A socially and historically contextualised psychoanalytic perspective: Holocaust survival and suffering<sup>1</sup>

Daniel Bar-On

in Biographical methods and professional practice

Published by Policy Press

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9781861344939
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447301554 | DOI:
A socially and historically contextualised psychoanalytic perspective: Holocaust survival and suffering1

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The Holocaust not only divided humanity into survivors, bystanders, rescuers and perpetrators and defined the generation as first, second and third. It also strengthened perspectives that became associated with the construction of collective memory, specifically in countries where society identified itself, or was identified by these categories such as in Israel and Germany. In Israel, the identity of the Holocaust survivor became an important issue of social labelling in the 1950s and later became significant in terms of self-categorisation in the 1980s and 1990s. In Germany, social oblivion marked the social categorisation of the victim and bystander during the Nazi period and the Holocaust's ‘untold story’ outside collective memory and discourse of these countries. This chapter is based on a critical view of the role of individual psychoanalysis in interpreting the social impact of the Holocaust. This critical view on the role of psychoanalysis in interpreting the aftermath and the after-effects of the genocide and Holocaust is based on three points: fragility of the language of the Holocaust survivors; the lack of distinction between the indescribable and the undiscussable; and the illusion of monolithic representation of ego, which is an illusive construction. These issues suggest that while psychoanalysis is relevant, it is also crucial to have a socially and historically contextualised psychoanalytic perspective in order to understand the social and individual construction related to human-made collective acts of violence. In this chapter, the Holocaust era is examined from a socially and historically psychoanalytic perspective. The first section asks: Who is a Holocaust survivor? and the second section asks: Who suffered more during and after the Holocaust?

Keywords: Holocaust; collective memory; social labelling; self-categorisation; social oblivion; individual psychoanalysis; monolithic representation; contextualised psychoanalytic perspective; historically psychoanalytic perspective

Chapter.  6294 words. 

Subjects: Social Research and Statistics

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