PAKH-Memer Oliver Sears in the Irish Times

I think of the hostages and their tortured families and weep for the broken generations in Gaza. Whatever injustice, historic and current, that successive Israeli governments have served to the Palestinians, there is no resonance with the Holocaust

The Irish Times, 6th May 2024

I was invited to join PAKH, the study group for intergenerational consequences of the Holocaust, last September. Comprising the descendants of victims and perpetrators, we meet to discuss our impossibly complex family stories.

Recently, online, we listened to Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin explain how they work together to promote peace. The subjects of Colum McCann’s 2020 novel, Apeirogon, these heroic men each lost a daughter in the decades-long conflict. Their determination to focus on the importance of respecting the rights of the individual, their lack of self pity and how they have come to rely on each other, emotionally, is humbling to observe.

Both men possess the insight of inherited trauma, along with their own piercing personal loss. Bassam’s stems from the displacement of his people, Rami’s mother was, as he says laconically, a graduate of Auschwitz. They both agree that the absence of Palestinian self-determination was the reason they lost their children and that Israeli society entire needs a total reset. It’s clear to them that both Hamas in Gaza and the settlers who have taken over the Israeli cabinet are a disaster for both peoples…

These two remarkably dignified, emotionally literate men are the embodiment of Viktor Frankl’s maxim that to understand your own pain you must first help someone else understand theirs; and that when pain has meaning, it is no longer pain. Bassam says they are not friends but are brothers. They show us what is required to break the cycle of hatred. Rami was clear that it’s not necessary for Palestinians and Israelis to love each other but respect is the key.

As I think of the hostages and their tortured families and weep for the broken generations in Gaza, I accept with an open heart that, among my fellow PAKH members, I have come to love and embrace children and grandchildren of monsters. And this, in the Ashkenazi tradition of trying to repair the world, headache by headache. On Yom HaShoah, I sense this is the furthest point from despair that a heart like mine can travel within the boundaries of this difficult inheritance.

Oliver Sears is founder of Holocaust Awareness Ireland


Breaking the Spell of the Nazi Past: How to find a voice and a language to address NS war crimes within one’s own family
with PAKH second chair Alexandra Senfft

Center for German and European Studies, Brandeis University
Wednesday, December 13, 2023
>> listen to event

The Objects of LovePAKH Member Oliver Sears and Daniel Mendelsohn in Conversation 

View on YouTube

London born, Dublin-based art dealer and curator Oliver Sears is joined by award-winning author and critic Daniel Mendelsohn for an intimate and illuminating conversation about this powerful exhibition, The Objects of Love, on view at 92NY’s Weill Art Gallery from September 13 through November 28.
First shown to great acclaim at Dublin Castle in Ireland, The Objects of Love vividly tells the story of one family torn apart in Nazi-occupied Poland. This emotional journey unveils Oliver Sears’ family story through a curated collection of precious objects, photos, and documents passed down through three generations. How do we honor our loved ones — and our own personal histories — in the wake of atrocity? What story emerges, reconstructed from objects and keepsakes retrieved from the Holocaust, about what we’ve lost?
Recorded Sep 13, 2023 at 92nd Street Y, New York.

New Group: “Storytelling Lab”

In 2021, we launched a new group called »Storytelling Lab«. This group meets once a month online, for the time being. It is designed for newcomers to PAKH who would like to gain insight into our approach to dialogue and wish to learn about intergenerational transfers. Our focus is on the intergenerational consequences of the Holocaust and the ways in which the past continues to affect us personally and collectively. We also address current topics that are directly or indirectly linked to the NS era and its aftermath. The group is open to non-members of PAKH; anyone who is interested in our activities or is considering membership is welcome.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (edit.): History, Trauma and Shame

Engaging the Past through Second Generation Dialogue

History, Trauma and Shame provides an in-depth examination of the sustained dialogue about the past between children of Holocaust survivors and descendants of families whose parents were either directly or indirectly involved in Nazi crimes. Taking an autobiographical narrative perspective, the chapters in the book explore the intersection of history, trauma and shame, and how change and transformation unfolds over time. The analyses of the encounters described in the book provides a close examination of the process of dialogue among members of The Study Group on Intergenerational Consequences of the Holocaust (PAKH), exploring how Holocaust trauma lives in the ‘everyday’ lives of descendants of survivors. It goes to the heart of the issues at the forefront of contemporary transnational debates about building relationships of trust and reconciliation in societies with a history of genocide and mass political violence. This book will be great interest for academics, researchers and postgraduate students engaged in the study of social psychology, Holocaust or genocide studies, cultural studies, reconciliation studies, historical trauma and peacebuilding. It will also appeal to clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, as well as upper-level undergraduate students interested in the above areas.

With contributions by PAKH members Beata Hammerich, Erda Siebert, Peter Pogany-Wnendt, Johannes Pfäfflin and Elke Horn

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela is Professor and holds the South African National Research Foundation Research Chair in Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma  in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She is the author of the award-winning A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness.


Alexandra Senfft: The Long Shadow of the Perpetrators

This article addresses the transgenerational consequences of the Second World War and the Holocaust for the descendants of the Nazi perpetrators and bystanders. Using the example of her own family, the author traces the external obstacles and the psychological difficulties arising from working through a legacy of crime, compounded by the fact that an atmosphere of taboos, silence and denial has persisted within German families – in spite of all the research and enlightenment in the academic and political spheres.

The author argues that the patterns of feeling, thinking and action are often passed down when they are not scrutinised. Meaningful dialogues with the survivors and their descendants, as well as authentic remembrance, the author claims, can only take place if descendants of the victimisers break away from those generationally transmitted narratives which continue to evade the entire truth about the crimes committed by the Nazis and their accomplices in Europe.

in: European Judaism. A Journal for the New Europe, Vol. 53: Issue 2, September 2020, pages 77-86
>> order copy

Memory, Narrative and Forgiveness

Perspectives on the Unfinished Journeys of the Past

Conference Volume “Memory, Narrative and Forgiveness: Reflecting on Ten Years of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission”

PAKH war mit einem eigenen Beitrag (“A Reflection on the Dialogue Process between second Generation Descendants of Perpetrators and of Holocaust Survivors in Germany”) vertreten.
>> Cambridge Scholars Publishing