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Second Generation Groups

Second Generation Groups
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Paula David, MSW, Coordinator, Holocaust Resource Project, Baycrest Centre

Adult children of Survivors are as individual and unique as their parents. They grew up in homes where the Holocaust was not another school history topic, but a real and influential presence. As children, many heard of family histories cut short, and they heard of tragic and senseless loss. Others heard only weighty silences, witnessed pent up sorrow and were unclear about its source. Many understood their parents were "different," not just because they were immigrants with the associated differences, but due to a sorrow that permeated the air. As these children matured, they began to learn and read about the Holocaust and to piece the fragments of their family stories together. They focused on their parents' successes and struggles and continued to support them as they age.

In recent years, adult children of Holocaust Survivors have worked hard to reclaim their own experiences and feelings in order to combat labeling and diagnosis that manifests as a result of the symptomology. Adult children have raised social consciousness; they often express a collective identity and the need to work together to discuss, clarify and explore how they feel about their relationship to the Holocaust and their identity as children of Holocaust Survivors. These adult children, known as the Second Generation also emphasize strength, vitality and a high rate of academic, financial and professional success.

Today, they are caring for aging parents. As they also deal with their own mid-life issues, they look to each other for mutual support, understanding and insight. They are also looking to the future, and - often in the names of their lost families -- they commit themselves to Holocaust education and to maintaining the Survivors' legacy. Around the world, the adult children of Survivors are forming groups to provide this mutual aid and support, to educate the next generation and their communities.

Second Generation self-help and education groups can be successful within a variety of formats and themes. The only prerequisite is a common goal and a commitment to be open and accepting of differences. Indeed, most group members discover many commonalities. Whether they have already lost their parents, are providing care to aging parents, are maintaining long distance relationships or are involved in Holocaust education, there is much to talk about and discuss.

Support Groups

This type of group best reflects a self-help paradigm, providing peer support and mutual aid in relieving the stress related to difficult life situations. A formal support group requires a trained facilitator who will ensure a safe forum for the disclosure of potentially painful issues. The commonality in this type of group is family history, and so there will potentially be a range of different ages, lifestyles, religious observance and economic backgrounds in the participants. The facilitator must work with the group to continually clarify both the purpose and the desired outcomes in order to have a successful support group.

Other groups may be less formal and require a commitment by a group of friends to meet regularly and discuss the issues. Both types exist in large cities throughout North America, Europe and in Israel. An adult children's group might deal with issues of aging, caregiver issues associated with their aging parents, or the recent loss of an elderly parent. The children of Survivors are themselves growing older, and by virtue of their parents' shared trauma, they often have unique commonalties and Holocaust perspectives. Not only do these "children'" often have ambivalent and unresolved feelings towards their parents toward their parents' experience, the threat of a parent's death increases their sense of vulnerability. Loss, whether expressed or repressed, has been a shared theme in their lives.

Group members share their life narratives, their perception of the impact of the Holocaust on their lives, and how this particular trauma has informed their existence as parents, spouses, children and in their careers. The level of mutual acceptance and support within in these Groups is remarkable, especially considering the range of individuals involved. The group may be used as a surrogate family, and strong bonds -- based on mutual insights into a unique heritage - often develop and grow.
Education Groups

As so many Survivors have already passed away, the Second Generation is stepping forward to take on the role of Holocaust education. In cities around the world, they are speaking to school children of all faiths, sharing their family stories, and demonstrating the impact and horror of genocide and the importance of human rights. In the face of Holocaust deniers, it is difficult to deny the narratives of the children of Survivors. They have taken on this legacy to honour their parents and to commemorate the family members, the towns and the culture which died in the War, but were somehow re-born through their parents' stories.

In order to do this, the Second Generation are also educating themselves. They are online, they are meeting in libraries and synagogues and they are learning about the history and genealogy of their families, the ancestral homes and the countries their families left. They are taking and teaching courses in Holocaust studies, they are organizing conferences, they are travelling through Europe to sift through the ruins and learn. They are forming groups to stand up and tell the world that they are here and that their families survived.

Online Discussion Groups

As the Survivors dispersed around the world in search of safe havens, now their children are reaching out around the world and discovering each other. Internet chat room have allowed Second Generation adults living in many countries to meet online and to share their histories, their burdens and their accomplishments. Cyber-friendships based on mutual understanding and shared experiences have united many adult children whose paths would never have crossed before the Internet came along.

Across national boundaries and time zones, adult children in Israel compare notes with their counterparts in Australia, the U.S. Canada, Ireland and France. Their explorations have fostered the discovery of missing relatives, have forged new friendships, and have unearthed missing pieces of historical, geographical and familial narratives for the participants. Online groups can be accessed via an Internet search or via www.baycrest.org , the website of Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Community Development Groups

To pay homage to and carry on the role of aging or deceased Survivors, many adult children are now organizing Holocaust Memorial Days, Holocaust Education Weeks and special programs for their communities, both Jewish and secular. Community agencies play an important role in supporting adult children in this important work. They are seen as surviving "carriers" of their family stories, as the generation that will provide the link between the old world and the new. Together with their communities, the children of Survivors will be motivating others, ensuring their parents' fervent wish that we never forget.