May 6, 2008
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Related projects were taking place in New York, as well, including the first national Second Generation Conference, held in 1979, with participants and mental health professionals from across the country. And the first World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, including their descendants, followed in Jerusalem, in June 1981.
Through these programs, children of survivors, many of them already adults, discovered others who shared their unusual upbringing. Beyond the typical children-of-immigrants' experience of yearning for white bread and Mallomar cookies when their parents insisted on rye bread and rugalach, they immediately understood each other and their often challenging family dynamics.
"Never before in history was an entire generation cut off from its ancestry. It is what has shaped us. We are in constant mourning for relationships we never had," said Firestone, 60.
Clinical psychologist Aaron Hass, 59, author of "In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation (Cornell University Press, 1990), himself a Second Gen, stresses that it is difficult to make generalizations about the children of survivors, just as it is difficult to make generalizations about the survivors themselves and their post-war reactions. Still, with caveats, he is comfortable saying Second Gens share some similar traits.
For example, he said, Second Gens tend to have been overprotected by their parents and as a result have had difficulty separating and developing as distinct individuals. They were also often denied a certain empathy from their parents, who reacted to their distress with such statements as, "You think that's a problem?" This, in turn, affected the children's willingness to be open with their parents.
"They would often hide their problems from their parents and often a very unreal relationship took place," Hass said.
Darlene Basch, 54, a Two Gen and licensed clinical social worker, has worked with the survivor community, first in San Francisco, and later in Los Angeles, since 1978. She finds that children of survivors, while a diverse group, also tend to be very family oriented and loyal. Many are good at discerning "what's really going on," and an unusually high proportion has entered the helping and artistic professions, becoming doctors and psychologists, authors and painters. Additionally, many experience an ongoing sense of rootlessness.
"Most of us don't feel that we belong anywhere. We grew up with this impending sense of doom," she said, adding that when Sept. 11 hit, children of survivors were not as traumatized as other people since "they expected things like this to happen."
But while Hass believes that Two Gens, in general, have suffered lasting fallout from their parents' experiences, exhibiting a little more anxiety and cynicism than the children of nonsurvivor parents, he stops short in saying that Second Gens were traumatized by their parents.
"That's a grossly overdramatic statement," he said, explaining that, in psychological terms, a traumatized person has a great deal of difficulty functioning in the world, a debilitating condition he doesn't ascribe to most Second Gens.
Basch, however, and other mental health professionals who work with survivors believe that the effects of unresolved trauma can be transmitted intergenerationally. They cite studies by Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and other post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) researchers demonstrating that children of survivors with PTSD are likely have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making them more vulnerable to developing the disorder themselves.
Massive trauma, if untreated, can lead to hormonal problems as well as diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other immune-suppressed diseases down through seven generations, according to Kinsler, 78, who is retired from Jewish Family Service but still in private practice and who has been following the work of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies since its 1984 inception.
Other studies, however, such as research done by Avi Sagi-Schwartz at the University of Haifa's department of psychology, released in May 2007, dispute the theory that the effects of trauma can be passed down through the generations. Rather Sagi-Schwartz found that children and grandchildren of survivors demonstrate the same normative behaviors of those who were not survivors' children and grandchildren.
Nevertheless, a class-action suit has been filed against the German government by a group representing thousands of children of Holocaust survivors in Israel, demanding that Germany pay for psychiatric care for a variety of emotional disorders, including addictions and post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by living with dysfunctional survivor parents.
The suit, filed in July 2007, seeks funds to cover biweekly therapy sessions for three years for 15,000 to 20,000 people, 4 to 5 percent of Israel's estimated population of 400,000 children of survivors.
But many Second Gens opt to dismiss or ignore the possible emotional repercussions, often channeling their energies into other endeavors.
A child of two survivors, Doris Wise Montrose, 58, founded Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors Los Angeles on July 13, 2006, just after the outbreak of the Lebanon War, to actively advocate for Israel and to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
While only Montrose and three of her board members are Second Generation, Montrose established the political and educational organization in honor of her father and those who perished in the Holocaust.
"I have a real sense of dread. If Israel ceases to exist, my ability to live as a Jew with integrity anywhere in the world and to wear my Star of David is eliminated," Montrose said.
Albert Praw, 60, the son the two survivor parents, works devotedly for Israel and the Los Angeles Jewish community. "I am told there is a whole psychology about children of survivors, and indeed I have a three-volume set written on the subject that I have never looked at," he said.
Praw, however, has ensured that his children know their grandparents' stories, and, indeed, the Third Generation generally reports a close and loving relationship with their survivor grandparents, who often mellow when their grandchildren are born.