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Suleiman, S.R. (2002). The 1.5 Generation: Thinking about Child Survivors and the Holocaust. Am. Imago, 59(3):277-295.

(2002). American Imago, 59(3):277-295

The 1.5 Generation: Thinking about Child Survivors and the Holocaust

Susan Rubin Suleiman

The decimal point is a bit of provocation. For if the “second generation” is by now a familiar and fairly stable concept in Holocaust studies (the second generation, born in the immediate years after the war, are children of Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe—strictly speaking, it is to this second generation that Marianne Hirsch's term “postmemory” applies), the concept of “1.5 generation” needs to be explained. My subtitle gives one quick summary: by 1.5 generation, I mean child survivors of the Holocaust, too young to have had an adult understanding of what was happening to them, but old enough to have been there during the Nazi persecution of Jews. Unlike the second generation, whose most common shared experience is that of belatedness—perhaps best summed up in the French writer Henri Raczymow's rueful statement, “We cannot even say that we were almost deported” (1986, 104)—the 1.5 generation's shared experience is that of premature bewilderment and helplessness. This characterization may appear inadequate, in view of the massive trauma experienced by both child and adult survivors during the Holocaust. The operative word, however, is “prematur.”—for if all those who were there experienced trauma, the specific experience of children was that the trauma occurred (or at least, began) before the formation of stable identity that we associate with adulthood, and in some cases before any conscious sense of self. Paradoxically, their “premature bewilderment” was often accompanied by premature aging, having to act as an adult while still a child (Kestenberg and Brenner 1996, ch. 7); this was yet another form of trauma specific to the 1.5 generation.

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