Posted on November 5, 2012 by Dr. Milgraum
From October 26th to 28th, Cleveland, Ohio was the host for the 24th Annual World Federation Conference of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Descendants. Five hundred people attended, many more than were originally expected. Participants came from all over the world and across the life span. First, second and third generations of those devastating wartime years were present, each contributing a unique perspective.
An important theme that emerged in the conference was that survivors who were children during the war had a different experience than people who were older. Individuals who came of age before the war were able to absorb education and culture, which helped guide them and give them strength during the challenging years that followed. In addition, they remembered what a normal world looked like, a world that they could hope would return. Too young to develop these assets, child survivors were often left to fend for themselves, in trying to comprehend the horrifying world they saw and in developing their own moral and spiritual selves. Religion was especially confusing for them, because most of them were hidden with non-Jewish families, many who converted the children to Christianity.
Now that seventy years have passed, almost no survivors who were adults during the war remain. The child survivors are therefore the last ones who can bear witness to the atrocities that Nazi hatred perpetrated. The child survivors also serve as an inspiration of how to persevere against all odds and proceed to live meaningful, productive lives.
The conference included many seminars and discussion sessions. Perhaps one of the most moving workshops was one facilitated by psychologist Michael Milgraum (from Silver Spring, MD), who is a child of a survivor. The title of the workshop was “Spirituality After the Holocaust—Where was God and Where is He Now?” One hundred people attended, and half of the audience consisted of survivors. “The many survivors at this workshop helps dispel the popular myth that survivors are not interested in discussing religious topics,” said Milgraum.
Milgraum is an Orthodox Jew, but, he says, “The purpose of this workshop was not to preach God or Orthodoxy or really to preach at all. I believe we are enriched when we grapple with the infinite and spirituality, when we continue to ask questions, even if satisfactory answers about human suffering are so hard to find.”
The workshop lasted for two hours. During the first half hour, Milgraum discussed the role of spirituality in his own life. The remainder of the session consisted of a lively audience discussion, with topics ranging from God’s involvement in the world, Jewish continuity, survival of Judaism as defiance against Hitler, tensions between religious and non-religious Jews, faith and sources of hope. Milgraum stressed that the purpose of the workshop was not to prove who was right and who was wrong, but to create a forum where different perspectives could be heard and acknowledged. Participants seemed very pleased with this opportunity to have their voices heard.
Milgraum is the author of Never Forget My Soul, a book discussing the multigenerational effects of the Holocaust and psychological/spiritual healing.