The best books on intergenerational trauma after genocides

The Books I Picked & Why

Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

By Elizabeth Rosner

Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

Why this book?

Rosner offers us a smorgasbord of disparate, yet connected essays of varying lengths, including stories, anecdotes, snippets of memoirs, and musings, tied together by the human experience of trauma. As a child of survivors, Rosner uses some images from her own family’s experiences in the Holocaust, but also weaves in stories, writings, observations, and meetings with other victims of trauma – and their descendants. In my long career in international schools in 6 countries, I have met survivors of trauma-or their descendants- from Vietnam, Cambodia, Armenia, China, and from African-Americans and Native Americans in the USA. It is uncanny to see and feel our commonalities and the invisible bond which allows us to share the idiosyncrasies specific to our own families. The variety of Rosner’s essays and anecdotes makes this a fascinating read. Her introductory alphabetical word list, which she entitles “The Alphabet of Inadequate Language” is an excellent entre into the book.

I am passionate about the book because both my parents were survivors of the Holocaust. I have analyzed the elements of my childhood, and how my parents’ experiences impacted my own behavior and beliefs. My personal voice follows my mother’s testimony in the book – I am sure Mama wouldn’t mind.


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I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

By Bernice Eisenstein

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

Why this book?

My 3rd grade teacher told me I had no artistic talent, and since I could not afford to hire an artist for my book- so I have no illustrations. Thus, I envy Eisenstein’s artistic talent in illustrating her memoir. Actually, I admire her double skills, as both a writer and an artist. Her sensitive, astute, and often humorous, analysis of her childhood with her Holocaust survivor parents was incredibly familiar to me. There were times I laughed hysterically, with tears in my eyes. Some of her anecdotes seemed as if they came right out of my own childhood recollection of family stories, such as her story about a gold wedding band that was hidden during dark days in a concentration camp, the parental silences or tears about the past, her “drug-like-addiction” to learning everything about the Holocaust, in order to envision her parents and their lives before the war, and her need to see Auschwitz with her own eyes.

I am passionate about this book because both my parents were survivors of the Holocaust. I started learning about the Holocaust after my birth in a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany, and I have been researching it ever since- almost like an obsession. I too, have made the effort to analyze the impact of the Holocaust on my beliefs and my behaviors. As an educator, I always believed that these feelings and behaviors were due to ‘nurture’ but with today’s advances in genetic research, we are now learning that much of it could be due to ‘nature.’


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Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

By Helen Epstein

Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

Why this book?

This book was groundbreaking, as it was the first of its kind when it was published in 1979; it has become the icon of a generation and the author became our champion. The author-journalist opened the conversation and exposed an entire generation to the commonalities among us – it gave us all a voice and permission to “open the iron box deep inside all of us.”

After interviewing several hundred children of Jewish survivors of World War 2, it became abundantly clear that, while each of our parents had survived in different ways and in disparate locations, and came from various socio-economic levels, we shared so many commonalities - of stories heard, behaviors learned, fears and tears acknowledged, and traumas transferred.

My parents had difficulty telling us about the horrors they endured, but they never ignored our questions or hid the stories or ‘shushhhed’ their friends. In fact, it was my mother who gifted me this book right after its publication. She understood that I needed to hear the voices of others, like myself.  I am passionate about the book because it changed my life. I suddenly realized that I was not alone with many of my quirky fears and feelings, but that I was part of a club, of others who shared the same. Both of my parents were survivors of the Lithuanian episode of the Holocaust. I started learning about it after my birth in a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany. I have spent my life in its shadow and after my retirement I have been researching the Holocaust and devoting my time to educating both youth and adults.



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The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

By Gita Arian Baack

The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma

Why this book?

This is an excellent book that speaks to those who have inherited trauma from their ancestors. While Baack uses ample research and narratives about the victims of the Holocaust, the book is relevant for other descendants of long or short-lasting, acknowledged or non-acknowledged traumas, including: victims of genocides, ethnic cleansings, refugee camp residents, racism, wars, and other forms of victimization or natural disasters - and - their witnesses. Based on interviews with many descendants of trauma, the author focuses on giving the ‘inheritors’ a platform to describe, not only, their parents’ histories, but mostly their own. The book is instructional, as she also includes questions for individual or group reflection. The author’s emphasis on the non-pathological perspective is both productive and a relief, including chapters on resilience, post-traumatic grown, epigenetics, and more.

I am passionate about the book because I am a child of Holocaust survivors. Over many years, I made myself an expert on my family’s stories, but it has only been recently that I allowed myself to reflect on my own story as an “inheritor.”  After many years of living and working in 6 countries, I have met other descendants of trauma, from Cambodia, Native-American, African-American, Vietnam, Armenia, China, and others, with whom I had an almost immediate and inexplicable affinity. This book helped me understand that bond.


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In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation

By Aaron Hass

In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation

Why this book?

If Epstein’s book, published in 1979, was the first expose about the commonalities among the children of the Holocaust, Hass’ book was the second. Hass succeeded in melding oral history, memoir, and his professions as a clinical psychologist and university professor. This book is helpful, not only to those of the second generation, but to mental health professionals, as well. It was also helpful to me, as it explained the unique, and often difficult, relationship between the survivor parents and their children.

I am passionate about the book because as a child of survivors, I have also had to grapple with the effects of my parents’ trauma. Of course, as a young child, I had no idea that my parents’ behaviors were special or different. It was only at an older age, I began noticing the differences between the atmosphere and attitudes in my home vs. those of my friends.  After years of research, narrow reading, and attending innumerable lectures, I have, only more recently, with age and maturity, been able to get a handle on this challenging topic.


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