Dr. Eva Fogelman, a pioneer in the Second Generation of Children of Holocaust Survivors movement in the United States (often called the ‘Gs), came to the Living Room in Teaneck last week to initiate discussions about what it means to be a member of the second generation in ‘006. The meeting was co-sponsored by Jewish Family Services of Bergen County and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. This movement began in the mid-’70s, when thousands of young adults whose parents survived the Holocaust became aware of their common family histories.
Fogelman showed a clip of her 1984 award-winning film for PBS, "Breaking the Silence: The Generation After the Holocaust," about people coming to grips with being the children of those who survived the Shoah.
She explained that many ‘Gs unwittingly experience a mourning process; it starts with shock as they confront the enormity of what their parents endured. Then there is a period of denial that is broken by a confrontation of the losses, which inevitably evokes emotional turmoil that needs to be channeled into a search for meaning. Many ‘Gs saw that their parents were shunned when they arrived in their new homelands even in Israel, Fogelman said. People thought they were mentally ill, or otherwise warped by their experiences.
But what about the mental health of the ‘Gs? According to Fogelman and others, the percentage of psychopathology among ‘Gs is the same as for any cohort. In fact, according to many studies (more than 150 doctoral dissertations have been written about the ‘Gs) they are even more aware of reality and better adjusted than many of their American peers. They are also said to be empathic. Most were named after someone who was killed; they question how to best communicate with their parents about the past, and their identities are influenced by their parents’ survival.
Despite the movement’s being 30 years old, some ‘Gs are just overcoming denial and begin to confront their family histories to start the search for their own identities. Those who were in the first groups used them to discover their commonalities and differences, their strengths and weaknesses, to heal themselves and find a meaningful way by which to remember the dead.
Some ‘Gs continue to stay in these specific groups or organizations because they have become extended families. Others moved on to other organizations and groups to get involved in Holocaust education, commemoration, human rights work, or engaging in cultural endeavors that focus on consciousness-raising, or they rebuild destroyed Jewish culture by studying Jewish texts, building Jewish communities, living in Israel, and raising the next generation of committed Jews.
In every group with a history of victimization, a small percentage, anywhere from 10 to ‘0 percent, will be "trapped" in recreating situations where they are victimized even when they are not, and groups and organizations can be an antidote to repeating the cycle of victimhood, said Fogelman.
To this end, according to Dr. Jonathan Garfinkle, JFS associate executive director, his organization "is committed to hosting an ongoing group for members of the second generation and monthly discussion groups on such topics as communicating with their own children, coping with elderly survivor parents, end-of-life issues, Jewish identity after Auschwitz, and social action.
"These kinds of discussions," said Garfinkle, "will help those who are just beginning to confront these issues for the first time in their lives."
For more information about these groups, which will be free, call Rabbi Amy Bolton at JFS, (’01) 837-9090.