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After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust

After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust

by Eva Hoffman
As the Holocaust recedes in time, the guardianship of its legacy is being passed on from its survivors and witnesses to the next generation. How should they, in turn, convey its knowledge to others? What are the effects of a traumatic past on its inheritors? And what are the second-generation's responsibilities to its received memories?

In this meditation on


As the Holocaust recedes in time, the guardianship of its legacy is being passed on from its survivors and witnesses to the next generation. How should they, in turn, convey its knowledge to others? What are the effects of a traumatic past on its inheritors? And what are the second-generation's responsibilities to its received memories?

In this meditation on the long aftermath of atrocity, Eva Hoffman--a child of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust with the help of neighbors, but whose entire families perished--probes these questions through personal reflections, and through broader explorations of the historical, psychological, and moral implications of the second-generation experience. She examines the subterranean processes through which private memories of suffering are transmitted, and the more willful stratagems of collective memory. She traces the "second generation's" trajectory from childhood intimations of horror, through its struggles between allegiance and autonomy, and its complex transactions with children of perpetrators. As she guides us through the poignant juncture at which living memory must be relinquished, she asks what insights can be carried from the past to the newly problematic present, and urges us to transform potent family stories into a fully informed understanding of a forbidding history.

Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement
Hoffman's account of her own personal experience and that of... the second generation... is generally shrewd, interesting and valuable.
July 23, 2004
The New York Times
With After Such Knowledge, Hoffman returns to her own lived experience, not of exile this time, but of her parents' memory of the Holocaust, and how this memory has been passed down to her. Not only has she found again a psychologically attuned, intellectually compelling voice, but she has given this voice to the tangled and conflicted inner lives of a generation of children of Holocaust survivors. — James E. Young
New York Times Book Review
An extraordinarily cleareyed and unsentimental meditation... Hoffman has a psychologically attuned, intellectually compelling voice...
Harper's Magazine
A ferocious meditation... masterly essays on ethics and political science... Hoffman has smart things to say...
Publishers Weekly
"Sixty years after the Holocaust took place... [and] this immense catastrophe recedes from us in time, our preoccupation with it seems only to increase," writes Hoffman in this beautifully wrought, deftly argued examination of how we might attempt to understand the Holocaust. In seven short essays, Hoffman (Lost in Translation, etc.) focuses on the consciousness and experience of the Holocaust's second generation-the children of survivors-as theirs is a "strong case-study in the deep and long-lasting impact of atrocity." Synthesizing personal history (born in Cracow, Poland, in 1945, Hoffman left at the age of 13 with her parents) with astute gleanings from the fields of psychoanalysis, sociology and literary criticism, the book considers such diverse concepts as how the "trauma" of the Holocaust is constructed, the role of emigration and national identity in shaping the second generation's narratives of their lives and how works as diverse as Marguerite Duras's The War: A Memoir and Bernhard Schlink's The Reader helped shape a series of conflicting ideas about victimhood and responsibility. But the power of Hoffman's vision comes in her posing vital questions: "what happens when we focus on `memory' itself rather than its object"; how do we sort through the question of personal and collective responsibility, "distinguish shadows from realities and fable from history" in order to understand what can be done to redress the past? Hoffman writes with a subdued but vibrant passion. In the end, she suggests that Holocaust studies now take on the difficult question of "the range of Jewish behavior during the Holocaust," particularly the missed opportunities for resistance. Such a daring, controversial challenge is emblematic of Hoffman's brave and forthright thinking and places this volume in the vanguard of Holocaust studies. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The psychological effects of the Shoah on the family dynamics of survivors and their offspring have been well documented in two works by Aaron Hass, The Aftermath and In the Shadow of the Holocaust. Hoffman (Lost in Translation; Shtel) investigates a different type of family dynamic: how knowledge about the Holocaust is transmitted and remembered by the second generation. It is always dangerous to use oneself as the model for an entire generation, which Hoffman does but is usually careful to assert that there is no "consensus" among the second generation on any issue. The book is part literary analysis and part memoir, and the line between the two is sometimes blurred. For example, years after reading about the psychological impact of the Shoah on survivors, Hoffman relates her surprise upon learning that both her parents were diagnosed with survivor syndrome (anxiety, depression, panic attacks, recurrent nightmares). Hoffman's prose is sometimes difficult, especially when she is engaged in literary analysis, and obscures what may be some extremely useful insights into how historical memory is reinterpreted across generational lines. One of the more interesting chapters-"From the Past to the Present"-discusses how the Holocaust is used and abused in contemporary political debates on subjects from Israel to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Recommended for specialized collections.-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Literate if sometimes arid essays on the world-intellectual, cultural, and emotional-of the Holocaust's "second generation." Memoirist Hoffman (Shtetl, 1997, etc.), a representative of that generation, writes, "I was the designated carrier for the cargo of awesome knowledge transferred to me by my parents, and its burden had to be transported carefully, with all the iterated accounts literally intact." Literally intact: to tinker with the narrative of the survivors, she writes, in order to streamline, even to make more comprehensible, would have been "to make indecently rational what had been obscenely irrational. It would have been to normalize through familiar form an utterly aberrant content." It is a terrible responsibility, this burden of keeping alive and unbowdlerized the murder of so many millions; it inserts the realities of the first generation into the lives of the second, such that, she writes, "the facts seemed to be such an inescapable part of my inner world as to belong to me, to my own experience. But of course they didn't; and in that elision, that caesura, much of the post-generation's problematic can be found." The problematic is real, writes Hoffman: it is all to easy for the second generation, laden with the "emotional sequelae of our elders' experiences," to feel that it has no history of its own, that "we are secondary not only chronologically but, so to speak, ontologically." But the burden is necessary, Hoffman suggests, if only as a means of bearing living memory into history and into "our consciousness of the world" in a time when many-whether children and grandchildren of the second generation or a new generation of Germans-look, perhaps understandably, toforget about the past and move on. A commendable contribution-but no match for Melvin Bukiet's superb second-generation anthology Nothing Makes You Free (2002).

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Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust


Public Affairs

ISBN: 1-58648-046-4

Chapter One

In our small apartment, it was a chaos of emotion that emerged from my
parents' memories. Many others who had grown up in households like mine
remember the peculiar form of that speech under the pressure of pain. The
memories-no, not memories but emanations-of wartime experiences kept
erupting in flashes of imagery, in abrupt, fragmented phrases, in
repetitious, broken refrains. Beyond that, and in the lacunae between
words, there was that most private and potent of family languages-the
language of the body. The past broke through in the sounds of nightmares,
the idiom of sighs and illness, of tears and the acute aches that were the
legacy of the damp attic and the conditions my parents endured during
their hiding. In the midst of her daily round, my mother would suddenly be
overcome by a sharp, terrible image, or by tears. On other subjects, she
was robustly articulate; but when sudden recall of her loved ones
punctured her mind's protective membrane, speech came in frail phrases, in
litanies of sorrow.

There were the images she returned to again and again, the dark amulets:
how she and my father spent their days in a forest bunker, and how she
waited for him, alone, as he went out to forage or plead for food in the
night. How they later sat in a peasant's attic for two years, in wet
straw, shivering from cold in the winter and from hunger in all seasons.
How her sister-this was the heart of grief-had been murdered. She was
shot into a mass grave in Zalosce, not far from where my parents were
hiding. A witness later told my mother that the Jews rounded up for that
particular massacre had to dig the pit into which their bodies were
subsequently thrown, sometimes still quivering with remainders of life.
She was just nineteen, my mother would say about her sister, and begin to

The episodes, the talismanic litanies, were repeated but never elaborated
upon. They remained compressed, packed, sharp. I suppose the unassimilable
character of the experiences they referred to was expressed-and passed
on-through this form. For it was precisely the indigestibility of these
utterances, their fearful weight of densely packed feeling, as much as any
specific content, that I took in as a child. The fragmentary phrases
lodged themselves in my mind like shards, like the deadly needles I
remember from certain fairytales, which pricked your flesh and could never
be extracted again.


by EVA HOFFMAN Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Eva Hoffman was born in Cracow, Poland, and emigrated to Canada at the age of thirteen. She is the author of three highly acclaimed works of nonfiction, Lost in Translation, Exit into History, and Shtetl, and one novel, The Secret. She divides her time between London and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is a visiting professor at MIT.

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