Echoes of the Holocaust
Shalom Robinson, M.D., Editor

Memory of the Holocaust

Flora Hogman, Ph.D.

She is a funky Jew, she says. She relates to her mother's friend who is Jewish and gay. She herself is dating an African American. She wants to get rid of stereotypes. She is impressed by her grandparents' fortitude. She says, "I want to change the education here; I want to save something, to bring a major change." While growing up she felt overwhelmed by her mother who always spoke about the Holocaust as the black devil after her, a mother who endlessly shared with her the themes of her life-long therapy. Tina wants to know if she is affected by the Holocaust since it affected her mother so. The Holocaust is a fundamental part of who she is.

Her mother states she grew up while her children (she has two daughters) were growing up, that's how the Holocaust affected them - her story takes precedence of her children's story; she confirms she spent her life in therapy: she was always afraid of the world; she never knew why, although she states her own mother was never there for her; a mother described as cut off from her feelings since her first child died at age 2 when she was escaping Poland; a controlling mother who never grieved but who talked a lot about the rest of the family who died. Grandparents met in Sobibor and separated when Tina's mother was 12; she was very attached to her father; she relates her story of coming from Holland to the States where she never fitted in; she became part of a hippy culture in the dance world. She enjoyed the children she says, tried to make it as a single mother (her husband left her after two years of marriage). Seeing a movie on Sobibor helped her understand some of her fears; after that, she spoke about the war to students all over the States; first drawn to Eastern religions, she finally found a comfortable Shule which related Judaism to Eastern religions - "a place where people come in jeans and there are lots of gay folks; a place to come and contemplate." She attempts to follow some Jewish traditions. She has expressed her feelings about the war through dance. She feels she has accomplished a lot, put the children through college; she feels that her children healed something in their mother who can now give "love and boundaries." She feels she let her children develop their own ways. She never spoke to them about the war; she always said, "Go ask Grandmother." Now she says probably they knew too much at a wrong age.

Mother's adult struggle, coping with the lack of nurturing in her childhood, appears reflected in Tina's struggle with her Jewish identity and Holocaust background. Mother comes across as a fighter, so does Tina. Tina went from shame to meaning, to understanding of her Jewish identity, then transcending shame for a sense of responsibility.

For 20-year-old Lisa, what it means to be a Jew is that she cannot date non-Jews. That would be finishing the work of Hitler, she has been told by her family, and it would kill her grandparents, she repeatedly tells me during our interview. "I am not kidding," she adds, "I get the Holocaust, I am like Hitler if I date a non-Jew. It's 'huge.'" She also feels obligated to tell the world about the Holocaust, to do something about anti-Semitism. The word obligation appears many times in that context. She denies being traumatized though. It is interesting to note that she has for the past five years dated a Moslem Turk, so her mother told me - as a result of which she has been sent to a college away from town. She has a lot of respect for her Hungarian grandmother and her inner strength; she wants to own a cosmetics company like her grandmother used to have, that's part of her identity; Jewish traditions are also part of her identity. She is torn between being Hungarian and American; she wants to find the place where she can feel part of a community.

She says, "The only place I felt comfortable was in Israel, at the Wall; I was part of something that was bigger than me; it didn't matter I was not religious; I cried; for the first time in my life I felt I belonged somewhere. Maybe I'll retire there."

Her mother tells about her own chaotic childhood. She was born in Europe right after the war: she tells of the escape from the Poles who tried to kill her and her parents, how she was instrumental in saving her father, the DP camps where they felt unsafe - perhaps that makes her daughter both a second and third generation survivor; she describes her parents' struggles to make it in America; her anger at her mother who daily spoke of her time in Auschwitz; she also felt very sorry for her parents and afraid for her mother who used to get depressed and even tried to commit suicide. She knew they had a hard time coping, she knew they loved her a lot. They celebrated the Jewish holidays always in secret: father was still afraid. She tries to pass down traditions, although she is lukewarm about the religion; she wishes she could be Orthodox, there is logic and structure in that group and a sense of family. About their traumatic past she says, "I always told my children (she has a son as well) about the Holocaust; we would talk at night, but I don't know what their reactions were." She says to her daughter "All our relatives died, we can't afford to lose any Jews any more."

As a child she was always day dreaming in front of movie magazines; when her children were born she soon started them in show business; they were professional actors as kids; they put themselves through college that way. "I thought they could do anything." She is very proud of their success, they were "like phoenix from ashes," "it had to do with the Holocaust." She herself has had a successful career and lives an upper middle class existence. Her husband, an American Jew, owns a business. She knows she is a nervous mother but she is trying to be a different mother from her own, to give more confidence, praise, hugs. She taught values of honesty, social responsibility but also of individualism, of being unique. One senses in that woman the tension, the fear of losing her parents, of hurting them, her fight against all that, all anxieties she seems to have transmitted to her daughter. Mother's ambivalent relationship to her own mother appears reflected in her child's wish to escape a family net of Holocaust anxiety-driven relationships: Lisa says she will never allow her mother to call her the way grandmother calls mother ten times a day.

Lisa's 16-year-old brother refused to speak with me: he doesn't want to have anything to do with the topic. [Page 2 of 5]

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