Talking about the second generation

Talking about the second generation

Survivors’ children are invited to a film and discussion at the Rockland Holocaust Museum

In a scene from her film, documentarian Joan Salomon, right, talks to Elisabeth Schmitt of Essenheim.
In a scene from her film, documentarian Joan Salomon, right, talks to Elisabeth Schmitt of Essenheim.

Two things are true at the same time — the children of Holocaust survivors are as disparate a group of people as any other group would be, and the children of Holocaust survivors all have been affected by the parents’ trauma.

If those two things are true, it’s also true that each one will have been affected differently; the differences might be slight or they may be huge, but the fact that they exist is incontrovertible.

That also means that although many second generation survivors are interested in meeting, in some way, there’s no one format that can interest all of them.

At least that’s been Carol King’s experience.

Ms. King is a social worker, she’s on the board of Rockland Community College’s Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education, and she’s the Jewish family life educator at Rockland Jewish Family Service.

She’s also the daughter of Holocaust survivors; her mother, Rita King, who now is 90 years old, was liberated from Theresienstadt, and her father, Barry King, came from a chasidic family in the Carpathians and was liberated while he was on a train that Ms. King thinks was going between Buchenwald and Dachau. (Mr. King died in 1983.)

So she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to survivors and their children, both as an observer and as one of them.

“When I lived in the city” — New York City, that is, but of course — “years ago, I went to second gen meetings once a month,” she said. “I thought it would be nice to start one here. A lot of them were very therapy-focused, though, and that just wasn’t flying here.”

She tried to start a group for “say the last eight to 10 years, but it never really took off,” she said ruefully. “We would have a meeting once a month, and then quarterly. Usually it would be a small group, although it would get more people if we featured someone.” She’d try, it would be mildly successful, and then the whole thing would peter out once again. “And then I just dropped the ball,” she said. “But I was thinking about it a lot.”

Meanwhile, researchers have been working on the biology of trauma. Dr. Yael Danieli specializes in studying multigenerational trauma, Ms. King said; there are second generation groups that use her work. “A new group in Manhattan really started taking off half a year ago, and there’s also a third-generation group for grandchildren,” which makes sense in the light of work that says that not only does trauma echo down the generations, but that sometimes severe, long-term trauma changes a survivor’s DNA.

So Ms. King wanted to revive the idea of a second-generation group, and she used the results of her earlier efforts to decide what not to do.

It doesn’t work when you just have a discussion group, she said. You need a focus. A trigger. Something external — a movie, a book, a speaker — to allow people to react, without necessarily talking about their own trauma, although necessarily their traumas affect their lives.

Ms. King has worked with the executive director of the Holocaust Museum, Andrea Winograd, to begin what they are calling the 2G Film Series. (See box.)

The first film is called “Visiting the Past: Von New York nach Essenheim.” It’ll be shown in English, and a question and answer session will feature its creator, Dr. Joan Long Salomon, who’s written “Revival: Remembering the Forgotten Jews of Maintz.”

The film’s trailer, which is online, is striking — even though the old women who are shown in close-up speak only German. But you see Dr. Salomon walk through what clearly is an old town that seems to be made of shades of brown; all the women, though, have white hair, very pink skin, and startlingly light eyes. The town is where Dr. Salomon’s family lived before the Holocaust; it seems likely to be moving.

Whether or not trauma can be transmitted biologically, “I think that for me, wanting this group hasn’t been about the trauma,” Ms. King said. She doesn’t feel that her parents’ experience traumatized her, although she also thinks the intensity of a parent’s trauma as lived through a child might also have something to do with birth order. Her two sisters were born just 10 months apart, and she was born five years after the younger one. “I feel that we had different parents,” she said, and she is sure that her sisters experienced far more of their parents’ trauma than she did. For her, well, “I feel that I have certain issues because of who I am — but so does everyone else. We all have issues because of who we are.”

For Ms. King, “This is about social justice. It is a real call to speak up when you see things happening around you, both in the Jewish world and in the non-Jewish world.

“We have to be that voice.

“Genocides don’t happen overnight,” she said. “I teach about the Holocaust at Rockland Community College. I tell my students that this course isn’t only about the Holocaust. It’s about how. You see your role as a human being in the world.

“You have power. You have a voice.

“Remember that it’s not as if one day you wake up and have a genocide. No. It starts with looking at our neighbor as the Other.

“There are steps toward genocide. Once you start using words that make the Other as a different kind of human being, you are doing it. There is just one race. The human race. That race comes in many sizes and shapes and colors. In many varieties. But there is just one.

“We look at the Holocaust as if it was all Hitler. It was not. Much of the world was culpable.”

She quoted the historian Sir Ian Kershaw, who said, “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.”

“We are all different, but we have this legacy,” Ms. King said about the children of Holocaust survivors. “It is ours. Some chose to ignore it, some grapple with it, some run away from it.”

She chooses to confront it, and to use it to teach about how to keep it from happening again. Not to Jews. Not to anyone. Because we are all members of the human race.

What: The 2G Film Series will show “Visiting the Past: Von New York nach Essenheim”

When: On Thursday, August 8, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: At the Rockland JCC, 450 West Nyack Road in West Nyack

What else: The director, Joan Long Salomon, will be on hand for a Q and A session after the movie

For information or reservations: Email Carol King at  or call her at (845) 354-2121.

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