Emancipatory voice and the recursivity of authentic silence: Holocaust descendant accounts of the dialectic between silence and voice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study traces the trajectory of Israeli grandchildren of Holocaust survivors (GCOS) as they give voice to their parents’ and their own previously silent embodied memory. Impacted by the pedagogic experience of state-engineered high school trips to sites of Holocaust atrocity and the promotion of GCOS testimony, ethnographic interviews disclose GCOS critique of parental silence. GCOS aim to usurp their parents’ role as ‘authentic’ carriers of memory by salvaging the silenced past and performing state-enlisted public testimony. The GCOS trajectory from familial silence to publically enlisted and performed voice is for some however contingent upon GCOS ‘authentic’ embodied memories of silent Holocaust-related relations with their parents–children of survivors (COS) or with grandparent-survivors. Other GGOS warn of the ‘flattening effect’ of public voice on the authenticity and emotional complexity of familial silent memories. Moving beyond unidirectional relations between voice and silence, where voice emancipates silenced pasts or silence absences voice, GCOS accounts reflexively depict the complex bidirectional and mutually qualifying trajectories between testimonial voice and familial silence. Descendant accounts permit for a deconstruction of the binary and univocal reading of embodied silence and voice and a reconceptualization of survivor/descendant authenticity. Implications regarding the inherent limits of silence and voice and the related challenges facing the subfield of Anthropology of Silence are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-461
Number of pages20
JournalHistory and Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Israel Science Foundation [grant number 1323/09].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Holocaust
  • Silence
  • embodiment
  • memory
  • testimonial voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology


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