Inheritors, according to Ottawa-based author Gita Arian Baack, are children of victims, perpetrators or bystanders of traumatic events. They carry ‘transgenerational trauma,’ and may suffer from constant sadness or a sense of unfinished business, and more. If not treated, Baack says, this trauma may perpetuate cycles of pain and violence.
Among the groups of inheritors Baack writes about in her new book, The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma, are second and third generation Holocaust survivors – the children and grandchildren of Jews who survived the Holocaust.
Baack, who holds a PhD from Tilburg University in the Netherlands and an MA in human systems interventions from Concordia University in Montreal, is herself a child of Holocaust survivors.
“As a child of Holocaust survivors, I was born with my extended family’s death in my mind,” she told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin during an interview in her Ottawa home.
She says the information many inheritors carry is not necessarily chronological, may be full of holes or contradictory, or not coherent.
“There is a deep impact of the presence of absence,” Baack said.
What’s more, she said, many inheritors cannot acknowledge this absence or express pain, because “the parent is in a state that she or he cannot process, so the child is left with a void that will be passed on to her or his children.”
Until the trauma is deeply processed, she explained, the story will be perpetuated to future generations. One needs to be fully immersed in this process to be able to accept that legacy and find closure.
“Our parents were grieving and we were dealing with their shame, but we never had the ritual to let go,” she said. “We never got the validation for our pain – and it was never resolved.”
In the book, Baack uses personal stories, self-reflecting questions, dialogues and description of group discussions to guide the reader to overcome traumas and move on.
“At first, people only want to talk about their parents. It’s hard for them to talk about their own experiences,” she said. “They do not even acknowledge their own trauma, those ‘phantom memories.’”
Among other groups of inheritors that Baack writes about are Indigenous peoples and descendants of slavery, the Rwandan genocide and other atrocities. These inheritors, she says, share some common traits with second and third generation Holocaust survivors.
Baack is seeking other second and third generation Holocaust survivors interested in participating in small group dialogue with other children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and/or to be part of an intergroup dialogue with Indigenous survivors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma is available at Amazon.ca and will be launched on Sunday, September 17, 1 pm, at Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Avenue.