Trauma in Holocaust Survivor Descendants (2G and 3G)



After surveying children (2Gs) and grandchildren (3Gs) of Holocaust survivors, Emily Cohen compiled a list of the 10 most-common transmissions of intergenerational trauma. Many of these transmissions apply to the survivors and next-generation survivors of other traumas as well. If you recognize yourself in these reactions, please know you are not alone. It's not YOU, it's what happened to you. And you CAN heal.

1. The world is a dangerous place. Nearly every child or grandchild of Holocaust survivors mentions the extreme overprotectiveness of their parent and/or grandparent. If they could bubble-wrap and keep you within reach at all times, they would. And when you do go out, they tell you all the bad things that might happen to you and need to know where you are at all times. As 2Gs and 3Gs grow older, the trauma shows up as a constant feeling of danger lurking around every corner and a fear of the world in general.

2. Practice makes perfect. Or does it? The pursuit of perfection and overreaction to simple or small mistakes is another common theme among children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Left your backpack at school? The world is ending. Lost your favorite ring? You're irresponsible and can't be trusted. This need for perfection can result in an irrational fear of making mistakes or the wrong decision and, in extreme cases, indecision paralysis.

3. Don't you dare complain. Most children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have felt that nothing they have gone or will ever go through is as bad as what their parent or grandparent experienced, therefore they should not complain about anything. This leads to low self-esteem and self-worth among 2Gs and 3Gs, as well as an inability to express emotions (because they don't matter anyway).

4. Be careful whom you trust. Another commonly mentioned reaction to Holocaust trauma is the resulting insularity of the survivor and the lack of trust -- especially with respect to non-Jews. The result for next generations? An inability to forge strong, true friendships and business relationships and the feeling that the only person you can trust is yourself.

5. Travel far and wide--or not. Closely related to the number-one transmitted trauma, travel anxiety takes the fear of the world to another level. Each trip is accompanied by the fear of never returning home or being stranded somewhere. Common reactions to this trauma are overpacking, obsessing about a backup plan, and canceling plans at the last minute to avoid the anxiety.

6. Don’t buy German products. From Volkwagen and Mercedes-Benz to Krups and Siemens, many Holocaust survivors still refuse to purchase German products. This aversion is also commonly transmitted to 2G and 3G survivors. In extreme cases, 2Gs and 3Gs won't ride in (let alone purchase) a German-made car or come in contact with a German-made product in any form.

7. How much food is enough? Stockpiling food for the next potentially horrific event is something with which most 2Gs and 3Gs are familiar. While emergency rations are clearly a good thing in certain areas, such as earthquake and hurricane zones, Holocaust survivors are known to take this to an extreme. Most of the children and grandchildren of survivors I work with have assumed this trauma reaction as well, making sure their refrigerator and freezer are always fully stocked.

8. Money, money, money. Hiding money in case of an impending disaster is also a classic reaction by Holocaust survivors. And there's never enough to feel safe, no matter how much money they have. For 2Gs and 3Gs, this fear of not having enough money often results in an unhealthy obsession with money and the need to know they can access it any time.

9. Don't change for me, don't change for you. Change is difficult for most human beings (we like things to stay the way they are), but for Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren, change can be one of the most anxiety-producing events in their lives. Even the smallest change can cause undue stress and worry and, when coupled with the fear of making mistakes, 2Gs and 3Gs can feel paralyzed.

10. A visceral reaction to pinstripes. Everyone knows the ubiquity of the 'striped pajamas,' the clothing that Jews were required to wear in concentration camp. Most Holocaust survivors with whom I spoke refused to wear pinstripe clothing and passed down that antipathy to their children and grandchildren. In extreme cases, the aversion applies to all types of stripes and even to loose, pajama-like clothing in general.

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