Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Children of Holocaust Survivors Hold First International Conclave

November 7, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A network for children of survivors of the Holocaust will be created as a result of the “First International Conference on Children of Holocaust Survivors,” which took place here Sunday and Monday and was attended by some 500 survivors, survivors’ children and mental health professionals. Among the speakers and panelists were some dozen psychiatrists and therapists who have worked extensively with children of survivors in Israel, America and Canada.

Dr. Irving Greenberg, director of Zachor, the Holocaust Resource Center, sponsor of the conference, said that it has taken 30 years to reach the stage of survivor’s children becoming a definable group. These children have grown up and are leaving home now, and many of their parents are dying prematurely as a result of their concentration camp experiences, he said. The children want to carry on their parents’ heritage.

The purpose of the conference was to give “children of survivors an opportunity to meet on a national basis, possibly to form a more cohesive group, as well as to deepen their awareness” of the Holocaust, Greenberg added. “The effects of the Holocaust didn’t stop in 1945, “he said at a press conference. “Survivors and their children still bear the scars.” Survivors. children’s groups had sprung up independently throughout the country, he said, and Zachor felt it was time to bring them together.


Participants at the conference chosen at random and interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said that they felt that the emphasis was overwhelmingly psychological, rather than equally divided between mental health aspects and creative, activist responses.

Michael Levien, 37, a New York City school administrator and survivors’ child, said that he didn’t think of himself as “abnormal” and that he felt that the conference labeled him as “diseased.” “I feel that a parameter of who I am is being placed on me,” he said. “I never felt the need for a support network. My father went through severe reactions, but we grew up healthy.”

He said that some survivors’ children were seeking their own identity by wrapping the Holocaust around themselves. “But the Holocaust gives identity to all Jews and to the whole world, not just to us,” he explained. “Different people are all influenced by different parents. Mine were Holocaust survivors from Germany. Other parents have other problems.” He expressed the fear that the group at the conference was “creating its own pathology.”

Paula Ruth Kass, 25, a survivors’ child who is now affiliated with the West Palm Beach, Fla. Jewish Federation, said that she felt many people at the conference had never confronted the issue before, and they were “walking around in shock.”

“Their pain is so intense after 25 years,” she explained. “They had been trying to defend themselves with the same methods that their parents used in the concentration camps — by numbing themselves.” Six months in a support group of survivors’ children in Boston had helped her to understand her identity as the child of a Holocaust survivor, she said. “Now, I’m ready for action,” she concluded.


Throughout the conference, a tension was apparent between those who wanted to emphasize the psychological and those who were activists, Greenberg admitted. The groups had wanted two separate conferences, he explained, but he felt it was important for them to interact. “There is tension, but they also complement each other,” he said. “The tension is healthy and good, needed for growth and creation of a new energy on both sides.”

Greenberg, who is also director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, pointed out that many survivors’ children are involved with social action. Many are also in the mental health field, he said, which may be the reason that the conference seemed slanted in this direction. Creative outlets were exemplified by several new movies shown at the conference, which were by and about children of survivors.

Rabbi David Teutsch, program director of the National Jewish Resource Center, of which Zachor is a project, explained participants’ dissatisfaction as refusal to see themselves as victims. “They are ambivalent in that they don’t want to be branded, but they want to hear about the issue,” he said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles has agreed to house the network for one year, although it will not be affiliated with the Center, David Szonyi, assistant director of Zachor, said, Zachor will act as “enabler” of the network, with a quarterly newsletter and a February meeting in Chicago planned.

Sheldon Ranz, a leader of The Generation After, a New York City-based group of survivors’ children, said that his group was boycotting the conference. “We are activists,” he said. “Zachor and most other survivors’ children groups are not. Zachor looks upon children of survivors as a market, and is taking them from important work into psychotherapy or a distortion of it. Activity is the best therapy.”

Recommended from JTA