Toward an ethnography of silence: The lived presence of the past in the everyday life of Holocaust trauma survivors and their descendants in Israel

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Abstract

Despite the abundant scholarship on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the memoropolitics entailed by testimonial accounts of trauma and genocide, little is known of the everyday experience of trauma survivors and their descendants. Survivor silence is thought to signify only psychological or political repression and the "unspeakability" of traumatic pasts. It is widely accepted that the everyday lives of trauma victims and their descendants entail only the "absence of presence" of the past and the absence of descendant knowledge of that past, while the familial social milieu is thought to foster only the wounds of transmitted PTSD. Contrary to the literature, ethnographic accounts of Holocaust descendants depict the survivor home as embedding the nonpathological presence of the Holocaust past within silent, embodied practices, person-object interaction, and person-person interaction. These silent traces form an experiential matrix of Holocaust presence that sustains familial "lived memory" of the past and transmits tacit knowledge of the past within the everyday private social milieu. The ethnography of silent memory may also provide a tentative model of nontraumatic individual and familial memory work in everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-27
Number of pages23
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Volume50
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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