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Researchers Remember

Research as an Arena of Memory Among Descendants of Holocaust Survivors, a Collected Volume of Academic Autobiographies

by Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz (Volume editor) Shmuel Refael (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 426 Pages

Summary

The book Researchers Remember: Research as an Arena of Memory Among Descendants of Holocaust Survivors, a Collected Volume of Academic Auto-biographies is composed of over 30 essays written by prominent researchers worldwide belonging to the “Second Generation” and “ Third Generation” of Holocaust offspring. Each essay traces the author’s path to a research profession, focusing on the influence of their family’s Holocaust background at various crossroads of their life.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Introduction
  • Children of the 1940s (1945–1949)
  • A Legacy of Displacement and the Search for Home (David Clark)
  • Righting a Life Which Started on the Wrong Foot (Samuel Juni)
  • Becoming (Ela Karpowicz)
  • Towards the Holocaust: A Son of Survivors in Search of Himself (Abraham J. Peck)
  • The Holocaust and I (Abraham Z. Reznick)
  • Nature or Nurture and My Search for Roots (Bela Ruth Samuel Tenenholtz)
  • Children of the 1950s (1950–1959)
  • In the Beginning There Was Auschwitz (Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz)
  • My Mother the Hero (Dov Dori)
  • From Holocaust to Breaking the Glass Ceiling (Yehudit Judy Dori)
  • I Have No Other Country (Dov Eichenwald)
  • “I Didn’t Choose to be a Second Generation” (Zehavit Gross)
  • Would the Real Anita Please Rise (Anita H. Grosz)
  • Surviving Survivors (Jacqueline Heller)
  • On Being Second Generation and My Major Life Choices (Naomi Levy)
  • The Holocaust Is a Black Hole (Hilda Nissimi)
  • Rewriting My Identity – From “Feeling Jewish” to Discovery of My Heritage (Katalin Pécsi-Pollner)
  • Pass the Parcel (Haim Taitelbaum)
  • Children of the 1960s (1960–1969)
  • Hide and Seek: A Conversation with My Father in Three Voices (Dorota Glowacka)
  • Singing History (Susan Jacobowitz)
  • A Greek-Jewish Family in a German Bauhaus (Shmuel Refael)
  • Academia as a Voyage of Survival (Dov Schwartz)
  • My Parents’ Story Is Also My Story – But Different (Anita Winter)
  • Children of the 1970s and Onwards (1970–)
  • My Heritage (Dan Carter)
  • Between the Shoah and Masada – An Unfulfilled Historical Journey (Emmanuel Friedheim)
  • Memory, Tradition, Family: A Second Generation as Mother and Researcher (Rahel Jarach-Sztern)
  • (Re)affirming the Past: Growing Up as the Child of a Holocaust Survivor (Rina Krautwirth)
  • From Holocaust “Intrusions” to Holocaust Research (Liat Steir-Livny)
  • Reflections of a Third-Generation Holocaust Scholar (Daniela Ozacky Stern)
  • Coming Home (Ariel Zellman)
  • Contributors

Introduction

“From as far back as I can remember I was a curious boy, always asking questions, always wanting to know ‘why’?” writes a son of Holocaust survivors from Poland. “‘You should be a scientist!’ my mother would say when I took things apart and put them back together, trying to make them better, trying to fix what was broken. The only thing I couldn’t fix were my parents, whom the Nazis had tried very hard to break. They didn’t completely succeed; after all, they survived the war, found each other, got married, and I was born. But my awareness of what my parents experienced during the Holocaust influenced what I chose to study, and definitely had bearing on my becoming an academic researcher. It influenced my adult life, my profession, my personal research, my interests, my social activities, my volunteer work, and still does until today.”1

This is a book about research, but even more so, about researchers. A book about memory, but also about trying to forget. A book about the Holocaust, but one that only begins once it’s over. A book about survivors, but only as far as their story impacts upon their offspring. “How do you cope when the most important events of your life occurred before you were born? What does this do to your sense of time? Of authenticity?” writes Second Generation author and literary critic Melvin J. Bukiet.2 For the subjects of this book, Second and Third Generation (“2g” and “3g”) offspring of Holocaust survivors who chose a research profession, that event was the Holocaust, occurring long before they were born, and shaping everything that came after it, including their own lives.

“In the beginning there was the Holocaust,”3 summarizes Dr. Moshe Shner, a 2g philosopher specializing in the impact of Holocaust memory on ←11 | 12→Jewish identity. For many offspring of Holocaust survivors, that sentence says it all. For researchers who are offspring of Holocaust survivors, it often takes on additional meaning. “Hitler has been defeated, but I excel in my research in memory of his victims. I want their stories to remain known forever and not sink into oblivion,”4 writes a 2g genealogical researcher from Eastern Europe.

Research is about precision, but at times about fluid definitions. To determine who is an offspring of Holocaust survivors, one must first establish who is a survivor. Definitions range from the exclusive – only Jews who survived the war years in occupied Europe – to the inclusive, anyone experiencing Nazism firsthand, from pre-war refugees, through Siberian wartime deportees, and onward. “In comparison to my father’s life experience, my mother’s Holocaust experience was a walk through the park,”5 writes gastroenterologist and medical researcher, Dr. Dan Carter, son of an Auschwitz survivor and a Siberian deportee, in this volume.

Generally speaking, though, we did not distinguish between different levels of Holocaust experiences in defining who was a survivor. In this book, the determining factor was self-definition. If your parents spent any time under the Nazis, and you considered yourself an offspring of Holocaust survivors, that was enough. After all, despite our parents’ disparate experiences, there were some unshakeable common denominators.

Like Jews after the Holocaust identifying each other by the code word amcha (Hebrew for “our nation”) 2g and 3g members often share codes impenetrable to outsiders. Even common terms such as “survivors” can become loaded in certain situations. “This is a project about survivors,” said one 2g focus group participant while preparing this book. “You mean survivors’ offspring,” corrected another participant. “No, survivors. We survived our parent’s Holocaust!”, he responded, as we all burst into ironic laughter.

Another time we discussed security. “Security is a passport by your bed, an envelope of cash, and a full gas tank in case you have to run,” stated a 2g, only half in jest, to a different survivor offspring focus group. “Cash? Never!”, retorted another member in all seriousness. “Much too bulky. Only diamonds, best for trading lives!”, she concluded, the voice of her parents’ wartime experiences. And what of a 2g doctor discussing diabetic ←12 | 13→diets with a 2g patient complaining about being told not to eat potatoes? “A bit of potato peel soup never killed anyone, or did it?”, was his dry response. These examples only skim the surface of our somewhat bizarre heritage. “No one who hasn’t grown up in such a household can conceive it, while every 2g has something in common,”6 writes Bukiet, yet another sentence only partially understood by the uninitiated.

This is a book about 2g and 3g researchers, but who is a researcher? That was a bit more difficult to determine. Academic researchers, carrying out their work in colleges and universities, were obvious, as were medical and legal researchers or government scientists. But what about the non-academic researchers? Independent researchers, family genealogists, or writers whose work involves a strong research component? Here, too, we decided that inclusive was preferable to exclusive, with self-definition playing an important role.

There is a word deliberately missing from our lengthy title, one that usually functions as a less-than-silent accompaniment to almost everything having to do with the Holocaust: “Jew.” A historian might state that the term “Holocaust” already includes the word “Jew” as, by definition, only Jews experienced the Holocaust. Everyone else underwent Nazi persecution, racism, fascism, or the Second World War, while the “Holocaust,” which even the ubiquitous Wikipedia, with a certain degree of chronological and geographical inaccuracy, describes as “the World War II genocide of the European Jews.”7 was solely a Jewish experience. But that is too simplistic an explanation. After all, if we already had nineteen words in our overburdened title, why couldn’t we stretch it to twenty?

While each of the participants in this volume had at least one Jewish parent or grandparent who experienced the Holocaust, that did not necessarily make them Jewish. “The first question one should ask a 2g from Eastern Europe was ‘when did you first find out that you were Jewish?’”, said one of this book’s Eastern European participants, opening our eyes to the geographical diversity of certain 2g experiences. Here, too, we decided to take a leaf out of Bukiet’s collected volume of writings by descendants ←13 | 14→of Jewish Holocaust survivors. “If your ancestors were Jewish enough for Hitler, you were Jewish enough for me,”8 he stated, and so it is for us as well.

But the geographical diversity had other aspects as well. “The second question you should ask us is ‘when did you first experience antisemitism,’” said another Eastern European 2g. The more we delved into this diversity, the more we learned about a very different 2g culture in Eastern Europe, with the Holocaust memory of their parents being vividly combined with everyday antisemitism around them. In the words of an Eastern European 2g physicist:

“As a child… I encountered intensive antisemitism virtually every day, both at the ‘street’ level, and later as a university student. Four years after I graduated, it became accidentally known that during the Nazi occupation, the Dean of my faculty, who had demonstrated his overt hatred of me, had voluntarily served in the German-established auxiliary police…There was a popular joke in the former USSR about someone who submitted an application for joining the party. Having inspected his request, the local party functionary said: It seems generally okay, but you wrote the first sentence in a strange form, I ask to be accepted into the ranks of KP, while the party is called KPSS (an acronym for ‘communist party of the soviet union,’ in Russian). The guy replied: I have already been a member of SS.”9 Humor, as scholars have taught us, can give us unique insights into both tragedy and reality. The same is true of 2g humor, as we shall see throughout this volume.

* * *

This book had its genesis in a combination of chance and Covid-19. It was born out of the “Researchers Remember” Forum at the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research at Bar-Ilan University, a Forum conceived as the result of an off-the-cuff remark by Prof. Miriam Faust, our university rector (provost) at the time. As we exited a conference hall together in November 2018 she asked: “If I could offer you funds for an interdisciplinary Holocaust project, what would you propose to study?” “Second Generation researchers like myself,” Judy answered, without missing a beat, “What makes us tick.” “Go for it,” she responded. “Write up a proposal and submit it to our committee.” Together with Prof. Shmuel Refael, ←14 | 15→son of Greek Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz and Director of the Salti Institute for Ladino Studies at Bar-Ilan, we submitted a proposal for examining research as an arena of memory among offspring of Holocaust survivors.

Even before the proposal was accepted we formed a first focus group of eight researchers – Judy Baumel-Schwartz, Dan Carter, Zehavit Gross, Shmuel Refael, Dov Schwartz, Liat Steir-Livny, Haim Taitelbaum and Ilan Tzarfati – medical doctors, scientists, humanities and social science scholars – who began meeting monthly to discuss the connection between their 2g and 3g heritage and the major decisions they made in their lives, including to become researchers. The idea behind studying researchers came from more than just wanting to know “what made us tick,” as originally stated. Until then, professional studies conducted on offspring of Holocaust survivors were primarily sociological and psychological, with more recent studies concentrating on epigenetics of inherited trauma, health issues, etc. A few studies focused on 2g professional choices, but limited themselves to concluding that many chose “helping professions,” possibly as a response to their family Holocaust background. Other than that, there were no studies that dealt with specific professional choices of Holocaust survivor offspring and certainly none that concentrated on those who chose a research profession.

And yet, descendants of Holocaust survivors have produced a long list of researchers in various fields. These researchers can be divided into two basic categories: those who chose to devote their professional lives to researching topics pertaining in some way to the trauma of the Holocaust, their family background or communal or national history, and those whose fields of research have no direct connection to the Holocaust. There are those about whom one can state that their entire field of research is driven by the trauma that their parents experienced, which they translated into an almost therapeutic force that propelled their research. And there are others who don’t see any connection between their professional choices and their personal past, yet the Holocaust often appears to accompany their professional life like a shadow that follows them everywhere. The idea behind the original research project was to begin mapping out the territory in this field, examining the connection between a research profession and a Holocaust heritage.

In addition to the focus group, the forum expanded to eventually include over 250 researchers worldwide in the humanities, social sciences, ←15 | 16→biological sciences, physical sciences, and medicine. Forum members filled out a detailed questionnaire about their family background, experiences, and decisions. In late autumn 2019, as our first focus group entered into its second year of meetings, it also began planning an international conference, scheduled for November 2020, in which participants would examine their Holocaust background and research choices. One of the highlights was to be a discussion of our mixed-methods study based on the results of more than 200 questionnaires and in-depth interviews with focus group members.

Man proposes and Covid disposes. Four months into the planning, the Covid-19 pandemic began, and with it, the understanding that a face-to-face international conference would not be possible in the near future. At the group’s first post-Covid-19 meeting, which like everything else at that time, transitioned to a Zoom platform, we decided to alter our trajectory from oral to written. Our goal was now to put together a book of “ego-documents,” to use the engaging term coined by Dutch-Jewish historian Jacques Presser. Similar to the usual memoir genre, these academic autobiographies would focus on the life histories of forum members. But unlike free-flow life history narratives, the autobiographical essays would focus on our Holocaust heritage, and its connection to the major choices and transitions of our lives. To broaden our base we set up two additional focus groups, one of seven Israeli participants, and an international group of fifteen 2gs and 3gs from five countries, whose members began a series of intensive Zoom workshops in preparation for writing their essays.

Who are the focus group members who wrote essays for this book? Half are Israeli and half come from Europe, the United States and Canada. All are descendants of Holocaust survivors who have chosen a research profession, or have devoted a substantial part of their professional lives to professions in which research is a significant component. All of the 2gs were born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1980s while all 3gs were born between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s. Their parents and grandparents had different Holocaust experiences. Some grew up in homes where the Holocaust was discussed openly. Others were reared in families where the cataclysm was present primarily by its absence. There were those whose parents and grandparents spoke freely about their wartime experiences. Another group was raised by those who were silent about that topic.

Despite these disparities, in addition to being 2g and 3g, and belonging to the “Researchers Remember” Forum, all the authors had another common denominator: their immediate response when we approached ←16 | 17→them about participating in this volume. If they needed time to think, they were out. If they didn’t answer within five seconds, they weren’t in. If their answer began even before we finished the question, they were in the right direction, and if that answer was “certainly!” we had a winner. “One thing we learned from our parents was not to hesitate,” said one of them. “And never to show weakness,” added another. But it was their intense desire to be part of this experiment, delving into their past and present, that was the clincher. Our parents and grandparents may have made it through the gates of Hell, but not every 2g or 3g wishes to face the blazing inferno and analyze how they were affected by its heat.

Much of our story revolves around the connection between that inferno and our lives. What was our first exposure to the Holocaust? To what degree did we feel ourselves to be “memorial candles” during our childhood and after? How prevalent was the Holocaust in our childhood homes and those we made for ourselves as adults? What role did being 2g or 3g have in our social and personal relationships, choice of spouse, personal and professional choices? How did our ancestors’ Holocaust experiences affect our personal and professional trajectories? For those who became researchers, was there a connection between their background and their choice of a research profession where they were taught to use various analytical tools and encouraged – or at times even forced – to ask questions and discuss difficult issues in depth? How do 2g and 3g researchers deal with Holocaust memory? How does their research, and the research tools that they constantly employ, impact upon the way that they deal with the Holocaust and its influence on their lives and that of their families? Finally, how did their research become an arena of memory? These were the questions that set the framework for our autobiographical essays.

What epitomizes the life of a researcher who is the descendant of a Holocaust survivor? That question lies in the crux of this volume, along with the broader related study that we have conducted during the past two years.

“I research the healing influences of listening and attentiveness. The listening and attentiveness that I received in recent years helped me come to terms with my emotional pain. I feel a sense of mission as listening and attentiveness can contribute to peace and do the opposite of what the Nazis did,” states a professor of organizational behavior, whose parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland.10

←17 | 18→

“Research is closely related to my sense of identity, and the information I have found has helped give me a more rooted sense of where I come from; I have always had a strong wish to right injustices, and my research is enabling me to do that to some extent for my relatives who perished,” states a British genealogical researcher, child of a German-Jewish refugee mother.11

“My advance in academia was meteoric,” recalls Prof. Dov Schwartz, a 2g Jewish philosopher and son of Romanian Holocaust survivors in this volume.

“By my third year of studies, I already held a three/quarter teaching position. At the beginning of my fourth year at the university, I submitted my doctorate… By the time I turned thirty-three, I was an associate professor… By the age of thirty-seven, I was a full professor. It is unquestionably clear to me that, had I not been a Second Generation of Holocaust survivors, I would not have engaged in a mad race to attain tenure and promotions…Intellectuals may have been the first to go under Hitler, but I was going to prove to my parents that academics could survive and flourish.”12

* * *

Even when you think you know everything there is to know about being 2g, there are still surprises. We had so many common denominators that it was almost too easy to forget our differences. So many of us had often felt we were “memorial candles” (“I was an entire candle factory!” stated one focus group participant), compensating parents and\or grandparents for their wartime traumas by our very existence. More than a few had survivor parents who had suffered from emotional traumas and mental health issues (“How many of us didn’t have a parent with a breakdown?” was a focus group discussion topic). And with very few exceptions, whether our families dealt with the memory of the Holocaust through sacred solemnity or biting humor, almost all of us ultimately knew that we were their triumph over what they had endured, “a retroactive victory of tyranny and genocide,” in Bukiet’s terms.13

But there were also differences. The first became obvious when discussing the dichotomy between the various Holocaust discourses that formed the background of our upbringing. “You were raised in America, there it was ←18 | 19→different,” was a repeated refrain in our focus groups, seconded by “You were born after 1970, that was a different world.” We may have all been 2gs and 3gs, but we were definitely divided by geography and chronology.

The impact of those divisions became even more apparent when analyzing the results of the questionnaires that formed the second stage of our project. Three quarters of the 2g researchers living abroad still felt themselves to be “memorial candles,” as opposed to less than half of those living in Israel. Close to 80% of the 2g researchers living abroad felt a strong connection between their Holocaust heritage and their choice of a research profession, as opposed to less than 40% of the Israeli 2gs.

Similar dichotomies existed in terms of age groups. Twice as many older 2g researchers (born before 1950), than younger ones (born after 1970) stated that the Holocaust was very present in their homes and that they spoke about it often with their families. Over half of the older 2g researchers stated that the connection between their Holocaust background and choice of a research profession grew stronger with time, as opposed to only a third of the youngest 2g group.

Then there were the 3g researchers, of whom fewer than half admitted to being “obsessed” by the Holocaust in their youth, as opposed to more than two-thirds of the 2g researchers who were their age, all having been born after 1970. Fewer than a third of them connected their strong research drive to their Holocaust heritage, as opposed to over half of the 2g researchers their age. Finally, almost none of the 3g researchers stated that they would find it difficult to participate in joint research projects with non-Jewish German researchers, while over a third of the 2g researchers in their age bracket admitted to finding such professional cooperation against their liking.

How, then, could we divide up the essays in this volume? Should we do it by location? Date of birth? Second versus Third Generation? Even before deciding how to group the book’s chapters, we singled out five separate geographical Holocaust discourses that had affected different groups of survivors and their offspring participating in this volume: the Israeli discourse, whose early years were imbued with a heroic ethos, dwarfing or negating the experiences of the “plain ordinary survivor”; the American discourse, where the large pre-war Jewish communities, physically untouched by the cataclysm, initially expected the survivors to become part of their existing way of life; the western and central European discourse of countries that had physically experienced the war, and where survivors often ←19 | 20→returned to their pre-war communities to rebuild their lives; the Eastern European (communist) discourse where survivors returning to their pre-war communities often played down or even hid their Jewish background from their children; and the discourse that developed in countries such as Australia or South Africa with small pre-war Jewish communities, in which refugees and survivors played a central role after their arrival.

There was also the chronological component. A 2g born right after the war had very different experiences than one born ten, twenty, or thirty years later, something true even of survivor offspring born years apart in the same family. Here we identified four chronological categories of Holocaust offspring. Those born right after the war, between 1945 and 1949 when their parents were just beginning to recover from their wartime privations; those born during the 1950s, when their parents were still deeply connected to their wartime experiences but already far into building their new lives; those born during the 1960s, who grew up a period influenced by the early changes in Holocaust discourse, rooted in the Eichmann trial, the Six Day War and its aftermath; and those born from the 1970s with parents far removed from the war years, who came of age in a world impacted by a newfound “Holocaust consciousness,” touched off, in part, by the four-part television miniseries “Holocaust” (1978).

Details

Pages
426
Year
2021
ISBN (PDF)
9783034343411
ISBN (ePUB)
9783034343428
ISBN (MOBI)
9783034343435
ISBN (Softcover)
9783034341547
DOI
10.3726/b18427
Language
English
Publication date
2021 (August)
Published
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 426 pp., 32 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz (Volume editor) Shmuel Refael (Volume editor)

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz is the Director of the Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research and Professor of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University. She is the author of numerous books and articles and specializes in topics pertaining to gender, Jewish religious life, the Holocaust, memory, State of Israel, the United States, and commemoration. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivor Chaskel Tydor who spent five-and-a-half years in Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and of Shirley K. Tydor whose grandparents, Devorah and Nachman Enzenberg, starved to death in the Moghilev ghetto, Transnistria, in 1942. Shmuel Refael is the Director of the Salti Institute for Ladino Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His main subject of interest is Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) literature, language, ritual life, and culture. He is a board member of the National Authority for Ladino Culture and an Academic correspondence (Académico correspondiente) of the Spanish Royal Academy in Madrid. Currently he is the scientific secretary of the Israeli National Academy for Judeo-Spanish (Ladino). He has published extensively about the Sephardim and the Holocaust and about the representation of the Holocaust in Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) poetry. He is the son of Esther (Vivante) and Haim Refael z”l, Holocaust survivors from Corfu and Salonica.

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