As the Holocaust recedes in time, the guardianship of its legacy is being passed on from its survivors and witnesses to the next generation. How should they, in turn, convey its knowledge to others? What are the effects of a traumatic past on its inheritors? And what are the second-generation’s responsibilities to its received memories?
In this meditation on the long aftermath of atrocity, Eva Hoffman — a child of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust with the help of neighbors, but whose entire families perished — probes these questions through personal reflections, and through broader explorations of the historical, psychological, and moral implications of the second-generation experience. She examines the subterranean processes through which private memories of suffering are transmitted, and the more willful stratagems of collective memory. She traces the “second generation’s” trajectory from childhood intimations of horror, through its struggles between allegiance and autonomy, and its complex transactions with children of perpetrators. As she guides us through the poignant juncture at which living memory must be relinquished, she asks what insights can be carried from the past to the newly problematic present, and urges us to transform potent family stories into a fully informed understanding of a forbidding history.