(April 12, 2018 / JNS) More than 500 students and Jewish communal leaders attended Michel Kichka’s presentation discussing his personal story as the son of a Holocaust survivor.
As Israel and the world commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, often overlooked is the trauma the horrors of the Holocaust inflicted in the years and decades following the event, especially on the family of survivors.
Michel Kichka, a professor at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, was invited to speak at the United Nations for its program marking Holocaust Remembrance Day about his graphic novel Second Generation: Things I Never Told My Father.
Attended by 250 local high school and college students, as well 250 second-generation Holocaust survivors and Jewish communal leaders, the event focused on Kichka’s personal story of his childhood, adolescence and life overshadowed by the Holocaust—from Belgium to Israel, from nightmares to funny anecdotes, and ultimately, to moments of joy and liberation.
In the book, Kichka utilizes his skills as a cartoonist to delve into his own painful childhood memories of a father who was unable to tell his children about what he had been through during the Holocaust. He describes how this trauma was projected onto his children, which led to their own anxieties and constant nightmares. It wasn’t until the mourning period after his brother’s suicide that his father finally opened up about his experiences. This later motivated Kichka to tell his story, and those of many other second-generation families, through the medium of illustration.
According to extensive research, the effects of the Holocaust on survivors can be transferred down to succeeding generations. Known as transgenerational trauma—the transfer of trauma from those who experienced it to future generations—many experts believe that the suffering doesn’t end with those who survived. Controlled studies over the decades have yielded biological markers in second- and third-generation trauma survivors. Those studies, in addition to MRI scans, have shown that certain stress responses in the brain are inherited, causing anxiety, depressive episodes and varying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
As such, Kichka’s book also describes other experiences that the generation of post-Holocaust children endured, specifically surrounding their parents’ inability to communicate with them the true horrors of the war, in addition to the pressure, stress and anxieties the generation of survivors unknowingly put on their children.
This event “afforded me the opportunity not only to tell the story of my father’s generation—the survivors of the atrocities of the Nazis—but also the trauma of the atrocities after the fact, and the effects they had on my generation,” Kichka told the audience. “My hope is that the students in the audience take to heart the effects that hate have not only on the primary generations of witnesses, but also the following ones.”
Noa Furman, Deputy Permanent Representative, Mission of Israel to the United Nations, said at the gathering that “indifference can be a dangerous thing. It turns people into statistics and takes away their identities.”
Furman described how the United Nations, which was established after the end of World War II in October 1945, has an “even greater” responsibility to make sure such evils never happen again.
“We cannot allow ourselves to become indifferent to history when history too often repeats itself,” she said. “I urge you not to be indifferent to human suffering—whether it happened in the distant past or events going on today around the world.”