An article in the Guardian recently described the immense psychological and emotional challenges that children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors face as a result of the loss, trauma, and suffering experienced by their parents and grandparents. Many suffer from having been exposed to frequent and repetitive recounting of memories of horrific experiences of violence.
The article discusses how the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors can find a way to remember and honour the memory of their grandparents' experiences while simultaneously being able to lead lives that are not overwhelmed by this legacy.
The article raises questions, implicitly, about what can be done to assist the next generation in promoting resilience by those outside of their immediate families and communities.
Trauma is potentially exacerbated when society does not create sufficient opportunities for survivors of genocide and other mass atrocity to share their testimonies and experiences beyond the confines of their immediate families and friends.
In the case of Holocaust survivors, in Europe and North America it was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that society slowly and sometimes hesitantly became willing to hear and increasingly receptive to their narratives of pain, loss, and rebuilding of their lives. This societal resistance to hear and listen forced many Holocaust survivors to share their stories only with their closest relatives, and in some cases, this overburdened their family members psychologically.
In encouraging psychological health and well being for genocide survivors and for their children and grandchildren it is incumbent upon civil society - including the media as well as educational institutions such as universities and museums - to create frameworks in a timely manner in which survivors can express themselves.
In so doing survivors will not only feel respected and validated - which is essential for their well being and that of their families and the next generation - but also contribute positively to our knowledge and understanding of human rights violations and their impact individually and collectively.
This will, unfortunately, always be a timely issue. It is relevant to Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren and it is relevant to survivors of other genocides and mass atrocity.
The terror and loneliness of surviving genocide and of experiencing and witnessing mass violence demands a heightened civic consciousness and compassionate response that demonstrates solidarity and encourages the healing of survivors and their full integration into a society that is willing to listen and that honours and contributes to their resilience.