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Healing intergenerational trauma in the marital dynamics of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors


The shadows of the past continue to stretch into the present, subtly shaping the lives of those who carry the legacy of historical trauma. Among the most poignant examples of this phenomenon are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors—a third generation seemingly distant from the horrors of the Holocaust, yet intimately connected to it through the invisible threads of inherited trauma.

This article "Healing intergenerational trauma in the marital dynamics of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors",delves into the complex ways in which echoes of the Holocaust reverberate through the family and relationship dynamics of these descendants. Drawing insights from Family Constellations Therapy and other therapeutic approaches, it explores the expression of intergenerational trauma within these intimate relationships.

By shining a spotlight on these ingrained patterns, I aim to illuminate a path to understanding, healing, and transformation for those who carry this profound legacy.

Understanding intergenerational trauma

Intergenerational trauma refers to the phenomenon where the psychological effects of trauma experienced by one generation are passed on to future generations. This transmission occurs not through genetics but through patterns of behavior, communication, and emotional expression within a family. These inherited traumas can manifest in various forms, including anxiety, depression, and difficulties in creating and maintaining healthy relationships.

The concept of intergenerational trauma is particularly relevant when examining descendants of Holocaust survivors. The Holocaust left deep scars on those who survived. Survivors often carried these scars into their family lives, inadvertently passing on their pain and fears to their children and grandchildren. The trauma is encoded in the family narrative and affects the way family members communicate with each other and the world.

Understanding intergenerational trauma involves recognizing that the emotional and psychological wounds of the past do not disappear with time. Instead, they can persist and subtly affect family dynamics for generations. This understanding is critical to healing, as it shifts the perspective from treating these issues as isolated personal problems to understanding them as part of a broader historical context.

As we delve deeper into the effects of intergenerational trauma, we begin to see the importance of recognizing and addressing these inherited pains. By doing so, we can pave the way for more meaningful connections and healthier dynamics in families affected by historical traumas such as the Holocaust.

The legacy of the Holocaust: impact on the third generation

The Holocaust, a catastrophic event that claimed the lives of six million Jews and millions of others, left an indelible mark on history. Its influence, however, extends far beyond those who directly experienced its horrors. The third generation of Holocaust survivors—grandchildren who never met the oppressors, nor walked in the concentration camps—carry with them a legacy of trauma that is both complex and deep.

Emotional and Psychological Echoes

For many in the third generation, the Holocaust is a shadow hovering over the family's history, a narrative full of gaps, silences, and unspoken pain. This generation grew up with stories of survival and loss that are both inspiring and burdensome. They inherit not only the resilience and strength of their grandparents but also the deep fears, anxieties, and traumas that the Holocaust instilled in their family's psyche.

This intergenerational trauma is often expressed as an increased sense of vulnerability and a constant fear of loss. Many grandchildren of survivors find themselves dealing with anxiety, depression, and a lingering sense of grief for family members they never knew. This emotional legacy can also lead to a strong sense of obligation to remember and honor the past, sometimes at the expense of their own well-being.

Family Dynamics

The impact of the Holocaust on family dynamics within the third generation can be subtle but profound. Communication patterns within these families often reflect past trauma. There may be an unspoken rule against discussing the Holocaust—a silence born out of respect for the pain of the survivors, but also out of fear of awakening dormant traumas. This silence, although protective, can create emotional distance between family members, as feelings and fears remain unaddressed.

Parenting styles in these families may also be influenced by past trauma. Some survivors, trying to protect their offspring from the pain they experienced, may become overprotective or overly anxious. This, in turn, can affect the ability of the third generation to navigate the world with confidence and independence.

Challenges in Relationships

The ripples of Holocaust trauma also extend to the romantic relationships and marriages of the third generation. The inherited fears and anxieties can make trust and vulnerability within relationships difficult. Spouses of third-generation survivors may find it challenging to understand or connect with the deep emotional legacy their partner carries. This can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of understanding on both sides.

Furthermore, the third generation often has a strong sense of identity tied to the experiences of their grandparents. This can create complex interactions between personal and collective histories, influencing their choices in partners and their expectations of relationships. The desire to honor the past while creating their own path can be a source of internal conflict and strain on relationships.

Navigating the Legacy

Despite the challenges, many in the third generation actively seek to understand and navigate the legacy of the Holocaust. Through conversations with family members, engagement with historical materials, and therapeutic work, they strive to comprehend the inherited trauma. This process of inquiry and understanding is not only about coming to terms with the past but also about shaping a future where the legacy of the Holocaust informs but does not define their lives and relationships.

Marital and Family Dynamics of Grandchildren

The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors navigate a unique landscape within their marital and family dynamics, deeply affected by a history they did not experience but continue to feel. This chapter examines how the legacy of the Holocaust shapes their relationships and family life, focusing on communication, emotional expression, and the creation and maintenance of relationships.

Communication and Emotional Expression

In many families of Holocaust survivors, communication about the traumatic past is often shrouded in silence or spoken in hushed tones. This communication pattern—or the lack of it—can permeate the third generation, affecting the way they express feelings and communicate in their relationships. There may be a tendency to hide emotions, a behavior learned from observing their parents and grandparents, who may have kept their own emotions under wraps as a protective measure. This can lead to challenges in marital relationships, where open and honest communication is critical. Couples therapy, especially focusing on improving communication skills, can be a valuable tool for breaking this cycle.

Creating and Maintaining Relationships

The creation and maintenance of relationships for the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors can be affected by a complex interaction of fear, loyalty, and the burden of memory. The fear of loss, so ingrained in their family history, can manifest in anxiety about forming deep bonds or overly clingy behavior within relationships. Loyalty to their family may drive them to seek partners who can understand or share this heritage, sometimes limiting their social and romantic circles. Additionally, the responsibility to continue the family legacy and memory can add unique pressure to these relationships, potentially leading to conflicts or misunderstandings with partners who may not share the same sense of duty.

Family Constellations offers a unique approach to understanding and healing family patterns that affect relationship dynamics. Participating in a constellative meeting as a couple can provide space to explore these dynamics and develop healthier relationship patterns. From this approach, I developed the method I practice in the clinic: couples therapy based on a family constellation.

Prominent Therapeutic Approaches to Healing

The journey toward healing and understanding the complex layers of intergenerational trauma requires a compassionate and multifaceted therapeutic approach. Grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, who are dealing with the invisible legacy of their ancestors' deep traumas, can benefit from a variety of therapeutic methods designed to address the unique challenges they face. These approaches not only facilitate personal healing but also contribute to healthier family and couple dynamics.

Healing intergenerational trauma with Family Constellations Therapy

Family constellations therapy resonates especially for those dealing with intergenerational trauma. This approach allows individuals to explore the hidden dynamics and patterns within their family lineage that continue to influence their lives. By forming a "constellation" representing family members and other significant figures, participants can visually and emotionally process the relationships and traumas that span generations. This method provides deep insights into how the trauma of the Holocaust shaped family members, behaviors, and the individual soul, offering paths to acknowledge, confront, and begin healing these deep wounds.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another effective approach, especially in treating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can be common among offspring of trauma survivors. CBT helps individuals identify and challenge distorted thinking and behavior patterns learned from family dynamics affected by trauma. Through this process, patients can develop healthier coping mechanisms and emotional responses, significantly improving their quality of life and relationship satisfaction.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy offers a powerful way for the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors to express and reframe their family's story. This approach encourages individuals to separate themselves from their problems, seeing them as external entities. In doing so, they can rewrite their own narratives, emphasizing resilience, strength, and the ability to change, rather than being defined by the trauma of their ancestors. This rewriting of personal and family stories can be incredibly liberating, allowing individuals to create a sense of identity that honors their past while embracing autonomy over their future.


Navigating the complex realm of intergenerational trauma, especially for the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, is a journey filled with challenges and opportunities for deep healing and growth. By understanding the nuances of inherited trauma, identifying its impact on family and relationship dynamics, and utilizing therapeutic approaches tailored to these unique challenges, a path to transformation unfolds. Family constellation therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and narrative therapy stand out as powerful tools in this journey. They not only facilitate the healing of inherited wounds but also empower individuals to create stronger relationships and a healthier sense of self. By respecting the past and recognizing its shadows, we can step into the light and embrace a future where the legacy of trauma influences but does not define our lives.


Sivan Avni - Couples counselling Based on Differentiation and Family Constellations.


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