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Connections through the generations
The Dartington experience
"As I grew up I felt I didn't fit in". This seems to be a common theme among children of refugees. My mother was different from other parents in Ireland. She was a refugee from Vienna and arrived in 1939 at 22 years of age. She spoke with an Austrian accent and people often asked her (to her annoyance) if she was enjoying her holidays. She took a great interest in the affairs of Austria and was a creative person; however, she was, most of the time, very unhappy. As a child growing up, I had very little knowledge or conscious awareness of my mother's history and the death of my grandparents. I think that my feelings of uncertainty, of heaviness and sadness within myself, were mostly held at an unconscious level. My mother missed her parents dreadfully. She told me that they had died in a concentration camp but I knew little else. It seemed to be too painful for her to talk. I could sense my mother's anger and sadness and I was aware that she was never able to cry.
I did not realize until after my mother's death (four years ago) was that she was born a Jew and that she, like her brother before her, was baptised a Catholic at six years of age. I found out after my mother's death that her family changed their surname from the Jewish name of Löw to the more common Austrian name of Höfer, in 1930. My grandparents probably saw the change of religion and surname as ways of protecting their children. These facts were unknown to me until, following a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, I found out information from Jewish organisations in Vienna, namely Des Österreichischen Widerstandes and the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien. I later 'traced' the last steps of my grandparents to Treblinka in Poland and visited there with my brother as a kind of 'pilgrimage'. I somehow felt that I was doing this 'act of closure' for my mother and of course for me.
The revelation about my personal history led to me researching, as the subject of a dissertation for a MA in psychotherapy, "Connections through Generations: an exploration of some of the difficulties children of survivors of Nazi persecution face in understanding their individual identities". Some members of ACJR kindly completed questionnaires for me. I particularly wanted to make contact with people with backgrounds somewhat like my own. I felt that I was in the unusual position of being Jewish by heritage, but not being Jewish in practice. I felt that practising Jews might look down on me. Through my research however I felt that I was not alone. There were others who felt like I do, who want to connect in some way with their existing or their lost Jewish past.
My research considered Identity. I wanted to find out what effect the history of survivors' children (the Second Generation) had on their understanding of their identity (who they are as a person). Twenty-six Second Generation completed my questionnaires. Their personal accounts of childhood experiences, some very painful, others of close-knit loving families, touched me deeply. Most respondents felt that their parents' experiences significantly influenced their feelings about their identity and the sort of people they are today.
To summarise my research findings: Identity is a complex issue for all survivors' children, but not equally so. The Second Generation were born into an environment where their survivor parents were different from others in the community; their own identity as a result, was harder to understand. How easy or difficult identity is to understand and integrate seems to be related to how it was transmitted (passed on) by their parents. Where it was directly and positively transmitted, it was helpful to survivors' children in making sense of their identities. Where it was directly and negatively put over as a result of the unresolved trauma of the parents, it was emotionally damaging to the children and made it difficult for them to achieve an independent self-identity. Where it was transmitted indirectly, often as a deep sadness or pain at an unconscious level, it was emotionally damaging to the children and caused them uncertainty about who they are. Some respondents mentioned feelings of low self-esteem, a sense of guilt, a lack of autonomy and they stated that they had difficulty separating themselves from their parents. In many situations, the marriages survivors went into were not sufficiently supportive and the children fulfilled (often unconsciously) what would normally be the marriage partner's role. Some children were overwhelmed by their survivor parents' needs at a deep unconscious level and, as one of my respondents said, "learning to be an individual has been hard". There is a very strong familial tie within many survivor families. Survivor parents tend to closely interconnect with their children and in many cases need much from them emotionally, often un-verbalised. Second Generation in many cases felt a responsibility, often on an unconscious level, for the happiness, or at least for not causing any further distress, to their survivor parents and so turned their emotions inwards, particularly their anger and rage.
In whatever way the message was transmitted to the Second Generation, whether consciously or unconsciously, there are common threads in the lives of the Second Generation. I asked questions to see if aspects of life that I felt strongly about and felt were connected with my survivor parent's experience also had importance for my respondents, for example, education and justice. There was a pattern to the responses. Many respondents said that their survivor parents and they themselves place high value on education. The fight against injustice and for the rights of oppressed people came out very strongly. Many respondents were involved in protecting the rights of asylum seekers and working for peace.
When I embarked on this study I did not know of people with similar backgrounds and issues to myself; now I feel that perhaps there is somewhere where I do fit in.
"Down in Devon you'll experience heaven", wrote Norman Lebrecht in an article last spring in the Jewish Chronicle. Before participating in the 2001 Dartington International Summer School, I could not be sure how true this would prove to be. Once I had been to heaven, it was a slow process to come down from cloud nine!
The director of this annual event, wishing to put on a performance of Ernest Bloch's Avodat haKodesh (Sacred Service), devised the idea of a Jewish week which included, alongside the usual Dartington workshops and master classes, a variety of musical activities with a Jewish flavour. The "Sacred Service" is fearsomely difficult to learn within the space of a week; nevertheless we, the choir, did so and performed it on the last day with orchestra and cantor (Bryan Kesselman) under the direction of Johan Dujick from Bruges. That this final choral concert began at 5 o'clock in order to finish before sunset on Friday was the sensitive decision of the non-Jewish director. For those whose vocal chords were not satisfied with daily rehearsals of the above work, a chamber choir met daily to study pieces by Salamone Rossi (Hebreo), the 17th century Italian composer who wrote synagogue music in the style of Monteverdi. We learnt settings of Adon Olam and Al Naharot Bavel (By the Waters of Babylon), amongst others, and performed these one afternoon with the Brook Street Band, a small continuo-led ensemble specializing in playing period instruments (and named after the London street in which Handel lived and composed).
Each day boasted two or three concerts, always one with a Jewish or Israeli connection. The Israeli pianist, Daniel Adni, was accompanist to Ruggiero Ricci (violin) and to Robert Cohen ('cello) as well as giving his own recital. The Israel Piano Trio offered humour as well as beautifully played music; and they and others included music by the contemporary Israeli composer Noam Sheriff, who was present to receive rapturous applause. The Burning Bush performed klezmer music and Yiddish and Ladino songs with traditional instruments such as (for Ashkenazi music) violin, clarinet and double-bass, and (for Sephardi music) oud, rebec and darabukka.
Not for the faint-hearted, the week's programme included three excellent lectures by Norman Lebrecht, as well as talks by Noam Sheriff and Alexander Knapp. Alex Knapp also gave us several introductory explanations to aid our understanding of Bloch's choral work. It was particularly heartening that such eminent people were ready to "muck in" with the crowd, chatting and clearly enjoying everything, including songs from Jewish Broadway and Tin Pan Alley.
Dartington is set in wonderful grounds, with ample opportunity (but limited time) for walking. Indeed, exercise was essential, not least because the food was so excellent and so plentiful! For those with surplus energy, Israeli dancing was on offer, magically led by a local teacher with great enthusiasm. The weather, though mixed, was even kind enough to allow us to dance barefoot on the grass.
Representatives of the Totnes Jewish community (yes, there is one!) came to Dartington on Friday evening, and about twenty of us gathered for kiddush, a Sabbath meal and zmirot. What a kind and inspired gesture this was, and it gloriously rounded off a heavenly week!
I was at the Dartington summer school that same week, and I went to the klezmer workshop given by the Burning Bush group. Like most of the chamber music players there, I was wearing a name badge. As I was waiting for the event to begin, the person sitting next to me turned to me and said, "Hello, I'm Barbara Dean. " "Oh yes, I know your name", I said. "You're an ACJR member. " This is how two ACJR members, living in Birmingham and Harrow, met when a shared interest in music took them both to Devon. The week passed quickly and then we disappeared back to our homes. This year's summer school does not include a week of Jewish music, but given the success of last year's, I suspect there may be another one soon.
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This edit 01jan2004
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