Embodying the Distant past: Holocaust descendant narratives of the lived presence of the genocidal past

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In accordance with diverse scholarly epistemologies, surviving traces of mass violence and human suffering are carried over beyond the individual psychic experience of the direct victims of violence. The legacy of genocide is thought to live on inevitably in the intimate social milieu of familial relations and consequently in the everyday lived experience of descendant generations. Foundational paradigms in psychology and Holocaust and genocide studies have explored descendant legacies and their subjective experience of the traces of difficult ancestral pasts. Highlighting the experience of distress and at times disorder, theseparadigms have asserted that trauma descendants share a legacy of PTSD-related psychosocial scars (Danieli, 1998; Rousseau and Drapeau, 1998) and childhood memories of a familial “conspiracy of silence” (Bar-On, 1992). Familial genocide history of parental suffering is considered to be shrouded in oppressive silence. The legacy of genocide descendants is thereby portrayed as one of potential suffering in the face of the silent and haunting presence of psychosocial distress and disorder. They are also portrayed as searching for narrative voice and historical knowledge regarding foundational events that have shaped their lives. Talk therapy and public forms of verbal articulation and testimony are put forth bymental health practitioners and genocide scholars alike as not only psychically healing but also sociopolitically redemptive.The anthropology of genocide (A. Hinton, 2002) and the relatively new field of anthropology of memory have explored descendants’ resistant passage from oppressive silence to liberation through voice. Research has examined this shift toward voice within collective monumental forms of testimonial commemoration, or local ritual performative forms of religious or artistic representation (Kwon, this volume; Argenti, 2007). Social historians and family studies scholars have also documented and interpreted the preceding processes of narrativization, however, within the more private domestic practice of intergenerational transmission of pivotal parental tales of survival (Hollander-Goldfein, 2002). It may be claimed, however, that the scholarly focus on voice has overshadowed the phenomenon of silent, tacit, and visceral multisensorial forms of mnemonic representation. Consequently, we know little regarding the taken-for-granted processes in which these corporeal representations may have been intergenerationally transmitted from genocide survivors to theirdescendants (Kidron, 2009). Aiming to explore this tacit and sensorial legacy of descendant memory, this chapter will present an ethnography of Holocaust descendant embodiment of the Holocaust past.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGenocide and Mass Violence
Subtitle of host publicationMemory, Symptom, and Recovery
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781107706859
ISBN (Print)9781107069541
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2015.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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