November 4-7, 2016, Los Angeles, CA
by Anat Bar-Cohen
Just when you think you have learned all you can learn about the Holocaust and it’s impact on our lives, you suddenly learn so much more! Just back from Los Angeles and the 28th World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants Conference – and it was a profound experience. The conference was cosponsored by the Kindertransport Association and Generations of the Shoah, International (GSI), the umbrella organization of 2G groups and others, founded in 2002, of whose Coordinating Council I am a member. As a GenAfter member, you receive the GSI monthly newsletter, a comprehensive collection of information about Shoah related activities from around the world. We had a small group attending from the DC metro area and I hope that will grow in the future.
Expecting about 350 people, we had nearly 600 registrants, half of them 2G’s and 3G’s – a significant shift from previous years. The plenary session topics and speakers were truly outstanding. Featured were: Dr. Robert Krell, a psychiatrist and child survivor, credited with helping to define the identity of this distinct group called Child Survivors and enabling them to develop a separate voice; Dr. Stephen Smith of the USC Shoah Foundation who presented awe-inspiring 21st century technology that enables the viewer to have a virtual and personal dialogue with those in the oral testimony database; a panel on “Our Special Relationship with Israel,” that was particularly insightful; and E. Randol Schoenberg, the lawyer who pressed the restitution case to restore Klimpt’s “Woman in Gold” to its rightful Jewish owner. There were workshops and panels targeted to Child Survivors, to Second Generation and to Third Generation and some intergenerational sessions. And, of course, there was joyous dancing and endless networking with remarkable people!!
At the Conference I learned in a much deeper way than ever, about the Child Survivor experience, what their journey from Europe to their new homes entailed and in some ways how different they and their children’s experiences were from those of the older Survivors and their children. Being a child of survivors who were just a couple of years older than the Child Survivors (defined as those born after 1928), I was struck by some aspects of the Child Survivors’ post war experiences. Many went on to graduate from high school, others from college. Many went on to have professions and some married American Jewish spouses. I marveled at their mostly unaccented English! This is in stark contrast to my parents who ended their education with the start of the war in 8th grade, who having come already married and with a small child, went right to work, not even to night school, although despite these barriers, succeeded in so many ways. English was always a struggle, although when speaking Yiddish I understood how articulate they were. So, much to contemplate.
In addition, there were many stories of rescue, bravery, resistance, Many examples of how 2G’s and some amazing 3G’s are preserving and sharing memory through interactive presentations, books and documentary film. These were enriching experiences and I highly recommend that you think about attending the next conference which will be in 2017. Visit the World Federation website for more information www.holocaustchild.org and also the GSI website www.genshoah.org. And I welcome your thoughts and comments.