Transmitted trauma as badge of honor: Phenomenological accounts of Holocaust descendant resilient vulnerability

Carol A. Kidron, Dan M. Kotliar, Laurence J. Kirmayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores the phenomenological experience of the transmitted trauma legacies of Jewish-Israeli Holocaust descendants and their self-perceived sense of vulnerability and resilience. 55 in-depth interviews were conducted with second-generation Holocaust survivors in Israel in 2001–2004 and another 20 interviews in 2010–2011. Ethnographic interviews reveal unique local configurations of emotional vulnerability and strength. Respondents normalize and valorize emotional wounds describing them as a “scratch” and as a “badge of honor”. This self-depiction challenges the typical profile in the literature of the pathologized and vulnerable descendant. The meaning of the emotional “scratch” is mediated by culturally particular spiritual and moral-political worldviews as well as silent expressions of intergenerational memory that function both as risk and resilience factors for descendants’ distress. The finding that descendants resist binary readings of wellbeing and distress/illness challenges the cross-cultural translation of the resilience construct as a static construct or measure of wellness. Results point to ways that resilience and vulnerability may interact, qualifying one another in the process of meaning making. This concurrent experience of resilience and vulnerability challenges some key assumptions of the regnant “Holocaust model” of pathology in trauma theory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112524
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Cross-cultural translation
  • Holocaust
  • Resilience
  • Transmitted trauma
  • Trauma
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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