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Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 2014, Vol. 6, No. 4, 411– 419

© 2013 American Psychological Association 1942-9681/14/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033834

Reconstruction of Self-Identity of Holocaust Child Survivors Who Participated in “Testimony Theater” Miri Peleg, Rachel Lev-Wiesel, and Dani Yaniv

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University of Haifa The current study is the first to examine the experience of Holocaust Child Survivors (HCSs) sharing their survival stories by performing with youths on one stage as part of the “Testimony Theater” project. Using qualitative data analysis, the findings indicate that the Holocaust experience is an essential element in forming the identity of HCSs. Arriving in the land of Israel, Holocaust survivors had a collective identity of “Holocaust Survivors” that left them with feelings of shame and inferiority, which hindered the establishment of their self-identity. However, when HCSs take the role of the teller through the “Testimony Theater” project, a transition from a collective identity to a self-identity occurs. This role enables HCSs to reconstruct their self-identity and find in it a positive, personal, and meaningful role. Consequently, we suggest that reconstruction of self-identity can occur when survivors take on a positive and empowering role, in the presence of others, within the context of an attentive, empathic, and nonjudgmental relationship. Keywords: Holocaust, testimony, theater, drama therapy, self-identity

The Holocaust trauma is considered to be one of the most influential traumas in the history of the Jewish people in particular and in the history of mankind in general (Langer, 1991; Laub, 2002). Interviewing Holocaust survivors in order to document the atrocities for the next generations has been one of the main objectives of the State of Israel, which was established after the Second World War. However, the power of witnessing and the healing component of the testimonial process for the survivors later in their lives (Krell, 1985) led to the creation of diverse genres of testimony such as videos, movies, and biographies. A unique way of witnessing and transmitting the survivor’s story to the third generation is the “Testimony Theater” developed in Israel. This educational project gathers a group of Holocaust survivors with youths from the same community over the course of 1 year. Survivors share with the group their survival stories, which are transformed into a play and performed on stage by both survivors and youths in front of a large audience. The current qualitative study aimed to examine the experience of Holocaust Child Survivors as part of the “Testimony Theater” project.

Literature Review Genocidal Trauma The history of humankind includes genocides such as the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and genocides in East Timor, Cambodia, under the Khmer Rouge, and Rwanda. Genocides generally occur in wartime or in response to the threat of armed conflict; this is the case in the Holocaust, the Herero genocide, the Armenian genocide, and the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia (Straus, 2012). Another characteristic of genocide is that the perpetrators’ goal is not only to obliterate their victims but also to try to destroy their memory. Through intensive violence and degrading exploitation of victims, victims begins to take on the shameful responsibility of the perpetrator, and victims then see themselves as perpetrators and perpetrators as victims (Danielian, 2010). In addition, perpetrators are intensively engaged in massive denial of the genocide in order to create a “lifelong bond of silence” with victim populations and a deep psychological alteration to induce a permanent silence (Danielian, 2010). The massive psychic trauma of genocide produces extensive fragmentation in its survivors—fragmentation of perception, fragmentation of a sense of coherence in their life stories, and fragmentation of their relationships to their families and to the wider human community (Laub, 2002). Genocidal trauma affects not only victims but also witnesses, bystanders, and perpetrators, albeit in qualitatively different ways (Danielian, 2010; Laub, 2002). It colors and shapes the entire inner representation of reality of several generations, becoming an unconscious organizing principle passed on by parents and internalized by children.

This article was published Online First September 23, 2013. Miri Peleg, Rachel Lev-Wiesel, and Dani Yaniv, The Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Miri Peleg, The Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies, University of Haifa, 31905 Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel. E-mail: [email protected]; Rachel Lev-Wiesel, The Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies, University of Haifa, E-mail: [email protected]; Dani Yaniv, The Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies, University of Haifa. E-mail: [email protected]

Long-Term Effects of the Holocaust Trauma Seventy years after the end of World War II, most remaining survivors of the Holocaust were children during the Holocaust. A 411

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Holocaust Child Survivor (HCS) is defined as any Jewish child who survived the events of Nazi-occupied Europe and was no older than 16 years old in 1945 (Krell, 1985). During the war, these HCSs suffered from prolonged trauma, including physical and emotional abuse, starvation, humiliation, and the witnessing of cruelty toward their family members and their people (Dasberg, 2001; Valent, 1995). Therefore, their childhood experiences lacked parental nurturing as well as a sense of security and protection (Krell, 1990). Their memories are bound to heartbreaking scenes of separation from their parents and abandonment (Lev-Wiesel & Amir, 2006; Safford, 1995; Wardi, 1992). The Holocaust traumata have long-term effects on the mentality and personal identity of HCSs, whose interrupted childhood lacked the natural development process. The Holocaust brutally detached the survivors from normal family and childhood life at an age so critical to the construction and development of self-identity (Erikson, 1963; Wardi, 1992). Consequently, it influenced the abilities of HCSs to maintain cohesive and independent self-identities. The most common coping style focused on action, whether it was joining Zionist organizations and helping to establish the State of Israel or creating a family (Mazor, Gampel, Enright, & Orenstein, 1990; Wardi, 1992). Gertz (2004) defined Zionism as the only “redemption” offered to the Jews of the Diaspora and as the transformation from the “old Jew” (feminine, weak, and helpless) to the “new” Jew (masculine, active, strong, a farmer). Research on long-term effects of the Holocaust indicates that high proportions of HCSs suffered from intrusive memories and emotional distress (Letzter-Pouw & Werner, 2005), elevated levels of posttraumatic symptoms, and tangible damage to their selfidentity and sense of belonging (Amir & Lev-Wiesel, 2001; Cohen, Dekel, Solomon & Lavie, 2003; Dasberg, 2001). HCSs also were found to be suffering from what Niederaland named the “survivor syndrome” (see Lev-Wiesel & Weinger, 2011). Symptoms of this syndrome include depression, phobias, distorted selfimage, loss of identity, and feelings of worthlessness (Amir & Lev-Wiesel, 2001). A meta-analysis revealed that Holocaust survivors (mainly HCSs) show heightened traumatization and particularly show more posttraumatic stress symptoms (Barel, Van IJzendoorn, Sagi-Schwartz, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2010). Despite evidence indicating their specific vulnerability, studies reveal their resilience; survivors managed to build careers, establish families, and maintain a stable marital life (Krell, 1993; Mazor et al., 1990), and researches indicate their resilience in domains of daily functioning, that is, physical health, stress-related physical measures, and cognitive functioning (Shmotkin, Shrira, Goldberg, & Palgi, 2011; for a meta-analysis, see Barel et al., 2010).

Conspiracy of Silence Holocaust survivors desired to nurture their offspring as normally as possible but the presence of their traumatic past and their obligation to the dead imposed mixed messages (Bar-On, 1995). The survivors had a desire to transmit their stories to the next generation (Gampel, 2010; Wardi, 1992), but they also wanted to create a “healthy” new generation (Pennebaker, Barger, & Tiebout, 1989), leading to a conspiracy of silence (Danieli, 1980) that has not yet completely disappeared (Chaitin, 2002). Paradoxically, the untold story is passed on to the next generation with great intensity (Bar-On, 1995; Shmotkin et al., 2011).

Moreover, during the first years of the establishment of Israel, Israeli leaders used the Holocaust trauma as a way to legitimize the establishment of the country. They emphasized the stories of heroism such as the partisans’ fight and the Warsaw rebellion (Gertz, 2004). Their national identity was therefore a source of pride and freedom, and they believed that in Israel another Holocaust could not happen. At the same time, the local Israeli population criticized them for not fighting and rebelling, hence increasing their feeling of inferiority and shame (Bar-On, 1995; Lomranz, 1996) originally derived from the Nazi propaganda that Jews are inferior, do not belong to human race, and must be annihilated (Kestenberg & Kestenberg, 1988). In response to this double message, they chose to keep silent in order to forget what happened there, feeling that those who were not there would not understand (Dasberg, 2001).

Testimony: Breaking the Wall of Silence Breaking the wall of silence is incompatible with the nature of the trauma—its permanent conflict between knowing and not knowing (Caruth, 1996). Not knowing the trauma is an active, persistent, violent refusal (Laub, 2002), and healing begins when the conspiracy of silence is broken (Danielian, 2010). This is accomplished through the testimonial process. Goodman and Meyers (2012) use a metaphor of dead space in which the horrific known and the too-much unknown are both present in the mind of the survivor of severe trauma. The power of witnessing provides “a clearing way and lighting for a living surround near the dead space where an opening, the new space, develops and takes hold” (p. 5). It is claimed that the testimony provides the survivor with an opportunity for self-expression and empowerment, and as such, it heals the survivor’s hurt inner self (Greenwald, Ben-Ari, Strous, & Laub, 2008; Krell, 1993). For the testimony to take place, there needs to be another human being who is, as Laub calls him, “the blank screen on which the event comes to be inscribed for the first time” (Laub, 1992, p. 57). For this to happen, the listener has to be empathic, unobtrusive, nonjudgmental, protective, and encouraging (Caruth, 1996; Danielian, 2010; Goodman & Meyers, 2012; Herman, 1992; Laub, 2002). Consequently, survivors can repossess their life story, reestablish their internal dialogue with themselves, and rejoin the wider human community (Herman, 1992; Laub, 2002). The process of breaking the silence of Holocaust survivors started at the end of the 1970s. The Eichmann trial and the arrival of grandchildren encouraged survivors to start telling their personal histories in various frameworks, mainly by giving testimonies to historical archives but also by accompanying delegations to Europe (mainly Poland) and writing biographies (Mazor et al., 1990). For the Holocaust survivors, there are many reasons for giving testimony, such as the duty to remember and not to forget, the need to warn others, and the desire to give bearable meaning to the past (Bar-On, 1995). These reasons create an alternative positive meaning by replacing the war’s distorted values and atrocities (LevWiesel & Weinger, 2011; Valent, 1995). Moreover, giving testimony serves as an adjustment mechanism essential to the survivor’s coping with the challenges of aging (Bar-Tur & LevyShiff, 1994; Erikson, 1982; Krystal, 1988; Lomranz, 1996). Indeed, Holocaust survivors’ well-being improved when they pro-

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vided testimony, and they reported a sense of closure (Krell, 1985) and consistent physical improvement (Pennebaker et al., 1989). But there are also dangers with testimony; the act of telling might itself become severely traumatizing, if the price of speaking is not relief but further reliving of the trauma (as in the cases of suicides for examples of the famous writer, Primo Levi, the child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, and the poet, Paul Celan). Moreover, if one talks about the trauma without being truly heard or truly listened to, the telling might itself be lived as the reexperiencing of the traumatic event itself (Laub, 1992). Finally, translation into language and sharing accompanying emotions related to the experience are necessary to gain improved health (Krell, 1989; Letzter-Pouw, 2007; Pennebaker & Chung, 2007).

Testimonies Through Artistic Mediums Translating testimony into artistic language such as video, movies, or theater makes the witnessing active; the art helps in the process of the realization of the “truth” in our consciousness as witnesses, as very well emphasized by the famous Claude Lanzmann movie from 1985, Shoah (Young, 2000). The artistic medium captures historical facts and events in an expanded level; it adds the dimension of nonverbal interpersonal communication— facial expression and gestures, pauses, and vocal intonations. Laub (2002), who established the Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, concludes that the video testimony functions as a dialogue not only with the immediate listener but also with oneself, with one’s family, and with an imagined audience in one’s future and in the world at large: “It is a step in the restoration of one’s own humanity and the humanity of the world one inhabits; it is a step in the rebuilding of mutuality and of trust” (p. 66). Consequently, an identity shaping occurs, identity with oneself and with others (Thomson & Jaque, 2011). A unique medium for memorializing the survival story is the theater setting. Testimonial theater making is a tool in which performing actors work on their own personal trauma histories, and their stories are woven into a collective staged performance. It pays attention to the delicate movement between enlivenment of the traumatic memory and distancing from it (Thomson & Jaque, 2011), which is a major process of drama therapy (Jones, 2008). In a detailed description of a theater project with Chilean refugees, Malpede (1999) presents a model of “theater of witness.” In this model, traumatic memories of survivors are brought into a collective group of actors, who transfer the traumatic memories from the bodies of testifiers into their bodies. The actor, the witness, takes in the memory in order to perform it, and the testifier gives the memory in order to receive it back as a crafted image—an artifact placed outside the self.

“Testimony Theater” A unique form of intergenerational testimonial theater is “Testimony Theater.” The “Testimony Theater - To Tell In Order To Live” association was established in May 2005. Its main objective is to promote, develop, and publish educational projects that bring together Holocaust survivors with the second and third generations through expressive and creative arts therapies (www.edut.org.il; Edut means testimony in Hebrew). The therapeutic educational model brings together Holocaust survivors and youths from the same community (often including


the survivors’ grandchildren) for weekly meetings over the course of 1 year (Dagan & Dagan, 2008). During the initial months, the groups gather to concentrate on group bonding, so that the group poses a safe place, enabling the sensitive survivor testimony process. In the second phase, testimonies are collected gradually in an ongoing process, in the presence of the third generation and with the guidance of a drama therapist, applying drama therapy techniques such as improvisation, role-play, play-theater, and playback-theater, in addition to other drama therapy exercises. During the documentation phase, the directors of the group write a play, which consists of chosen moments from the survivors’ testimonies. The youths act the survivors’ roles, while the survivors sit on stage, reading some of the lines from the play and watching the youths perform them. In the end of the process, a play is presented live, on stage, on several occasions in front of a large and diverse audience, which includes members of the community and family members of the survivors. This study is the first to investigate this community intergenerational model of Holocaust survivors and youths in a theater setting. The aim of the study was to understand the meaning of such testimony to HCSs, focusing on questions relating to the experience of HCS participation in “Testimony Theater,” such as what is the meaning of providing testimony in a theater setting and how does that compare with other testimonial methods? What is the meaning of the dramatic enactment of their story within “Testimony Theater”? What is the survivors’ reaction to the youths’ performance of their personal stories?

Method The study was conceptualized in the phenomenological tradition and based on the qualitative data analyzed inductively (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). The researcher following this paradigm aims to investigate and understand the phenomenon through the subjective meaning participants attribute to events (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). The study was conducted between 2010 and 2011. The sample consisted of 17 HCSs (8 women and 9 men) who were born between 1930 and 1939 in Nazi-occupied Europe (7 Poland, 1 Germany, 5 Hungary, 3 Romania, and 1 Czechoslovakia) and immigrated to Israel between 1947 and 1957. Researchers chose participants from a list posted on the “Testimony Theater” association Web site; the participants took part in “Testimony Theater” projects in Israel between 2001 and 2010. When HCSs were contacted by the researchers, most were eager to participate, except for those with health problems. At the request of the directors of the association, HCSs who participated in “Testimony Theater” within a year of this research study were not contacted. For five of the participants, “Testimony Theater” was the first time they gave testimony. Names of the participants were changed to respect their privacy. Two main tools were used in the research. First, in an open interview, participants were told, “Tell me your life story” (Rosental, 1993). The researchers did not interrupt or ask questions, so the participants could give a free narrative, emphasizing the parts that were important to them. At the end of the interview, they were asked to give their stories a name. Second, in a semistructured interview, participants were asked about their experience in the “Testimony Theater” project, their reasons for joining the project, and the personal process they experienced, for example, “What



does it mean to you to be a Holocaust survivor?”; “What was the most meaningful experience for you in ‘Testimony Theater’?”; “Explain the differences between the ways of giving a testimony”; “How was your relationship with the youths and the other survivors in the group?” The data analyses were performed using grounded theory methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

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Results The findings reveal that the Holocaust trauma is a central component of the survivors’ identity. Their humiliating traumatic memories from the Holocaust and their experiences as immigrants to Israel led to their experience of being “a number.” However, the power of witnessing through “Testimony Theater” enabled the survivors to undergo a transition from “being a number” to “being a teller.”1 As presented in the findings, the movement is not in one direction but, like a pendulum, from “being a number” to “being a teller” and from “being a teller” to “being a number.” These two main themes are presented through subcategories that are fundamental to identity formation.

From “Being a Number” to “Being a Teller” Being a number. The survivors experienced a central theme of being a number in a crowd, without a name or sense of humanity. As Leon, a survivor of Auschwitz, described, “There, I’ve seen how you play football with Jews. You take a Jew, an SS kicks him to the second SS, a third and so forth, till the Jew nearly dies, then they take a gun and shoot him.” The concept of being a number is even more concrete for the survivors who have identification numbers tattooed on their arms. However, with or without the tattoo, all of the survivors remember the Nazis’ endless counting, at any moment and in all weather conditions. Being a number is being nameless. Some survivors had to hide their former identity by changing their names, their religion, and their language. Bruria, for instance, was eight when she escaped from Warsaw and moved from one village to another, alone, for almost four years, under a Christian name. She shared the pain of denying her identity: I went to sleep and spoke to my father in Yiddish while dreaming, and they heard me . . . so I deleted the Yiddish, I rejected it, and it is possible to forget, because you don’t want to know. I can’t understand it until today. I took the Yiddish, my native language, and threw it to the sea.

The participants described the physical and sexual abuse that led to the lack of humanity. As Menashe described, The first time they stopped the train, everyone jumped out and I can never forget this picture, nearly 70 years, everyone behaved like animals when going to the toilet. When the human lost his humanity, and we became animals, I understood it years later. We became animals.

Being a Number also portrays the experience of some of the survivors arriving to Israel; they were weak and pale compared with the locals, they did not know the language, and they had to change their names, work hard, and keep silent while the local Israelis underrated them as if they went “like lambs to slaughter.”

Zachi, who immigrated to Israel alone, described experiences of alienation, shame, and loneliness in his new country. He was given an Israeli name, without having a choice, and had to forget his origin language: You are an immigrant among the Zabars (the locals) who usually don’t want to hear you and don’t want to hear foreign language, you have to speak Hebrew, you need to assimilate all . . . I always knew not to think of it, not to remember, the tendency was not to talk and it was taboo. The trauma as an essential element of identity. The study findings emphasize the Holocaust experience as an essential and meaningful element in forming the identity of HCSs. While asked to tell their life story, most of the survivors started their story from the Holocaust, and this experience is the central story within their life story. For example, Lenah’s life story begins in the following sentence: “I was seven when the war began and eight when we were expelled to Transnistria.” The survivors’ memories of the ongoing humiliation and abuse left them with feelings of shame; for some of them, this shame was embedded in their Holocaust identity. Pinchas answered the question, “What does it mean for you to be a Holocaust survivor?”: “Miserable, what can I say? It isn’t a great honor.” Zadok also explained, Maybe not everyone knows that it isn’t a great honor to be a Holocaust survivor, I know it and I know I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t choose to be a Holocaust survivor . . . I learned through the years how to live with it, I have no choice, but not because I want to be a Holocaust survivor.

The transition to “being a teller.” The transition of the survivors from the experience of “being a number” to the experience of “being a teller” of their survival story occurs as they focus on their life mission “to tell and not to forget.” To fulfill their mission, they have to take the role of the teller and tell their story in different settings. However, the transition is not easy, because they have to overcome the shame, guilt, and fear that was embedded in them during the Holocaust. The survivors explain that they joined the “Testimony Theater” project because of the declared goal of the association, “To tell in order to live,” and their need to pass on their story, today more than ever, due to their age and their years left to do this. For some of the survivors, passing on their story is a life mission that was given to them by the dead and one that they have to perform as long as they live. Hasia, for instance, said it is the will of the children who didn’t survive: “It is a sacred mission because they told us not to forget . . . I feel them inside me. I feel they asked ‘don’t forget.’” Leon’s father told him his will before he died in Auschwitz, as he explained: My father said, “Dear boys, we are probably in hell and I have my will for you: you must survive, you must stay alive, you must return home, immigrate to Israel, and tell the world what the Nazis did to us,” so this is what I do.

1 It is important to note that in Hebrew, the words “teller” and “number” are written the same but pronounced differently, and that Hebrew is usually written without vowels.


For some of the survivors, it is important to be the teller because they fear that, in the global situation today, there is a risk that it can happen again, as Bruria summarized in the words she wrote and read at the end of the play:

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You, the one sitting here, you are the hope, the victory, the next generation, and the torch. Please pass the torch in order not to be forgotten and forget. May there not be any abandoned, forgotten, hungry, and orphan children in the world forever.

It is true that the declared aim of survivors, “Remember and never forget,” helps recruit them for the mutual goal, but there is a hidden aim as well: The stage provides the survivors with the ability to be recognized as individuals after years of silence. For years they tried to hide, to not be noticed, to keep anonymous; getting on the front of the stage is the most exposed place and there is no place to hide on the stage. However, the stage has the potential for transformation from insecurity to the safety of being acknowledged and seen. Zachi, who immigrated to Israel alone, felt most of his life the need to hide his past. At the beginning, he refused to perform on stage: I never wanted to be noticed, when I was at school I always wanted to hide behind someone, this was my behavior throughout the years. I didn’t want to be seen, didn’t want anyone to know who I am, the less they knew who I was, the better. I think it started when they counted us for a group of five so I had to hide not to be spotted by them.

The power of the “other”: The relationship with the youths. For the survivors who told their story for the first time, and for those who got used to not being seen and known, the relations with the youths eased the testimonial process. Hasia described her excitement: “I was surprised and thrilled by the youths’ sensitivity, that they were willing to know and listen . . . throughout the process they became patient and to tolerate stories of old people, and some of the stories were terrifying.” The relations with the youths enabled the testimonial process and the transition from “being a number” to “being a teller” to be completed. This is a meeting between survivors and youths, when each had totally different childhoods. The word listening is frequently used by the survivors. True listening demands active participation, no judgment, and an ability to contain, and according to their perception, this is what they received from the youths and the audience. For the survivors, it was a kind of compensation for having been silenced during the years. Gabriel said, It was so good because during the first years here in Israel, people used to ask why didn’t we fight back, why did we behave so cowardly and it didn’t help us, we felt ashamed and we kept silent. You understand, everyone wants people to really listen, now they do, this is touching.

From “Being a Teller” to “Being a Number” The transition to becoming a teller is not permanent and stable but oscillates as a consequence of certain characteristics that are evoked in the process of telling, knowing, and reliving the traumatic memories. Suffering hierarchy: “You aren’t the only one who suffered in Auschwitz.” Although all the participants are survivors, the diversity among them in terms of the survival settings, the expe-


riences during the war, the characteristics of each survivor, and so forth is wide. One of the issues participants focused on was a suffering hierarchy of the survival setting, that is, which one should be considered worse specifically between concentration camps and hiding. Bruria said, I wasn’t in Auschwitz but every minute for me was experienced as danger, I know that the stories of the concentration camps are dreadful; I can’t compare them to what I experienced. However, hanging between heaven and earth, never knowing where I would be sleeping or if and where I would get the next slice of bread was horrible.

Others tended to underestimate their own suffering: “I always said to my friends here that compared to them I was in a sanitarium. They all had no parents . . . they were alone, felt horrible, and me? I was with my parents, it can’t be compared.” At times, struggles around these issues emerged. Menashe, for example, decided to remain in the group only because one of the participants said, Those who were in Auschwitz said they suffered more, I didn’t see their suffering as worse than the suffering of those who were children . . . I decided to stay in the group when she said to one of the participants that she should know that you aren’t the only one who suffered in Auschwitz.

A personal story versus a collective story. Sharing in a group with a mutual past becomes a source for comfort, support, closeness, empathy, and identification. On the one hand, it strengthens the collective experience by using plural first tense sentences, such as “we all cried.” On the other hand, sharing in a group with a mutual past creates difficulty between the personal story and the collective story. The personal story might be shaken when confronted with historical facts. Inevitably, hidden competition emerges regarding the ability and coherence of each survivor’s storytelling. The need to listen to others also creates some antagonism toward those who are in front of the stage. Another aspect on the pendulum movement between personal and collective story is due to the process itself: The director decides, with or without the survivor, which part of his testimony will be chosen for the play. Because the survivors are not the ones who have the mandate to decide on the final play, the association with the term “selection,” which is so dominant in their story, throws them back to being a number again. It also contributes to competition between survivors regarding whose story was chosen to be shown. Bruria said, for example, In our project, one had his story, the audience clapped their hands, and another story began. Today, it is different; one story within another so it is quite hard for someone who doesn’t actually know which story belongs to whom.

The curtain comes down: Returning to “being a number.” The show ends with the Victory of Life—pictures on-screen of the survivors and their family today and closing remarks of the survivors and youths about the significant process they had shared. The show is over, and some participants expressed a lingering feeling that they are going back to anonymity, to being an unknown, a number. Judith said, “We worked so hard, well, work isn’t the right word but we dedicated so much time, I thought there should be more shows, it’s a pity it was over.” In contrast, Lenah



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thought it was enough for her: “I am not ready to scratch the wounds once more, it was important for me to tell but no more.” Ilana concluded that all her memories are in a suitcase: “Now the theater and the performance were added to the memories kept in the suitcase.” The normalization of the experience (together with the validation of the symptoms), and thus the achievement of a better sense of control, are many times included in therapeutic protocols of traumatic memory processing (e.g., Briere & Scott, 2006). Thus, becoming a number, now, at the end of this unique testimonial process, in contrast to the original horrific experience, has a positive, therapeutic effect.

Discussion The main themes found were examined through the lens of trauma effects on identity. Therefore, the discussion will focus on the pendulum movement between self and collective identity and the power of witnessing on the reconstruction of self-identity.

A Collective Identity Versus a Self-Identity The themes deriving from the findings reflect fluctuations between collective and self-identity. It is noticeable that the desire of the survivors is to reorganize and reconstruct their self-identity, so it will have positive meaning in the collective memory of the Holocaust. The prolonged destruction of everything the survivors who were children during the Holocaust had—their childhood, their family, their sense of humanity—at an age so critical to the development of self and identity (Erikson, 1963) left them with feelings of inferiority and shame. Arriving in the land of Israel, HCSs tried to identify with the admired native Israelis by changing their origin names to Hebrew ones and speaking the Hebrew language. In addition, they identified with Zionist ideology and values, mainly personal sacrifice for the benefit of the collective. They worked in farming and contributed to the effort of the establishment of the State of Israel by joining its army. The analysis also indicates the strengthening of HCSs’ social identity; at the end of the war, detached from family and home, HCSs tried to feel that they belonged by joining youth movements and helping in the establishment of Israel. Nevertheless, the need for belonging and affiliation left the collective identity of “Holocaust survivors” in a central position and made it harder to form a self-identity. Moreover, years of silence alongside intrusive memories strengthened their sense of belonging to a collective—the collective of Holocaust survivors. It is true that they showed outstanding strength in coping with the traumatic events of the Holocaust and they managed to help in the establishment of Israel and build family. It can be claimed that their successful struggle evokes the urge to take on a positive role within their collective identity. The establishment of Israel and the creation of a family are the ultimate signs of the resilience of the Jewish people as a collective, yet each person has his or her own personal story of survival and wants to be heard.

The Role of the Teller in the Reconstruction of Self-Identity The will of the survivors to tell their personal story obliged them to take a role, the role of the teller, and, as the findings indicate, led

to reconstruction of self-identity. This is consistent with J. L. Moreno’s idea (1961, 1987) that “ego” develops and consolidates out of precursor roles created by society, rather than vice versa. The urge to be in the role of the teller can be learned through the preoccupation with the measure of suffering and the attempt to create a suffering hierarchy. The hierarchy expressed by the survivors, mainly regarding their suffering in the Holocaust, is expressed by some of them directly and by others through the competition on the selected stories for the performed play. We claim that the creation of the hierarchy strengthens the desire for reorganization and redefinition of their self-identity. The claim is based upon the findings that the tendency to compare suffering was exaggerated when survivors met each other. Being part of a group of Holocaust survivors contributed to sharing and acknowledgment that they were not alone but also evoked the will to take the role of the teller of a unique and personal story. The role of the teller arises primarily from the collective motive of the obligation to remember and not to forget. They shared the common goal of preserving the collective memory, as can also be learned from the plural that many of them used: “At the beginning we couldn’t speak, we almost cried, at the end we succeeded to tell.” But the findings indicate another motive for taking the role of the teller: knowing that they are the last remaining survivors of that genocidal trauma and that it is their last chance to leave an imprint on history. It is urgent because the global reality poses a threat of the occurrence of genocide. Nevertheless, the role of the teller has also a personal component, which is expressed by their urge to tell their own story, to be listened to, to be acknowledged as unique individuals. The shift to the teller role means the move from the horrible experience of being a number with traumatic memories to being a person who has a whole, organized story and who has now an interested listening audience. Maybe the urge to tell derives from what Gampel (2010) calls the “radioactive nucleus”—an effort to “vomit” the nucleus and to ventilate and be purified through an artistic and refined response. Telling the personal story meets the need of survivors to be seen. On the one hand, there is still a fear of being seen, while, on the other hand, performing on stage enables a feeling of potency and pride in who they are. It seems that giving this testimony and being in the role of the teller helped them to perceive themselves as wise children with unusual survival skills rather than as helpless children. This, in turn, contributes to a formation of a renewed identity and to empowerment. The testimonial process was facilitated due to the relations with the youths, which the survivors experienced as the most meaningful part in this project. The survivors emphasized their sensitivity and their ability to fully listen to their traumatic memories. This finding supports the crucial conditions for a testimony to take place: an empathic, unobtrusive, nonjudgmental, protective, and encouraging listener (Caruth, 1996; Danielian, 2010; Goodman & Meyers, 2012; Herman, 1992; Laub, 2002). Therefore, the choice to become a teller within the “Testimony Theater” group, and later on in front of an audience, fulfilled the need to reconstruct a self-identity. It contributed to the rehabilitation of the relationship with the community, which was perceived as not interested in their personal story. It strengthened the claim that by giving testimony survivors can reestablish their internal dialogue with themselves


and rejoin the wider human community (Herman, 1992; Laub, 2002).

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The Interplay Between “Being a Number” and “Being a Teller” Despite the empowered transition from being a number to being a teller, this oscillation is not a one-directional, one-time event; rather, it is a continuous pendulum-like movement with contradictory aspects. First, in the play, the stories of the survivors are integrated into one story, causing the personal story to be a part of others’ story. The audience applause at the end refers to the whole group, not to an individual. By that, they seem to become a number again, this time with a somewhat positive flair. Second, the selection of events to be performed and the writing of the play is done mainly by the director and denies the survivor control over it which evokes feeling of number. Third, sharing of stories in the group is sometimes conflicted with the strong need to be listened to, and it evokes the experience of being a number, one of many. For example, the survivors’ subjectivity is shaken by the participants’ comments on accuracy. Finally, when the curtain falls and the show ends, survivors get off of the stage, the role of the teller ends, and they return to their anonymity. We claim that the movement, the fluctuation between being a number and being a teller, strengthens Herman’s claim (1992) that the recovery from trauma is never completed, and the way to deal with the traumatic past is by succeeding in living between these two extremes. The pendulum movement is therefore an essential part in the process of reconstruction and renewal of the self and collective identity.

Conclusions This study reveals that a testimonial process through theatrical means in an intergenerational community project has a meaningful role among HCSs and is a part in the renewal and reconstruction of self and collective identities. The relationship with the youths fulfills the Holocaust survivors’ moral obligation to remember and never forget, and enables them to transmit their survival stories to the next generation. Their experience of recognition and attention was found in the interviews to be compensation for years of silence and of being silenced, encouraging them to highlight the powers of bravery and survival alongside the image of the persecuted Jewish child. The prolonged process that culminated in a theater play enabled HCSs to shift from being a number to being a teller, from past to present, and from despair and emptiness to hope and meaningfulness. The audience plays a significant role in rehabilitating the relationships between the survivors and others as well as in fulfilling the survivors’ need to become individual tellers. As presented above, the study’s findings indicate that reconstruction of self-identity can occur when a person takes on a positive and empowering role, in the presence of others, within the context of an attentive, empathic, and nonjudgmental relationship. This study emphasizes the power of witnessing and supports the theories of Moreno (1953), Herman (1992), and Rogers (1951) that healing occurs within a safe context of a relationship, and that it is possible to rehabilitate the trauma-


tized “self” only in the manner it was initially built—within the connection with others. As Herman (1992) wrote, “Trauma isolates; the group recreates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity” (p. 214). Nevertheless, the process also has characteristics that create a pendulum movement between being a teller and being a number. We argue that this movement can also be translated to an oscillation between being nameless and being named, or between “not knowing who I am” and “knowing myself.” This oscillation can be added to the movements in the psyche as a result of trauma of knowing and not knowing the trauma (Caruth, 1996), and it is possible that, as Gampel (2010) and Krell (1993) suggested, the way to deal with traumatic past experiences is to succeed in living between these two extremes. In addition, the findings suggest that the experience of being a number following the testimony process may be qualitatively different from the original experience, bearing positive effects.

Study Limitations Limitations of the study include the possibility that the declared statement to participants as “Holocaust Survivors” led them to focus on the Holocaust event as their main life story. In addition, the sample included HCSs with no severe health or mental problems, so the conclusions cannot be generalized to all HCSs.

Study Implications This study justifies creating intergenerational programs that develop skills of listening to stories of survivors of genocidal trauma and of other massive trauma, given the importance of connection with others to posttraumatic growth. Private therapeutic treatment of survivors alongside the group should be considered to lessen the load of competition and hierarchy (see, for examples, Tauber & Van der Hal, 1997). In addition, it is important to study the impact of such a project on the participating youths as well as to focus on the influence of using dramatic tools.

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Received November 26, 2012 Revision received June 12, 2013 Accepted June 17, 2013 䡲

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