Children of survivors learn how to tell their parents’ stories


Yom Hashoah is always meaningful for Rivka Ochana, but this year it was especially poignant. Thanks to a pioneering new course, she suddenly understands her own Holocaust history "in a completely different light".

She is one of 20 children of survivors completing a programme which helps them piece together their parents' Holocaust stories. Uniquely, the course goes beyond the dates and facts, so that the second generation has a compelling emotional story to tell.

In 70 hours of study and discussion over four months, the sons and daughters of survivors talk to psychologists about their parents' behaviour and how it reflected their experience of the Holocaust. They also look again at testimonies their parents left behind – or in the case of the five participants who still have a living parent, try to glean as much as they can from them.

Ms Ochana said that she had considered a testimony by her father to be important but "boring". Yet looking at it in the context of the course, she was able to extract new meaning out of it. "I was able to look at the film and see all these little things I had never noticed before," she said.

Like many survivors, her father, Eliezer Dov Perl, did not want to talk about his experience. But Ms Ochana said that the course enabled her to build up a much fuller picture of him as a survivor. It was allowing her "to take my father's silence and make thunder from it".

The course is run by Shem Olam, a 19-year-old Holocaust institute based in northern Israel. As well as the psychological element and the review of testimonies, participants research their own families, and present what they find to others on the course.

"A lot of the second generation don't know anything near the whole story of their parents," said Shem Olam's director, Avraham Kreiger, a child of survivors. "We know the basic details and chronology, but often we don't know the emotions that our parents associated with different times and places."

In other Holocaust-related news, Dutch researchers believe that they have discovered a burial pit near the site of Bergen-Belsen that may contain the remains of Anne Frank, as well as her sister Margot, and Jan Verschure, a member of the Dutch resistance. It is unlikely that the site will ever be confirmed as Frank's burial place, however, as Jewish law generally opposes disturbing human remains.

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