Hope After Trauma: A personal narrative of a descendent of a survivor of a holocaust

This piece was put together by a district hospital's Elder Abuse Liaison Officer to distribute on 27/1/2021 as part of a series on intergeneration trauma, to aid healthcare workers integrate care and sensitivity for trauma into their practices.


Did you know that 27/01/2021 is International Day of

Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust?

[Editor's note: I reject the use of the term 'the Holocaust', as the use of 'the' implies that this was a singular event in history, which is fundamentally untrue. Also, I believe that to capitalise 'Holocaust' when referring to the Roma and Jewish holocaust of the Nazi regime essentialises this holocaust, subsequently diminishing the trauma from genocide that impacts other communities. - J. Kohn]

Patient Story

Maja’s Story: “I was a little girl when we came to Australia. I remember being about 6 or 7 years old and I was so excited on the big boat. My parents, you know they were Polish-Jews, & they had pretty hard lives I think. In Poland, my Mother even had to make the bullets in the factory that were used against her own people. She never liked to talk about the past and my mother she never used to trust anyone you know? I remember someone broke into our backyard and damaged our things and my Mother she would not call the police. I just took it that she wanted a quiet life, but now I see myself doing many of the same things she did. If you see in my cupboards I have allot of food and I have always been frightened of the dentist and the doctor you know? I barely go to the doctor because my heart beats so fast and I feel even worse you know? My Mother… she was very harsh with me, and I always felt like I jumped from the ‘frying pan into the fire’ with my husband, who also used to push me around and call me names. Now I am getting older I think on these things more and I feel sad, but I have my children and my grandchildren and I am happy in my life”.

Inherited trauma: Over 65 years ago the Jewish people were liberated from Nazi Europe. Since then researchers have found that the Holocaust has had both direct psychological, social and cultural effects on survivors but also on second and third generations of Holocaust survivors. Historically research has focussed on pathological symptoms. However emerging research acknowledges the pride, strength and gratitude of subsequent generations regarding the strength and heroic battles of their grandparents to arrive at this point in their lives. Reference, as reported on in: Intergenerational trauma

Third generation reconstructing trauma (See over page for a holocaust descendant’s personal narrative)

Related Education:Intersectionality and trauma informed practice in response to Elder Abuse’ (free training brought to you by the DHHS: Integrated Model of Care for Elder Abuse in partnership with the Bouverie Centre). Ref.

Related Literature: Ageing Holocaust Survivors in Australia

other similar articles

Brief Holocaust History “The word “Holocaust,” from the Greek words “holos” (whole) and “kaustos” (burned), was historically used to describe a sacrificial offering burned on an altar. Since 1945, the word has taken on a new and horrible meaning: the ideological and systematic state-sponsored persecution and mass murder of millions of European Jews…as well as millions of others, including Romani people, the intellectually disabled, dissidents and homosexuals… by the German Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945….Approximately six million Jews and some 5 million others, targeted for racial, political, ideological and behavioral reasons, died in the Holocaust. More than one million of those who perished were children”. Holocaust History

Other links of interest:

Cognitive decline and dementia in ageing Holocaust survivors Australian Holocaust survivor stories

Helping Holocaust survivors (Jewish Care) Jewish Holocaust Centre Melbourne

Family path through Holocaust trauma (abc news) 99 year old Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku's Ted talk

Australian Holocaust survivor returns to Auschwitz (sbs news)

Hope after trauma: A personal narrative of a holocaust survivor’s descendent

(by: J. Kohn, January 2021)

“My Buba (grandmother) taught me a lot about life after trauma and what conditions need to be present in order for one to thrive. My Buba survived the liquidation of her ghetto in Libau, Latvia, forced transportation across state lines, slave labour camps, death camps including the Kaiserwald concentration camp, and watched her father get shot by the Gestapo and her mother perish in a gas chamber. She said, "I lost many members of my family and friends. I lost my home, my belongings and my name. I became a number. I was beaten, starved, and worked to the bone. I never lost my belief in humanity and my will to survive." Ref

My Buba also stressed the importance of healing and relinquishing pain and hate, not from within her own heart, but from my heart as her descendant. She told me on many occasions that this was up to me to do this as her granddaughter, as she was not able to forgive the perpetrators and the bystanders after all she had been made to suffer through and survive. She said, “It is up to the younger generation to move on, to heal and not to hate.” (Ref as per above)

In this way, even as a younger person, I came to understand that the process of healing from the trauma of genocide is a generational undertaking. My Buba taught me that I had both the responsibility to learn and share the stories that she was passing on to me, as well as the responsibility of learning to live with the personal and collective grief of genocide without holding hate in my heart.

My Buba never hid the truth from me. ‘Tell me a holocaust story’, I would ask. And she would, gently and with frankness. She was a talented storyteller and an accomplished teacher with experience teaching and nurturing child survivors after the war. From my Buba, I have become strongly aware of the importance of storytelling within a safe environment to aid the process of healing after trauma. The process of sharing and having your experiences received and believed by others is a valuable step towards building hope after trauma.

When I decided to undertake a Master of Education in Inclusive and Special Education, I saw it as a direct continuation of my grandmother’s life work as a kindergarten teacher and a long-term guide at the Jewish Holocaust Museum. Completing my degree has been one of many important learning experiences for me in building an understanding of how to foster safe environments for people to share their stories, as well as create a safe environment for others to learn of the ongoing traumas of genocide; a grief that impacts thousands of people living in this country from many, many different communities and nations of origin.

Because genocide forcibly fragments families and communities, and because trauma has the power to physically and psychologically fragment individuals, I believe that an important starting point in understanding traumas derived from surviving genocide is to understand that for any number of survivors and descendants of survivors – their bodies may be carrying wounds of genocide that they themselves are not explicitly aware of.

In her work as a guide at the Jewish Holocaust Museum, my Buba was regularly approached by people who had only recently found out about their own Jewish heritage and/ or had recently learnt the story of how they were smuggled out of Europe or away from their Jewish families in order to secure their survival from the Nazi regime. These individuals carried the weight of the grief of genocide and loss within their bodies and their minds, and came to the Centre and to engage with guides like my Buba seeking assistance to integrate these experiences into their understanding and awareness of self.

For healthcare professionals, I believe it is vital to integrate into practice the understanding that an ‘outsider’ may not know what trauma an individual is surviving or has survived, but also – and importantly to be mindful of – where in their lifelong journey of integration, understanding, acceptance, and healing that person is placed”

54 views0 comments

Please be aware that this site contains images of people who have passed away.

Please use the contact form if you would like to have an image or images removed.