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Auerhahn, N.C. Prelinger, E. (1983). Repetition in the Concentration Camp Survivor and her Child. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 10:31-46.

(1983). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 10:31-46

Repetition in the Concentration Camp Survivor and her Child

Nanette C. Auerhahn and Ernst Prelinger


Material from an analysis with a child of concentration camp survivors is presented, together with a discussion of some of the effects of the survivor's experience on her child in the context of the parent–child relationship and in the context of the transference. It is suggested that the analyst working with a child of survivors listen for what in the parent's experiences the analysand is trying to understand and reconstruct, in the analysis, not an event in the patient's life but an atmosphere at home and a configuration of fragmentary stories that correspond to events in the parent's life, together with their effects on the patient, the messages and world view distilled from them, and their placement in the child's own conflict. It appears that the child attempts to re-enact the experience of trauma via an activation in fantasy so as to understand the parent and the present familial atmosphere. The parent, in turn, needs the child to be an empathic listener and witness so as to allow for a narration of her experience which would structure it and thereby confer meaning upon it. Both seek imaginative access to the Holocaust. In fact, both parent and child seek restitution for internalized, damaged self-objects through action upon and interaction with each other, especially via imaginative participation in the point of view of the other. We conclude that the child seeks to repeat the parent's experiences in order to make sense of the fragmentary parental history which she learns, fantasizes, and inherits, and in order to understand and heal both her real parent and her internalized one, while the parent induces repetition in the child because of her need to be understood, because of her desire to make her experience understandable, i.e. interpretable, and because of her need to form, connect with, and internalize a new, good object.

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