An inheritance of terror: postmemory and transgenerational transmission of trauma in second generation jews after the holocaust

Abstract

Postmemory, as Hirsch (1997) has defined it, describes the relationship of the second generation to powerful, often traumatic experiences that preceded their births, but that were nevertheless transmitted as to seem to constitute memories of their own. Although subsequent research has created a more complete picture of the interactions between parents and children, Hirsch’s definition has clear bearing on how descendants have attempted to commemorate the prior generation’s ordeals through various means, some narrative, some visual, while still qualifying those modes as acts of transfer or the resonant after-effects of trauma. Focusing on the Holocaust, this article examines certain lines of communication between survivors and their children as mediums of transgenerational transmission of trauma through both theoretical and experiential models of identification. It also attempts to signify how parenting styles contribute to children’s maladaptive behaviors if no intervention is staged. Additionally, I conclude that while second generation Jews may suffer negatively from intrapsychic and interpersonal problems observable by clinicians, they can also learn to integrate and understand their heritage through personal and therapeutic expression linked to the larger cultural context.

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Correspondence to Judith Harris.

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Address Correspondence to: Judith Harris, Ph.D., 614 A Street Rear S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003, USA.

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Harris, J. An inheritance of terror: postmemory and transgenerational transmission of trauma in second generation jews after the holocaust. Am J Psychoanal 80, 69–84 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-020-09233-3

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Keywords

  • postmemory
  • transgenerational transmission of trauma
  • conspiracies of silence
  • metonymic displacement
  • posttrauma adaptational styles
  • reparative impact
  • narrative construction
  • Holocaust