Surviving a Distant Past: A Case Study of the Cultural Construction of Trauma Descendant Identity



Despite the abundance of psychological studies on trauma related ills of descendants of historical trauma, and the extensive scholarly work describing the memory politics of silenced traumatic pasts, there has yet to emerge a critical analysis of the constitutive practices of descendants of historical trauma. This article presents an ethnographic account of a support group for descendants of Holocaust survivors, proposing that the discursive frame of intergenerational transmission of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and support group based narrative practices allow descendants to fashion their sense of self as survivors of the distant traumatic past. The discursive frame of transmitted PTSD acts as both a mnemonic bridge to the past and a mechanism of identity making, as participants narratively reemplot their life stories as having been personally constituted by the distant past A close ethnographic reading of on-site discursive practices points to how culture ferments to produce narratives, practices and ultimately carriers of memory to both sustain and revitalize historical grand narratives and the cultural scenarios they embed.