Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II

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In the fall of 1992, in a small room in Boston, MA, an extraordinary meeting took place. For the first time, the sons and daughters of Holocaust victims met face-to-face with the children of Nazis for a fascinating research project to discuss the intersections of their pasts and the painful legacies that history has imposed on them. Taking that remarkable gathering as its starting point, Justice Matters illustrates how the psychology of hatred and ethnic resentments is passed from generation to generation. Psychologist Mona Weissmark, herself the child of Holocaust survivors, argues that justice is profoundly shaped by emotional responses. In her in-depth study of the legacy encountered by these children, Weissmark found, not surprisingly, that in the face of unjust treatment, the natural response is resentment and deep anger-and, in most cases, an overwhelming need for revenge. Weissmark argues that, while legal systems offer a structured means for redressing injustice, they have rarely addressed the emotional pain, which, left unresolved, is then passed along to the next generation-leading to entrenched ethnic tension and group conflict.

In the grim litany of twentieth-century genocides, few events cut a broader and more lasting swath through humanity than the Holocaust. How then would the offspring of Nazis and survivors react to the idea of reestablishing a relationship? Could they talk to each other without open hostility? Could they even attempt to imagine the experiences and outlook of the other? Would they be willing to abandon their self-definition as aggrieved victims as a means of moving forward?

Central to the perspectives of each group, Weissmark found, were stories, searing anecdotes passed from parent to grandchild, from aunt to nephew, which personalized with singular intensity the experience. She describes how these stories or "legacies" transmit moral values, beliefs and emotions and thus freeze the past into place. For instance, cdxfmerged that most children of Nazis reported their parents told them stories about the war whereas children of survivors reported their parents told them stories about the Holocaust. The daughter of a survivor said: "I didn't even know there was a war until I was a teenager. I didn't even know fifty million people were killed during the war I thought just six million Jews were killed." While the daughter of a Nazi officer recalled: "I didn't know about the concentration-camps until I was in my teens. First I heard about the [Nazi] party. Then I heard stories about the war, about bombs falling or about not having food."

At a time when the political arena is saturated with talk of justice tribunals, reparations, and revenge management, Justice Matters provides valuable insights into the aftermath of ethnic and religious conflicts around the world, from Rwanda to the Balkans, from Northern Ireland to the Middle East. The stories recounted here, and the lessons they offer, have universal applications for any divided society determined not to let the ghosts of the past determine the future.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a significant addition to the literature of the Holocaust...the potential of this important book far exceeds its perspectives on the Holocaust..." -Harvard Review

"...covers interesting ground of use to second generations who will be working through the issues for many years to come."—Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

Library Journal
For the research project that spawned this book, psychologist Weissmark, herself the daughter of concentration camp survivors, brought together the children of Holocaust victims and the children of Nazis to see whether they could work together to overcome feelings of fear and guilt. While the children of survivors could not acknowledge that the Nazi parents had also been victims of the Third Reich (the view commonly held by children of the latter), they could recognize that the German offspring were themselves guiltless and had suffered from their historical legacy. All in all, this is hardly new information; other titles have explored the psychology of the children of Holocaust survivors (Helen Epstein's Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Holocaust Survivors) and of Nazis (Gerald Posner's Hitler's Children). This title confirms the findings of these earlier works but doesn't add anything. Nor is it very useful as a model for ongoing ethnic conflicts (such as in Northern Ireland or Rwanda), since the conference participants could only find common ground in forgiveness for the second generation. For extensive Holocaust and psychology collections only.-Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195157574
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Lexile: 1180L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Roosevelt University
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Background 3. Justice as Intergenerational 4. Justice as Interpersonal 5. Justice has Two Sides 6 Justice as Compassion 7. Concluding Remarks

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2004

    An notable book that is a must read

    As an author and journalist who has studied this field for years, I found Mona Weissmark's 'Justice Matters' an important addition to the history of Holocaust literature, and our never-ending quest to understand the why to Nazi crimes. In her search for ultimate answers to such fundamental questions such as whether good people can pursue heinous acts, or whether there is an absolute truth to issues of morality and justice about the crimes of World War II, Weissmark successfully stimulates a vigorous and fascinating debate. She unmasks the complexity behind matters that too often are oversimplified. No student of history or the Holocaust can finish Justice Matters without being moved by her comprehensive study of the children of both survivors and Nazis, and come to the realization of how their subjective views profoundly affect our own thinking. But you don't have to be someone interested merely in the subject matter to find the exposition and discussion of the central themes of good and evil and crime and forgiveness to be fascinating and compelling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2003

    A Time for Everything

    Springing from an unprecedented meeting between the sons and daughters of the Holocaust and the children of the Third Reich, Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II takes readers on an unparalleled journey of hatred and ethnic resentments. Although more than half a century has passed, recollections of the Holocaust and WWII still sear the lives of survivors, their children and grandchildren. Weissmark's book shows how the cycle of ethnic and religious strife is kept alive generation after generation through story-telling, with each side recounting the injustice it suffered and the valor it showed in avenging its own group. Describing how these stories or 'legacies' transmit moral values, beliefs and emotions and thus preserve the past, Weissmark writes: 'Unjust acts that have not been reconciled are stored in legacies as if packed in ice.' The lessons of Justice Matters speak to a world reeling from unhealed wounds, providing insights into myriad conflicts ranging from centuries old disputes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, to racial strife in America's ghettos. Weissmark presents an inspiring recipe for reconciliation, asserting that it is not enough for the antagonist to agree to talk. Each side also must agree to moderate their own emotions and dispense with the notion that they are the most aggrieved. Justice Matters is about hearing the other side, seeing the other view. The story of how children of the Holocaust and children of the Nazi's struggled to come to terms with their past has universal applications for any people, and culture, riven with a legacy of resentment.

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