Auschwitz remembered and enter Generation 3
Holocaust survivor Olga Horak told her Holocaust story at the 68th anniversary commemoration of the liberty of Auschwitz in Sydney yesterday… followed by her grandson who spoke about the Holocaust from a third generation survivor’s perspective.
More than 300 people filled the National Council of Jewish Women NSW premises in Woollahra to listen to personal accounts of the Holocaust from Olga Horak, NSW Labor MP Ron Hoenig and Regina Feiler who recounted the story of Her husband Jack’s experiences.
The Liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Memorial Day function was organised by the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their Descendents in conjuction with the Sydney Jewish Museum. The meeting was chaired by AAJHDS president Anna Berger.
Six candles were lit symbolising the six million and the Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence recited Kaddish.
As the was was officially the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day, a message was read from U.N. President Ban Ki-Moon by AUstralian representative Christopher Woothorpe.
Anthony Levin is the grandson of Olga Horak, a Holocaust survivor actively engaged in guiding visitors around the Sydney Jewish Museum.
He said that he first heard the term “third generation” around four years ago and he started creating a netwrok of third generation survivors in Europe and North America “in an attempt to gain insight into my own relationship to the Shoah. I also felt compelled to understand how it was possible to co-exist for so many years with stories of immense loss without actively working-through their psychological effects. And why after all that time, did I suddenly feel that such working-through was necessary, indeed indispensable, to my identity as a lawyer, a writer, a teacher – or more fundamentally, a human being?”
He continued: “Many of you may be asking – Why? Why do we need the third-generation perspective at all? For almost forty years the second-generation has pioneered the way for descendants to speak with legitimacy about what it’s like living in a survivor-family. Beginning with Helen Epstein’s seminal memoir Children of the Holocaust published in 1979, and continuing with literature by Art Spiegelman, and scholarship by Aaron Haas and Alan Berger, second-generation writing is now an established feature of Holocaust and Memory Studies. Although Epstein herself did not use the term, critics tend to cite her memoir as the work that established a sense of cohesion for such children. Two other events also helped to solidify a generational identity for children of survivors: one was the screening of the mini-series Holocaust: The Story of the Family Weiss in 1978 which reached 220 million Americans; the other was the creation of the world’s first video archive for Holocaust survivor testimonies by psychoanalyst and scholar Dori Laub. The archive was based on the premise that “every survivor has a unique story to tell.
But not every survivor is willing or able to tell his or her unique story. For every family in which a survivor speaks openly to their children about their experiences, there are those for whom silence is the only conceivable or possible response to the trauma of the Nazi genocide. The genealogies of such silence are varied: the silence of private reflection, the silence of the unspeakable, the silence of the dead. When we commemorate on an occasion such as this, we are enveloped by it. It is this relationship between silence and speaking, survival and death, which arguably marks the third-generation.
However, I am mindful not to make too many generalisations about the nature of this grouping. Firstly and anecdotally, our experiences tend to be as unique and heterogeneous as those of our survivor grandparents. I have interviewed “3Gs” who have never met their grandparents because they passed away before they were born; I’ve met others who grew up close to them but never asked any questions. This was certainly not my experience – nor was it my sister’s or my first cousin’s. Ours was an environment of exchange. I asked. I inquired. But even before I could properly articulate my curiosity, I have memories of my grandmother and late grandfather volunteering information. Every meal, every news story on TV contained the psychic triggers for a traumatic memory of hiding or the camps.”
Levin said that it is worth probing to discover “the nuances which might distinguish child from grandchild”.
He said that a researcher had written: “Grandchildren of survivors are only now old enough in large enough numbers to enable useful studies of their mental health. She concedes that although there are no conclusive findings, grandchildren appear to inherit some of the disturbances suffered by survivors and their children (29-30). In this respect, the second- and third-generations have much in common. To quote Efraim Sicher, “the memory of the post-Holocaust generation is of not having a memory” . In other words, what unites the post-generation as a whole is distance from the event, and in addition, a palpable connection to it which creates a feeling of proximity. We might call this the paradox of distance. In its most intimate forms, it may result not only from the transmission of stories but also exposure to, encounters with embodied affects; or touching testimonial objects.”
Anthony Levin spoke about relating family stories that belong to his family but were not his own. He said: “It may seem obvious to speak of shared distance, but that distance – historical or interpersonal or both – is now being complicated by the growing numbers of grandchildren who are engaging in acts of Holocaust remembrance and telling stories which are not their own. The third-generation is increasingly being viewed as “the generation that broke their grandparents’ silence…” (Massel) having been exposed to countless movies and television shows about the Holocaust. Leading psychologists like Dan Bar-On claim that the third-
generation created and normalised a language to talk about the Holocaust with their survivor-grandparents. I tend to consider the creation of such a language as a far more mutual achievement. Certainly, I listened attentively to my grandparents’ stories of survival. But it took me well into my twenties to bring any serious critical faculty to bear upon my role as a listener, and to appreciate the role of Holocaust memory in my life.”
Social media is now becoming an open arena for third generation survivors. Levin said tha Facebook and Twitter was being actively used and quoted a weblog on which is posted : “The third generation is the last living link to Holocaust survivors, and with this privilege comes the responsibility of owning our grandparents’ legacies. “(About 3Glegacy)
The difference between ownership and custodianship was emphasised by Levin. He said: “Whether the third-generation is indeed the last living link, notions of ownership, responsibility and legacy deserve greater attention. The notion of a legacy is popular among descendants, typically connoting something bequeathed or
handed down from the past. However, I would encourage a shift away from the rhetoric of ownership, and towards one of custodianship. I am not here to tell my grandmother’s or my grandfather’s stories. For those who are interested, I can talk about what it was like acquiring the vocabulary of mass murder well before I knew what genocide was. Custodianship conveys the sense of something entrusted to us, to guard, to maintain, not to own, but to pass on again. It concerns our responsibility to public memory.”
He concluded by saying: “Our responsibility does not end at the preservation of the archive or the recording of testimony; nor does it end with our questions in our living rooms or across our kitchen tables. It begins and extends out. In the context of contemporary violence and suffering, our questions ramify. They augment. Let us ask them unto the next – and unto the next.”
Ron Hoenig acknowledged the work Mary Ziegler had accomplished in recording his mother’s story saying that it was her wish never to make her story public.
The diminishing number of Auschwitz survivors stood in silent recognition.
Eddie Jaku, a 92-yr-old survivor still actively guiding at the Sydney Jewish museum received a standing ovation on the announcement of the OAM awarded to him in the Australia Day Honours List.
Liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Day
AAJHSD joint function with the Sydney Jewish Museum