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Descendants of Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators Reflect on the Legacy

On the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, children and grandchildren of both Holocaust survivors and the perpetrators of the Shoah opened a three-day conference to discuss the troubling legacy of memory.

“The aim is to create a forum in which dialogue and communication between survivors and the descendants of victims, perpetrators, collaborators and helpers can take place,” said a statement from the organizers of the conference, “The Presence of Absence: International Holocaust Conference for Eyewitnesses and Descendants From `Both Sides,'” which started Wednesday.

“It also aims to summarize responses and mechanisms used in the past in relation to the after-effects and impact of the Holocaust, and reflect on the implications of this in the future.”

Participants included scholars, artists, researchers, psychologists and social workers, as well as survivors and members of the “second” and “third” generations from a number of countries, including Germany, Israel, Holland and the United States.

Themes included how being a descendant of either side influences personal identity, the issue of “money and justice,” various ways in which the Holocaust is commemorated and the future of memory as the “eyewitness” generation passes away.

“I feel that I have multiple identities,” said one German participant. “I have relatives in Holland who collaborated with Nazis. My first wife was Jewish, so I have Jewish and Israeli relatives. And as for my father — he was executed as a Nazi war criminal.”

The meeting, organized by the organizations in London, Berlin and Vienna that deal with issues of Holocaust legacy, was co-sponsored by a variety of public departments and government ministries.

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