Transmitted trauma as badge of honor: Phenomenological accounts of Holocaust descendant resilient vulnerability

from Social Science & Medicine at on August 30, 2019 at 02:36PM

Publication date: Available online 30 August 2019

Source: Social Science & Medicine

Author(s): Carol A. Kidron, Dan M. Kotliar, Laurence J. Kirmayer


This study explores the phenomenological experience of the transmitted trauma legacies of Jewish-Israeli Holocaust descendants and their self-perceived sense of vulnerability and resilience. 55 in-depth interviews were conducted with second-generation Holocaust survivors in Israel in 2001–2004 and another 20 interviews in 2010–2011. Ethnographic interviews reveal unique local configurations of emotional vulnerability and strength. Respondents normalize and valorize emotional wounds describing them as a “scratch” and as a “badge of honor”. This self-depiction challenges the typical profile in the literature of the pathologized and vulnerable descendant. The meaning of the emotional “scratch” is mediated by culturally particular spiritual and moral-political worldviews as well as silent expressions of intergenerational memory that function both as risk and resilience factors for descendants’ distress. The finding that descendants resist binary readings of wellbeing and distress/illness challenges the cross-cultural translation of the resilience construct as a static construct or measure of wellness. Results point to ways that resilience and vulnerability may interact, qualifying one another in the process of meaning making. This concurrent experience of resilience and vulnerability challenges some key assumptions of the regnant “Holocaust model” of pathology in trauma theory.