The text below is an abstract of a presentation that I will be giving at the 7th Biennial International Meaning Conference in Toronto on July 27th, 2012.
The child of Holocaust survivors (COS) is faced with both unique challenges and unique opportunities to find meaning. The challenges facing the COS are manifold and include:
· Being aware of the incomprehensible and overwhelming human evil of the Holocaust only second hand, while, at the same time, struggling with intense emotion about the Holocaust, oftentimes nonverbally communicated by the survivor parent.
· Developing a heightened sensitivity to human suffering (especially the anxiety, anger and depression experienced by the survivor parent) with a concomitant longing to soothe that suffering.
· Feeling driven to justify the parent’s survival by making a powerful impact on the world, while experiencing intense self doubt about one’s potency.
· Knowing the parent’s expectation that the child be happy (as opposed to the parent’s loss and despair), while sensing that much more than the pursuit of happiness is needed for anyone, especially COS, to feel whole.
The only true solution to these conflicts is for the COS to forge his own path to meaning. In this workshop, four such paths to meaning for the COS are proposed. These paths arise out of four areas of “disruptions in trust” that both survivors and the COS experience. The wartime experience gave rise to disruption of trust in 1) oneself, 2) close human relationships, 3) humanity in general, and 4) God.
Each of these paths will be discussed in turn, including an analysis of the cause for each disruption of trust and opportunities to repair it. Self/interpersonal repair strategies that will be discussed include awareness of one’s spiritual uniqueness, artistic expression, psychotherapy, affiliation with others, and personal acts of kindness. Repair strategies for renewing ones faith in God and His world include deliberate acts to improve the lives of others or resist injustice, acceptance of God’s will, acknowledgement of His greater wisdom, awareness of the goodness in one’s present life, and attentiveness to the inner voice of conscience.
Integral to the discussion will be a consideration of how trauma shapes the personality of the victim and how that personality, in turn, influences the next generation. The COS, who is keenly aware of this process, is highly sensitized to the effects of his parenting style, creating another fear of failure that the COS experiences.
Dr. Milgraum is a COS and the issues involved in this workshop have been important in both his personal and professional life. The process of loss, despair, and reawakening to opportunities for growth will be illustrated through real stories of survivors and their children. Dr. Milgraum will draw on the legacy of Victor Frankl and show that the challenge to find meaning in the face of the Holocaust continues 70 years after the war. This workshop is part informational, and part inspirational, challenging participants to face their own losses and cynicism and seek renewed reasons for hope. Audience participation will be encouraged.