship to history.i
In late summer or early autumn 1945, at the request of the British, a concentration camp survivor recorded,
… I received a household position from a mixed-marriage couple in Berlin-Tempelhof, and I then soon wholly moved in with these people. Afterward, well there were more and more anxiety-terror attacks ... ... I was sent by these people to Oberschlesien, to their relatives, spent the night during the journey in a hotel in Beuthen O.B. and was there unfortunately arrested ... ... I was interrogated daily by the Gestapo, to be precise the major worth lay in learning from whom I had received false papers. - After I was in "preventive detention" for 4 weeks, I arrived at Auschwitz. In one barrack, someone took my personal details and tattooed me. ... ... We received very salty soup (bromine), very bad tea and little bread. ... We were supervised by SS men who always led large dogs that were set on us from time to time. The girls had great woundings, and were beaten too, were brought to a corner and left to lie there. We were not allowed to care for the wounded. After 3-4 hours our companions died. We had a death in our unit almost every day. ii
In 1952, that survivor became my mother. My father was also a concentration camp survivor.
They neither dwelled upon the Holocaust nor avoided it during my childhood. Individual Germans (and others) were good and/or bad. With poise, my parents answered questions vividly. I was curious (and still am).
I became a physician (assistant professor at a medical school, president of a hospital medical staff, etc.) - professionally satisfying and worthy, but not quite sufficiently fulfilling.
I began delving into my "relationship to history" with daughters and other sons of Holocaust survivors, with sons and daughters of Nazis, and with others. I remain moved, fascinated, enlightened and gratified.
Over the past decade, the Holocaust and "me and mine" have have grown to be joined in earnest by genocide and by "the Other."iii
So I am,
unfolding and motivated.
i The Collective Silence: German Identity and the Legacy of Shame, edited by Barbara Heimannsberg and Christoph Schmidt, translated by Cynthia Oudejans Harris and Gordon Wheeler (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993, ISBN: 1555425569).
ii Translated from the original German by me.
iii I find resonance in Leonard Grob's discussion of Emmanuel Levinas' use of "the Other" in Returning Home: Critiques, in Ethics after the Holocaust: Perspectives, Critiques, and Responses, edited by John Roth (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1999, ISBN 1-55778-771-9) 298-300.