Can Holocaust Trauma Affect 'Third Generation'?

Studies Debate Impact on Grandchildren of Survivors

Memory 3-G: Experts debate whether having a grandparent who survived the Holocaust amounts to trauma.
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Memory 3-G: Experts debate whether having a grandparent who survived the Holocaust amounts to trauma.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published September 05, 2012, issue of September 07, 2012.
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Some researchers at the time found individual cases suggesting that children of traumatized survivors could be at risk for symptoms of traumalike anxiety and depression. Others, who tried to repeat these findings in broader scientific studies, found less evidence to support the notion that trauma could be transmitted between generations.

The third generation has its own unique set of experiences, quite different from that of their parents. The second generation “grew up at a time when Holocaust survivors were shunned in society,” said Eva Fogelman, a therapist who has written extensively on the issue. “Grandchildren of survivors grew up at a time in society when Holocaust survivors had regained their sense of dignity…. We have a transformation from shame to pride in the third generation.”

As was the case with studies of the second generation, controlled epidemiological studies have so far found scant proof of intergenerational transmission of trauma onto the third generation.

One meta-analysis of the available research published in 2008 by an Israeli and two Dutch researchers found no evidence for what it called “tertiary traumatization.”

The authors of the study, which was published in the journal Attachment & Human Development, recommend that third-generation offspring be “stimulated to search for the roots of their problems in other directions besides the Holocaust experience of their grandparents.”

Those skeptical findings have left some researchers undaunted.

Yael Danieli, a clinical psychologist who has researched and written on the children of Holocaust survivors, is currently working on developing a survey that will help measure the experiences of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. The project, funded by a $50,000 grant facilitated by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Anti-Defamation League, will create what Danieli says is the first measure of third-generation survivors’ experiences.

The survey, which is still in development, is headlined “Family Adaptation to Trauma.” It asks multiple-choice questions about family life among the descendants of survivors, and is designed for use in future studies by other researchers.

“The grandchildren literally forced us to look at them,” Danieli said. “It will be the first scientifically valid reliable measure of the experience.”


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