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Stories my parents told me, too.

August 27, 2009 – 8:37 pm8 Comments

everythingisBy The Hasid

Many of you may have read Mark Dapin’s article about second generation Holocaust survivors, “Stories My Parents Told Me”, in Good Weekend last Saturday (22 August). The article was sensitive and well-written, and the experiences of the interviewees were probably very familiar to anyone who has grown up Jewish in Melbourne. Unfortunately I can’t provide a link to the complete article as Good Weekend content is not posted on any of the Fairfax websites (get thee to a hard copy).

What irked me slightly about the piece, though, was the ending. Dapin quotes one of the interviewees, who mentions her children going out for drinks on Friday night, and he seems to extrapolate this as representative of a general concern that second generation survivors have about their children – that they may not fully appreciate the sacrifices made by their grandparents. It seems an odd conclusion to me – one that comes in through the back door, so to speak, when no grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have been interviewed or mentioned in the article at all.

“It’s one of the things I’m struggling with now,” says Magda, “because my kids work in the city and it’s the done thing that you go for drinks after work on a Friday night. In my day, I wouldn’t dream of not being home for Friday night [for the Sabbath dinner]. They don’t feel the pull of what our parents would’ve said. That is, ‘You’re not missing out by not drinking.’”

“But our parents had a wonderful way of working with words,” says Erica, “to get us to do what they wanted us to do. They knew which buttons were the guilt buttons.”

“And our kids don’t feel guilt about anything,” says Magda. “We over-compensated. Our kids have to be happy. Our kids have to never feel guilty. Our kids have to have options.”

Nobody wants to keep alive their parents’ anguish and apprehension, their mistrust and dismay, but some of the second generation worry their children have forgotten the lessons learnt behind barbed wire, and don’t understand the sacrifices made in the camps and in the forests, the unstated pacts across family lines. While the second generation grew up feeling the weight – or even the reward – of the history of the 20th century, they fear that the past has lost meaning for the present – and, in the future, not even memory will survive.

Weird conclusion, no?

It’s something of a sombre, depressing ending. And kind of makes me (a grandchild of Holocaust survivors) angry. The suggestion that the third generation may not “understand the sacrifices made in the camps” could not be further from my experience and that of my friends. The Holocaust was in the ether of my childhood and education. My parents have been deeply affected by the experiences of their parents, older relatives and friends’ parents. As an adult, it informs who I am and how I see the world. Call it guilt, memory, whatever you like: not a day goes by when I do not reflect (however briefly) upon my grandparents’ survival, the ‘accident’ of my birth, and the responsibility of perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust. I think it makes me a better, more compassionate person. And sometimes a bit… prone to worrying. But in a good way, you know?

A friend of mine, also in her twenties, recently told me a story I found at once funny, sad and poignant. She clearly remembers attending an after-school activity when she was very young (5 or 6, I think). Many of the other children in attendance were Jewish. My friend asked one of the other children if she was Jewish, to which she responded in the affirmative, but added in a hushed tone, “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone!” My friend asked why. “Because of the the Holocaust,” the other girl whispered.

Part of me gets the angle Dapin is going for. I can understand the concerns expressed by the individuals he interviewed (though they wouldn’t have been aware of how Dapin would interpret their comments). If that’s how they feel, then that’s how they feel. But for Dapin to suggest (and to be fair, he suggests, doesn’t assert) that my generation not feeling guilty (and ohhhh, let me assure you, we feel guilty!) means that we don’t understand the sacrifices made by our grandparents, or don’t appreciate the lessons of history, is kind of simplistic. And also not true. While I don’t go out for drinks on Friday night, I don’t really see why doing so precludes one from having a deep appreciation of the legacy of the Holocaust. (I’m not sure that that’s what Kron was implying either – it seemed to me more that she was pointing out the generational differences. But I’m just speculating here, because obviously I have no way of knowing what went on in the interview.)

What do you think? Is Dapin right?

How do you relate to this conclusion, whether you’re a descendant of Holocaust survivors or not?

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