Building Bridges – 4
Fern Schumer Chapman
You and other German friends of your generation have said to me: “You are fortunate; you don’t have to wonder about your parent, and in turn, yourself. She did nothing wrong. She was a victim. But I am the child of a perpetrator and I must ask myself, if he or she could commit those crimes, then who am I?”
We, as children of survivors, have all the complications of being raised by parents who were defined and scarred by devastating traumas. While some of your peers terminated your relationships with parents because you could not accept who they were and what they did, some of my peers distanced themselves from their parents because they could not maintain a relationship with such a needy parent. We have been cast in the role of filling our survivor parents’ unmet needs and, when we determine that those needs are unrealistic, we feel guilty for saving and protecting ourselves.
Both children of survivors and perpetrators seem to struggle psychologically with similar parent/child issues. We have difficulty individuating from our parents. Individuation, as defined by C.G. Jung, is a process of psychological differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality.
“In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated,’’ Jung wrote. “In particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.”
What is different about our experiences is that few of my friends were raised by survivors, even though I lived in a community that had one of the largest survivor communities in the country — 8,000 of the 60,000 residents were Holocaust survivors. The experience of being raised by the child of a survivor, especially an escapee, was unique and alienating. I couldn’t understand my mother and I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about the experience. In addition, because she never spoke of her past, I didn’t really understand the depth of her pain and why she behaved as she did.
I imagine growing up in a country brimming with guilt defined you and your generation’s self concept and identity as Germans. It is a broad stamp upon an entire nation and it is unique to the Holocaust.