Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust

Holocaust Survivors
Personal Stories

Holocaust Victim The Photos
Pictures, Images

Photos: Concentration Camps

Polish Citizens
H
itler's First Target

Afro-Europeans:
Sterilization

for Black Youth

Gypsies: Executed
for Their Race

Jehovah Witnesses
Stood Firm

No Need for
the Disabled

Pink Triangles
for Homosexuals

Search for Family and Friends
Lost During the Holocaust

Holocaust montage by young German studentHolocaust collage by Felix Stolhmann © 2003

The Legacy of the Second Generation

When my 85 year-old mother became gravely ill, my mind filled with weighty thoughts. In addition to feeling frightened about being orphaned again, I realized that no matter how old you are, the death of an ultimate parent still represents an end to your childhood. As long as my mother is alive, I am still someone's child. But, once she is gone, I will have to rely on my memories.

I'm glad that I took the time to talk to my mother about her life - especially the life she lead before she gave birth to me and my sister. It amazed me how little I knew about someone I have known all of my life. For the first time, my mother shared her stories about enduring the War -- about working in Germany as a slave laborer.

After listening to the stories of the Holocaust from my mother and other survivos, I realize that I have received a weighty bequest -- the legacy of a second generation survivor.

The children of Holocaust survivors have begun to speak out about how their lives have been impacted being born to survivors. As the second generation survivors pass through parenthood and middle age, they are showing concern about the legacy they have been handed down by their parents.

This enormous legacy can be a burden or a gift. For those who have accepted this ponderous legacy, I have some words of encouragement: You are not alone. Your feelings are shared by countless others. This is especially important for non-Jewish second generation survivors. The children of non-Jewish survivors have felt much the same pain and burden as children of Jewish survivors -- with one major difference. Non- Jewish children of survivors are often denied the recognition. Many are not aware that they were victims of the Holocaust too -- some just as much or almost just as much as many of their Jewish friends.

Because the Jewish people have worked diligently to make sure that their children do not forget the tragedies of the Holocaust, non-Jewish survivors have often felt that, by comparison, their parents did not suffer "enough" and that the Holocaust is a "Jewish thing". There is no doubt that the Jewish people as a whole suffered much more than the non-Jews.Whether one group suffered more is not an issue. There is no yardstick for personal suffering. Personal misery and sorrow cannot be measured. Nor should it be denied.

Non-Jewish children often do not have the same extensive support groups and backup organizations as Jewish children of survivors. There are many support groups and organizations for second generation survivors, but, from my experience, these groups are almost exclusively Jewish. So, non-Jewish children of survivors are again being forgotten -- just like their parents.

To some second generation children, it does not matter. Some feel no burden of being children of survivors. Some feel no desire to accept the legacy as a gift. That is okay. This bequest is not for everyone. But, for those who accept the legacy of the Holocaust as a gift, I urge you to exploit this precious bequest. It is a part of your history too. Do not let anyone deny that your parents, your grandparents or your family suffered. Remember that your parents and grandparents were also incarcerated, tortured, enslaved and murdered. Remember that your parents and grandparents fought valiantly with homemade weapons and utensils to protect their homeland. Remember this important part of your history, not only to honor your forefathers, but also for your children's sake. One day it will be your turn to pass the legacy on to them.
© 2008 - 2012 Terese Pencak Schwartz

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Ms. Schwartz,

Thank you for raising this very important issue of non-jewish children of holocaust survivors. We always felt that we had no one to turn to with all the monumental problems encountered within our own family. In fact, we never found any respite. We never found anyone who understood what we lived through at home with parents who survived (the bombing of Warsaw) Aushwitz, Dachau, Stuthoff, & Bergen Belsen concentration camps.

You can't imagine the loneliness and isolation we felt being different in a country & people who didn't understand & really weren'tt interested in this subject. We were often being told by teachers and others "you need to forget about all that & move on". So, we tried as best as we could to do just that.

Only problem is, it never leves your mind, it's always there. One has constant remiders of one's own past whenever the subject comes up or you read about it. Many times when growing up we felt like we lived through our own concentration camp through the constant daily reminders of what our parents went through and relayed to us all these years. As young children, we were obligated to watch the Eichman trials and other war reports and shows on television to see how that affected my parents and what in turn they expected of us to understand which made one feel overwhelmed & guilty over what they went through & not being able to help them & to relieve them of this constant suffering. See, they never had any other sources to turn to to vent their suffering & nightmare experiences.

We, their children, took the brunt of all they were living through every day and every time they saw such reports of films on TV or when they needed to talk about the war & the camps.

Recently I've tried to find some sort of support groups for 2nd generation children of survivors, and haven't found any. I reside in New Jersey not too far from Philadelphia, but since we don't come from this area, we have no connection with anyone out here. Besides, we rarely spoke about this subject to strangers. We learned long time ago that most people don't care to talk about such things. Thank you just the same for your expression that children of non-jewish survivors also suffered, I'm sure, we are not the only ones, who have had to go at it alone without anyone's support.

Sincerely,
Mary B. Sudwoj
New Jersey