Vol 37 (2017): Special issue: Generations and Memory: Continuity and Change

Who is a Survivor? Child Holocaust Survivors and the Development of a Generational Identity

Rebecca Clifford
Swansea University
Published March 31, 2017


In April 1983, the first American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors brought together thousands of adult survivors, child survivors, and children of survivors in the largest event of its kind ever held. This article explores the role of the Gathering in establishing a sense of generational belonging for child Holocaust survivors: encounters at the Gathering forced child survivors to confront their relationship with the concept of the “survivor”, and it was only after the Gathering that the term “child survivor” entered widespread usage, and the first support groups for child survivors formed. Using oral history collected at the Gathering, in combination with interviews conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the article explores how events such as the Gathering can have a catalytic effect on the development of a generational consciousness. It argues that the construction of generational identities hinges not (or not only) on the formative events of youth, but on an active process of engaging with and narrating a sense of generational belonging that can take place much later in the life cycle. It posits that child survivors only began to see themselves as a distinct group when – in the historical moment of the 1980s – they could locate their experiences in a broader story about who constituted a survivor.