Memoirs of Child Survivors of the Holocaust: Processing and Healing of Trauma Through Writing


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Abstract

Writing a memoir has been a widespread phenomenon among Holocaust survivors. In the present study we seek to explore the experiences of writing and the meanings that child survivors attribute to writing their memories about their traumatic past. A narrative approach is used to examine the processes of writing and publishing in relation to processing and healing from massive trauma. Participants were 13 child survivors of the Holocaust (6 women and 7 men), ages 77 to 90 (mean age = 84 years). The majority were young children during the war (born in 1927 to 1939) and immigrated to Israel around 1945. They wrote their books on their own (without ghostwriters) and published their memoirs as books that appear in libraries and/or bookstores. Semistructured in-depth interviews were conducted focusing on the survivors’ writing experience. The qualitative analysis of the interview materials yielded 3 main themes, which describe different dialectical tensions: first, the dialectic between the wordless space and self-narration; second, between aloneness and loneliness and the quest for connectedness; and third, between the personal space and the public space. These dialectical tensions and their subcategories are expressed through the interviewees’ words about the writing and publishing processes of their memoirs, and illustrate the meaning of writing about trauma more than 60 years after its occurrence. The process of writing is discussed in relation to writing a diary versus bearing testimony and as are the implications of the study in relation to expressive writing and the processing and healing from massive trauma.

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