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Third Generation Holocaust
Workshops and Theatrical Play

By Natalie Krasnostein


Pain, existential angst, struggling with sense of purpose and meaning, 'righting' injustices, pondering Jewish/cultural/human/personal identity, marrying in, marrying out, God, lack of God and anti-Semitism  - are topics that regularly enter the realms of social discourse in my world. The topic of the Holocaust to a Jew and especially a Jewish descendant of survivors can easily move into many or all of those areas. With this in mind, it isn't surprising to me that while some members of the 'third' generation are drawn towards exploring the topic of their connection to their family's (and tribe's) Holocaust survivor 'past', others are equally determined to distance themselves from acknowledging any such links.

The Workshop

In February 2006, ten grandchildren of Holocaust survivors gathered at the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Museum to explore the personal meaning of being a descendant of Holocaust survivors. Six three-hour workshops are designed to facilitate exploration for third generation descendants through discussion, creative arts techniques such as psychodrama, art, video journal entries, writing and self reflection. This opportunity is for the participants to engage in their own personal line of inquiry into their Holocaust survivor lineage using creative and innovative techniques, a unique rite of passage to weave the Holocaust into identity in ways that are authentic and relevant.

This project is an extension of my psychology honours thesis entitled "A Study of Third Generation Holocaust Descendants". Support in the form of a grant from the Meyer Burston Foundation (Friends of the Jewish Holocaust Museum) enabled me to conduct these workshops to develop a script that will culminate in a theatrical play.

Why do it?

Throughout the five years that I spent completing my thesis the controversial question – have grandchildren of survivors been affected? - has struck a familiar nerve with many people who bring many different responses and ideas to this conversation, for example: Enough with the Holocaust; We must not let it happen again; ‘Marry in’ so Hitler doesn't win; How can I heal when the Holocaust is still happening?

These and other responses I hear regularly from Jews and non-Jews indicated to me that exploring the impact of the Holocaust on my generation, 3GH, was an essential line of inquiry into gaining a deeper understanding of both myself and my generation.  

The Third generation and The Truth Nerve

In my view we are the pivotal generation, willing to look at the effects of the Holocaust with a different and perhaps more distant view than our parents, the second generation, and our survivor grandparents are able. One level of tension exists because even though there is more distance, we are still so close because it happened to our family.

The third generation has received all of the fruits of our grandparents' labour. We have enjoyed opportunities they didn't have - personal, cultural and religious freedom - an affluent way of life, abundance of food, education, travel, so many opportunities. In contrast, our parents and grandparents were refugees and most were denied freedom on all levels. A second level of tension exists because although we have amazing opportunities to flourish and be free compared to our grandparents, we struggle with an ‘internal’ war – we seek happiness, a sense of purpose, belonging and meaning.

My grandmother, my mother and myself - the maternal line - regularly gather for cappuccinos and lattes (already an intergenerational difference just in our coffee consumption). My mother and my grandmother have such different views and ideas compared to my own, and in that I feel simultaneously blessed and tormented.
I am struck by the closeness and the conflicts, – the differences, the love, the laughter and tears, the messiness and the imperfection. Something is always in the air that is powerful and palpable and I can't put my finger on it, but I know I feel like crying at that moment and I just wish I could capture it and hold onto it forever. Maybe the fear that it won't be forever provides the energy behind this project. Tears and laughter in the same breath. That and the fact that the three generations of women are all from entirely different “planets” often provides rich and fertile soil for us to sit drinking coffee together.

The “Truth Nerve” is my term that I often use to describe the feeling which says this is wrong, this is right, this is not fair and I want it to be right. The truth nerve enables me to articulate and develop means to turn around what is dysfunctional. We have opportunities to do this politically and personally - in our families, in our intimate relationships, in the therapy rooms, at work, in court. We may be traumatised but we are not paralysed. So we gather our belongings and backpacks and travel to those places intellectually, emotionally and geographically where we can get more juice and more permission to live closer to our truth nerves.

Some third gens are grappling with the Holocaust in terms of where and how it fits into their Jewish identity. Some are deeply committed to social justice, some ponder existential concepts such as If it weren't for Hitler I wouldn't be me as Hitler was my grandparent's matchmaker. The need for inner healing and family healing, dealing with anger, wanting to right the wrongs, denying effects, dealing with Holocaust denial, feeling burdened with the responsibility of carrying on the legacy, pondering notions of control, guilt, pressure to achieve and of course dealing with the good old persecution complex – are some of the issues being illuminated within the realms of this project.



Why does a group called '3GH exists' when others doubt it?

3GH exists because we live in Melbourne, one of the largest Jewish Holocaust survivor communities in the world. People may doubt that the 'third' generation exists because not all people see the world within the same frame of reference. The descriptions, stories and 'filters' in which we choose to describe our world-view are personal – sacred territory that can only be named and claimed by the owner. If individuals of the third generation are identifying, then it's probably real.

Another question/criticism that arises is what issues belong to the Holocaust and what doesn't? There are so many factors and characteristics to untangle which determine who and how a person is in the world. It is the questioning thatleads to insights.

Plus, the Holocaust, as a line of inquiry, is a valid point of entry into reconciling a Jewish identity for some. I know people who have more of a Holocaust identity than they do a Jewish identity. They will claim that they need to marry "in" because their grandparent survived the worst Jewish persecution. Clearly if someone is subscribing to a Jewish identity which is based on the Holocaust, in comparison to an affirmative Jewish identity based on its values and lifestyle orientation, then it's worth an investigation.

The Aim of the Workshop.

The aim of the workshop is to provide an opportunity for people to voice whatever is going on for them in relation to the Holocaust. By doing so, by hearing one another, by being present to our feelings - there is the chance to become more whole, more integrated and more empowered. There is a bigger picture too. Being Jewish brings with it by birthright a plethora of intensities – persecution (real or imagined?) and political, religious and cultural tensions. On so many levels just by being born a Jew, a great big journey and responsibility awaits, whether one embraces a Jewish identity or rejects one. So maybe many people in my generation could benefit from this type of workshop, as the Holocaust relates to the wider persecution paradigm in our history's DNA – slavery, destruction of temples, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms and the currently fraught situation in Israel. I feel that it is important to talk about what that ‘cycle of trauma’ means in our 3GH experience and how we feel about it.
The Play

The aim of the play is to reflect these issues to the wider community -  focusing on life, action and transformation – a collaborative event using theatre, photography, poetry, music and visual arts. Scheduled for performance June 11, 2007.


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