Young adults in Germany : individual differences in dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust / by Bettina Volz.
Unlike much of the Holocaust research to date, which concentrated on the victims of the Holocaust, this study focused on young Germans--the children and grandchildren of the German war generation. The study was based on the contention that a historical trauma such as the Holocaust would have a powerful impact upon the future generations of the perpetrator/bystander nation. The present study was an attempt to explore the complex task young Germans faced in understanding and integrating the meaning of the Holocaust into their lives. Theoretical literature indicated that most members of the German war generation had been unable to adequately mourn and integrate the events of the war and the Holocaust. Detachment from the recent past was reflected in a collective silence, which prevented a potential intergenerational dialogue about the Holocaust and turned the Holocaust into a taboo subject. In a semi-structured interview 27 subjects from former East and West Germany with a mean age of 23 years were asked to reflect on events that had happened in their own country about fifty years ago. The aim was to investigate how the Holocaust has had an influence on the personalities of these young people in regard to the quality of their representations of self and other, their affectivity, their defensive operations and their empathy. The main hypothesis of this study postulated that subjects would demonstrate a drop in personality functioning when confronted with questions about the Holocaust. Although the hypotheses were not confirmed by statistically significant results, the scores nonetheless showed the predicted downward shift in the quality of representations of self and other, affectivity, defensive operations and empathy during questions about the Holocaust. Evenly high performances in all five personality dimensions were assumed to suggest a degree of integration of the Holocaust whereas high performances in defensive operations and affect expression alone seemed to demonstrate an outwardly sophisticated and learned way of discussing the Holocaust that remained, however, internally disconnected. While the results of the study showed trends in the predicted direction and overall findings raised important questions, the discussion of these findings needed to remain speculative since the analysis of the data did not yield demonstrably significant results. Nevertheless, different personality dimensions clustered together and became important indicators of the working-through process of the Holocaust. The personality dimensions "object relatedness", "affect tolerance" and "empathy" were sensitive to Holocaust questions and demonstrated a bigger downward shift than the personality dimensions "affect expression" and "defensive operations."
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