The Second Generation
By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 24x24, painted 2019
Original photograph taken – 1969
The ‘Second Generation’ refers to children born to Holocaust survivors. Officially, I fall into that category. We are a unique sub-set of the Jewish community – we were raised by parents who went through one of the darkest chapters in history and that experience had implications for us.
Our homes were different from the homes of our friends whose parents were born in North America. Our parents spoke English with an accent and broke into other languages to talk about things they didn’t want us to know. Some of our parents had numbers tattooed on their arms. We are a generation named after relatives who died unspeakable deaths. All of us know that our existence is a miracle – we shouldn’t even be alive. Growing up we understood that our parents had been through ‘enough’ and ‘our job’ was to make sure that we did not disappoint them. We know a thing or two about resilience. We wonder if we are as tough as our parents – could we have survived what they went through? We secretly fear that we would not have.
Some Second Generation kids were born as ‘replacement’ children – their parents were married with families before the war and had lost everyone – their spouses, children, parents and siblings. These Second Generation children felt the impossible burden of trying to make highly traumatized parents feel whole again.
This 1969 image is of my mom’s first cousin Mary with her new husband Lou. I remember Mary’s parents. They were so gentle and lovely. Aunty Rutka (prisoner number 76322) and Uncle Mishu (prisoner number 68881) were both in the concentration camps and were saved by Oskar Schindler. Now that most survivors are no longer alive, Second Generation children feel a tremendous obligation to tell their parents’ stories.