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MCU17110.1177/1359183511432989KidronJournal of Material Culture

Journal of


Journal of Material Culture 17(1) 321 The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1359183511432989 mcu.sagepub.com

Breaching the wall of traumatic silence: Holocaust survivor and descendant personobject relations and the material transmission of the genocidal past
Carol A Kidron
University of Haifa, Israel

Deviating from foundational assumptions regarding the semiotic and performative role of material objects, mementos of traumatic pasts are conceptualized as resisting mnemonic re-presentation and inter-objectivity. In keeping with trauma discourse, souvenirs of deathworlds are depicted as incapable of encapsulating sublime suffering or breaching the wall of silence between survivors and descendants, failing to constitute a material legacy. Rather than act as conduits for continuing bonds with the past and the dead, survivors are expected to disentangle the self from souvenirs of difficult pasts facilitating separation and recovery. Ethnographic interviews with descendants depict the way discursive framing elides the semiotic potential of domestic material traces of the Holocaust and parentchildobject relations engendering intimate inter-corporeality and embodied memory. Object relations are central in the passage between life- and deathworlds, allowing survivor families to sustain the lived memory of the past in everyday life. Findings problematize the discourse of genocidal suffering that overshadows micro-moments of lived experience.

corporeality, genocide, Holocaust, memory, personobject relations, trauma

Scholars of material culture and memory have explored the way objects endure through time and encapsulate a silent trajectory of humanobject relations, sustaining the past in the present. As traces of times gone by, mementos (Saunders, 2000), souvenirs
Corresponding author: Carol A Kidron, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 31905 Haifa, Israel. Email: ckidron@soc.haifa.ac.il

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(Stewart, 1993) and family heirlooms (Miller, 2008) fix the presence of the past in everyday domestic materiality and familial social relations. Objects not only remind the owner/user of past practices and situations but also act as portable places, transporting the self back to distant places and times (Bell, 1997: 821). Moving beyond the traditional conceptualization of commemorative artifacts as dormant bearers of the past (Parkin, 1999: 308) that prompt the individual to nostalgically long for or virtually represent what cannot be restored (Stewart, 1993), Turnbull (2002: 130) asserts that objects function as vital repositories of the past via active performance and enactment of humanobject relations that bring the past sensuously, viscerally and emotively alive for rememberers (Seremetakis, 1994: 11). Having conjured up landscapes, lost homes, ones heritage and the dead, the object is capable of bridging existential boundaries not only between past and present but also between deathworlds and lifeworlds (Hecht, 2001; Saunders, 2000: 45). Objects that silently encapsulate and perform pasts that have culminated in death or near-death experiences are particularly complex. Some of these objects do not evoke natural or anticipated death but, rather, dramatic and unexpected ruptures in the texture of the self and the family, such as forced migration, combat, genocide, or mortal illness. Consequently, these memento mori are characterized by unique ambiguities and resultant auras. They may materially evoke terrible moments of a survivors violent past and concomitantly recall the valiant forces of survival. Saunders (2000) presents an account of trench art artillery shells and bullets recycled by soldiers into works of art. Personobject relations with trench art evoke both the horrors of the battlefield and the miraculous and regenerative force of survival and/or the commemoration of loved ones. Moreover, for survivors of genocide, warfare or forced migration, souvenirs of deathworlds retain a no less subtle balance between the representation of difficult memories of rupture from loved ones and the valorized commemorative evocation of pre-war or premigration relations or longed-for landscapes. Parkin (1999) explores the death-related souvenirs of wartime refugees, who take with them emotionally valuable domestic objects or photographs that then become relics of their devastated world. After depositing their displaced identities within these mementos in flight, Parkin posits, refugees await resettlement and the emotional recovery that would allow eventual disentanglement of the self from the objects so that they may reclaim their identities. Having inscribed their pre-war selves and memories of previous lifeworlds in the objects, however, they find themselves ambiguously positioned on the border between past and present lifeworlds and past deathworlds. So long as the refugee retains self-object entanglement, the object, as silent repository of the past, prevents forgetting and allows the owner to be linked to the trace of his or her previous lifeworld, metonymically evoking the whole. However, if the refugee wishes to proceed into the present and restore independent subjectivity, ties to the object must be relinquished, allowing for closure and historicity. These analyses of material relations with death-related objects exemplify the growing body of literature pertaining to traumatizing events and resultant personobject relations (Bennett, 2005; Hirsch, 2002). However, a critical examination of the literature discloses what I assert are three problematic core assumptions regarding the failure of materialbased traumatic memory work. The first assumption, grounded in trauma discourse (Caruth, 1995), Holocaust and genocide studies (Friedlander, 1992) and cultural studies, is that traumatic experience is beyond representation and, therefore, that surviving material traces


cannot fully capture and contain the sublime and unknowable past. According to Doss (2002), traumatic events such as child abuse, warfare and the loss of loved ones can lead to the failure of memory, the traumatic experience remaining unspeakable and unknowable. Although Hirsch (1997) traced the way personobject relations attempt to virtually conjure the presence of the traumatic past, constituting a post-memory of what is otherwise ineffable, mainstream scholarship has nevertheless concluded that the traumatic past cannot be fully integrated into experience or assimilated into personal narratives. Material objects such as photographs and personphoto relations are thought to fail to fully capture what is destined to remain apart from lived reality (Baer, 2002: 9). Echoing Parkins (1999) work, the second assumption, also grounded in therapeutic trauma discourse and Euro-Western perceptions of death and bereavement, is that although temporarily therapeutic, extended entanglement of the traumatized self with surviving material traces of difficult pasts may be deleterious to emotional well-being. Trauma survivor and descendant well-being is dependent upon a normative trajectory from remembering and the continued presence of the past to at least partial forgetting and absencing. Moshenska (2008) describes how children growing up in social contexts of violence collect shrapnel as a temporary coping mechanism, and Schiffrin (2009) discusses the therapeutic yet transitional grief work accomplished by tattoos, which can at once embody and externalize loss, easing the passage from bereavement to recovery. Although memory work with these transitional objects and physical traces must eventually be marginalized, recovery need not always entail the total absencing of material relations with the past. Rather, survivor testimonies about past relations with objects and the objects themselves may be distanced and spatially relegated to monumental sites of memory. Beyond the critiques of Halbwachs (1980) and Nora (1989), scholars rarely consider the fate of private familial memory work subsequent to the public enlistment of personal pasts, as this duty memory is thought to contribute to national reconciliation and rejuvenation of war-torn nations and peoples (De Jong and Rowlands, 2008; Frster, 2008) and, again, to liberate the individual from silent over-entanglement with the past. The third assumption is that survivors who silently sustain and privately covet silent relations with material traces of their traumatic past ultimately withhold that past from their descendants, failing to constitute parentchildobject relations that might allow for empathy, the transmission of an embodied knowledge and a material familial legacy. The material traces of violent pasts are depicted as unable to breach the wall of silence between trauma survivors and their descendants. According to Hirsch (1997, 2002), the material signifiers of traumatic suffering, such as the embodied scars of slavery or the photographic representations of the Holocaust past, cannot be fully translated or communicated to those who have not personally experienced that suffering. Despite empathy, identification and even the affect produced in the other, trauma solidifies difference (Hirsch, 2002), making the material transmission of familial legacies of difficult pasts impossible.1 These assumptions deviate from foundational understandings of the function and practice of personobject relations. If material objects have been thought to facilitate the semiotic representation of the past in the present (Hallam and Hockey, 2001; Miller, 1998; Pels et al., 2002), enable the performative embodied and emotive presence of the past (Stewart, 1993; Turnbull, 2002) and transmit the meaning and feeling world of the past via generational material relations (Miller, 2008; Seremetakis, 1994), then the trauma literature does

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challenge the scholarship on the commemorative role of material culture. Problematizing the assumptions of trauma literature, one might critically ask if trauma-related objects do fail to encapsulate the traumatic past, if survivors are not committed to and capable of maintaining continuing bonds with memento mori, perpetually shifting between lifeworlds and deathworlds without endangering their own and their childrens emotional well-being, and whether survivors emotively breach the supposed wall of silence to transmit a material legacy to their children in the silent material relations of everyday life. In keeping with Millers (1998: 10) and Hallam and Hockeys (2001: 23) assertions regarding the potential of discourse to elide everyday mundane materiality, I argue that mainstream trauma discourse regarding bereavement, memory, commemoration and testimonial voice has framed a reductionist reading of everyday material-based memory work. Except for Hechts (2001) work on the creative material memory work of traumatized Scottish women, the literature has elided the complexity and viability of familial genocide commemoration, intergenerational object relations and transmission capable of preserving the normative presence of death in everyday life. With the aim of deconstructing these discursive assumptions and exploring the dynamic role of dormant yet still vital bearers of the genocidal past, I present an ethnographic case study of descendant recollections of the everyday material personobject relations of JewishIsraeli Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

Trauma theory
Trauma victims may suffer from a multitude of emotional and behavioural symptoms diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (DSM-IV, 1994). Although non-clinical findings have shown no evidence of psychopathology (Sagi-Schwartz et al., 2003), both clinical and non-clinical studies have found that descendants of Holocaust victims and Vietnam veterans may suffer from maladaptive behavioural patterns and a damaged sense of self (Zilberfein, 1995). According to the logic of the PTSD paradigm, if it is left untreated, the long-term psychosocial effects of survivor and/or shell-shock trauma can be transmitted from generation to generation (Barocas and Barocas, 1973). A familial conspiracy is often said to shroud the history of parental suffering. A wall of silence (Bar-On, 1992) is often erected between psychologically damaged survivors and their children, the metaphor signifying not only the absence of verbal interaction regarding the genocidal past but also the absence of alternative forms of non-verbal intersubjective shared experience that might materially or sensually evoke and transmit emotive and corporeal traces of difficult and unknowable pasts. The majority of scholars of memory, mental health practitioners and humanitarian workers worldwide have encouraged trauma survivors and their descendants to verbally articulate their repressed and silenced past. Talk in therapeutic settings and public forms of testimony aims to liberate the silenced past and is put forth as not only psychologically healing but also socio-politically redemptive (Herman, 1992) for the individual and the collective. Even in the face of critique of the pathologizing profile of PTSD (Young, 1995), the trauma construct (and paradigm of silence, pathology and talk therapy) has retained its standing as a central discursive frame defining the way scholars and practitioners interpret and treat responses to potentially traumatizing experience.


This scholarly focus on pathological silence and redemption through verbal articulation has overshadowed the phenomenon of silent, material and visceral lived experience of genocidal pasts. Logocentric readings of traumatic legacies (highlighting the centrality of the spoken word as the primary form of representation) obviate attempts to chart nonverbal taken-for-granted processes in which traumatic sensibilities may be intergenerationally transmitted (Kidron, 2009). Hoping to disclose these processes, I undertook an ethnographic study of Israeli Holocaust descendants.

From 2000 to 2005, I explored Holocaust descendant memory work in Israel through a multi-sited ethnographic study. I conducted 55 in-depth interviews with adult children of Holocaust survivors using a semi-structured thematic format. Accessing the sample using the snowball method, I interviewed descendants ranging in age from 35 to 55, with equal gender representation. The great majority were born in Israel to survivor parents who immigrated there from Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s after surviving Nazi extermination camps, forced labour camps, ghetto incarceration or extended periods of hiding. Interviews took place either in respondents homes or in cafs. I asked respondents openended questions about themselves and their families, allowing them to narrate and present the self as they saw fit. I also engaged in participant-observation at survivor and descendant monumental and meso- and micro-local sites of memory. I found that Holocaust descendants depict the survivor home as embedding the non-pathological presence of the Holocaust past within silent embodied practices, personobject interaction and personperson interaction. These practices form an experiential matrix of Holocaust presence that functions to sustain familial lived memory and to transmit tacit knowledge of the past within the everyday private social milieu (Kidron, 2009). I focus here on findings regarding survivor-descendant object relations. Thirty-seven of my 55 respondents recounted memories of such relations, involving two categories of material phenomena: the first category includes physical traces embedded within the survivor body, such as the tattooed number on a parents arm and wartime scars. The second category includes surviving artifacts of the deathworld, such as a tablespoon from Auschwitz and pre-war family photographs.

The embodiment of memento mori

The blue number tattooed on a survivors arm has become one of the more powerful symbols indexing the authentic presence of the Holocaust. It epitomizes the physical trace, metonymically signifying the presence of the past. Unlike the footprint, if not surgically erased, it does not fade with time. In 1950s and 1960s Israel, the tattooed number gave away survivors who, in the socio-political context of the new Israeli state, were made to feel ashamed of their past, as those who went passively to the camps like sheep to the slaughter. These survivors were considered the antithesis of the ideal-type, physically empowered and valiant new Hebrew engineered by the nation-state. Many survivors hid their tattoos under long sleeves and others had them surgically removed. Today, however,

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changing discourses surrounding victimization and the impending demise of the survivor generation have transformed public response to veneration as iconic material witness to the dehumanization of genocidal trauma. As Primo Levi (1989: 118) asserts: After forty years my tattoo has become a part of my body. I dont glory in it but I dont erase it since there are not many to bear witness. Scholars, however, have paid little attention to the more mundane and micro-experiential role of the tattooed number in the everyday lives of survivors and their descendants. Beyond brief confessions in descendant memoirs to public embarrassment or morbid curiosity regarding the tattoo, little is known of emergent survivor parent and descendant relations to it. How did children react when first noticing the tattoo as a foreign imprint on the parental body? Could the tattoo materially evoke the Holocaust past, engendering empathic parentchildobject relations and some form of intergenerational transmission, or was the traumatic past incommunicable and ultimately withheld from the descendant? When I ask her about the presence of the Holocaust in her home, Hannah begins her account with her discovery of the tattoo on her mothers arm: H:  The first time I remember noticing it was when we were on the bus I looked at other peoples arms and saw that they didnt have one. I asked her why the others didnt have a number like hers. She answered, Dont talk nonsense. I got upset and told her to take it off. When she didnt respond, I touched it to see if it was connected or you know like a Band-Aid, that you could take off. She got very angry at me and pulled down her sleeve. C:  Did you ask her about it again? H:  No, you know, you just figure out somehow when youre not supposed to push something sensitive. Of course, later on I knew, but somehow I never forgot that feeling of wanting to rub it off, like like a stain or something. Hannahs text recounts her discovery of her mothers Otherness. Difference lies in the corporeal ambiguity of her mothers tattoo as something physically embedded in the visceral self, totally blurring the boundaries between human subject and material object (Seaton, 1987). Its permanence and seamless yet disturbingly incongruent presence on and in the body are revealed as Hannah touches it, attempts to remove it and discovers that it is inseparably entangled within her mothers visceral self. When asked to explain why she wanted to rub it off, Hannah referred to the incongruence between body and object: It just didnt seem to belong on her arm. One might also read Hannahs text as signifying the exposure of the innocent child to unintegrated psychological traces of the traumatic past (Auerhahn and Laub, 1998), forced to come to terms with the altered semiotics of the deathworld and with its traumatizing consequences. Although valid, such ethically loaded and psychologically pathologizing frames (Kidron, 2009) elide more mundane and emotive responses critical to an understanding of the descendant experience of parentchildobject relations and the transmission of embodied and material memory. Depicting her discovery of her fathers tattoo, Penny recounts with a smile on her face, I remember when I first I mean when I noticed my fathers number. I must have been about four. I asked him why I dont have one too. Seeing my surprise, Penny giggles


and says, Sure why not? he had one! why are you surprised? kids dont know. She continues, He laughed and said I dont get to have one. I said, but I wanted a number too, like his [long laugh] He looked at me very seriously and said bad people did it to him and that I shouldnt want one. Pennys story is almost shocking in its depiction of a childs healthy curiosity. In sharp contrast to what we might think of as a traumatic constitutive moment, her account not only normalizes the discovery of the tattoo but also depicts Penny, the now adult descendant, still irreverently amused by the incident. Her response forces the listener to reconsider the childs taken-for-granted lifeworld, where a number on a parents arm, devoid of historical or cultural reference, might appear to be a coveted accessory. Echoing Levis (1989) reference to the number as part of his body and Hannahs description, descendants only notice the tattoo when comparing their parents arm with other arms, including their own. At first, the tattooed arm is all they know as a parental arm. Although it later becomes ambiguous when compared with others, it is then re-conceptualized, the marks seen as an inseparable part of the parents arm but not as the observer might suppose as a walking lieu de memoire (Nora, 1989). Its ontological status begins not as a symbol but as a mark, not different perhaps from a birthmark or mole. Yet, if the tattoo, for Penny, is not a site of Holocaust memory, can we speak of the representation of the genocidal past and of material or sensual intergenerational transmission of Holocaust memory? Rickis experience of her fathers tattoo is clearly guided by the numbers historical trajectory and symbolic significance:
I used to sit with my father and stare at his number long and hard [very long pause and tears well up in her eyes]. I would try to imagine what it was like to be branded. What it felt like when they burned it into his flesh Did it hurt? Was he scared? I would stare until [her voice breaks] until I could [she cant speak, long pause] until I could [she composes herself with difficulty] feel it on my arm.

In what appears to be a mundane and habitual domestic practice (I used to sit and stare), Ricki utilizes the tattoo as Bells (1997) portable place, as a medium of chronotopic travel taking her back to her fathers Holocaust past. Unlike the growing number of grandchildren of survivors who choose to tattoo their survivor grandparents numbers on their arms, Ricki does not wish to commemoratively brand herself. She does not seek factual documentary knowledge of why or when or who did this to her father but, rather, if it hurt or if it scare[d] him. Ricki longs for what Young (2002: 25) describes as a shared experiential world via the memory of the flesh. Rickis memory work with the tattoo thus clearly recalls Latours (1996) actant, the object whose relational will or force affects Ricki as agent, as she interacts with her father through material culture in the practices of everyday life. Yet how can Ricki possibly feel the branding of her own arm? One might refer to this vicarious experience as a phantom of desire (Young, 2002: 45). Just as an amputee may feel a missing leg, Ricki might break apart objective reality to create an alternative one of the phantom experience. But, as Ricki has never been branded, how can she imagine the experience? Psychological discourse might diagnose her as suffering from heteropathic identification, the pathological ability to take on the memory of others. In cases of what Csordas (1993: 149) terms somatic modes of attention, the sensuous act of turning toward the other body constitutes the body of the other not as distinct object of attention but, rather,


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as real product of intersubjectivity and intercorporeality. Intersubjectivity is fuelled by what Young (2002: 45) terms patterns of love, yearning and desire that can create a sense of embodiment even if a past has not been personally experienced. Rickis loving link to her father and empathy with his pain thus allows for the constitution of the object of her imagination, at once an imagined, yet very real lived experience (Csordas, 1993). My second example of embodied memento mori is the scarred body of the Holocaust survivor, signifying not only great pain but also the trauma of almost unbearable endurance and, at times, near-death experience. Like a tattoo, at first glance, a scar does not seem to fit the category of object. However, it is a semi-external marker of suffering, forcibly inscribed upon the body from without, and as portrayed dramatically in the tree formation on Sethes back in Morrisons (1987) novel Beloved, it takes on a distorted shape and form of protruding and hardened scar tissue. According to Burnett and Holmes (2001: 21), wartime or torture-inflicted scars become heritage sites of physically and emotionally traumatic pasts. Once again, their permanence forces their victims to perpetually come to terms with the ambiguity of suffering better forgotten and the body as inescapable testament to survival. In contradistinction to Burnett and Holmess study of scar victims who commodify their infliction, Ethan recounts his fathers attempt to hide his grandfathers scars: E:  My grandfather lived with us. He survived a work camp and he and my father were reunited after the war. One day when I was little I walked in on my father helping my grandfather take a bath. I saw these terrible scars on my grandfathers back. I froze where I stood. They both turned around and looked at me and my father shouted at me to get out of the bathroom. C:  Why did you freeze? E: I guess I was shocked. I didnt know and actually I still dont know what happened to him in the camp how he got those scars. But as a kid, it was just maybe, you know, a kind of fascination with the scars. C:  What do you mean by fascination? E:  Well, first its just shocking, you dont expect to see the body of someone close to you distorted like that. Then you start thinking, how did it happen, what did they beat him with, how badly did it hurt him you imagine and wonder how he survived that. As heritage site, the grandfathers scars signify even to the young Ethan that they are Holocaust-related wounds, spatially and temporally relocating the victim and the observer in the distant past (Burnett and Holmes, 2001). They are markers of the poisonous knowledge of brutality that is silenced and hidden from view (Das, 2007). Ethan appears to have inadvertently become a voyeur in an intimate and emotionally complex albeit superficially mundane domestic practice. What appears simply to be a son bathing his aging, invalid father is, in fact, a survivor son washing his survivor fathers scarred back; father and son once assumed one another to be dead. More importantly, Ethans arrival leads the son to protectively shield his fathers scars and his past (and perhaps their unique relationship) from his sons curious gaze. Like Ricki, Ethan does not seek out withheld historical knowledge but attempts to imaginatively and empathically re-conjure the phenomenological experience of suffering



and survival. If empathic personobjectperson relations are conceptualized as the transmission or exchange of emotions and virtual pain and as the momentary sharing of the heritage site and even more fleeting co-presence in a virtually conjured past, then the sensuous immediacy (Seremetakis, 1994) of Ethans glimpse of the visceral presence of the Holocaust on his grandfathers back may be understood as a form of somatic communication. Descendants recollection of their own sensorial experiences of painful, shocking and immobilizing discovery of and interaction with parental/grandparental tattoos or scars constitutes an additional layer of embodied memory, not of the past but of the intergenerationally shared corporeal experience of remembering the past. These two layers of experience intertwine to engender a transmitted legacy of descendant emotive and embodied knowledge and memory of the Holocaust.

Mementos in flight from the deathworld

Descendant narratives describe artifacts or souvenirs carried away in flight from the deathworld, including a tablespoon and a book of Psalms from Auschwitz, a Vaseline jar from a forced-labour camp and pre-war family photographs. Like embodied mementos, these objects function to make the absent past present for the family. Rather than empathic sensations of touch or imagined vicarious feelings of bodily pain and physical discomfort, such artifacts invoke the past through the imagination of the kinetics of everyday material activity and object-related practices. Rather than imagining what something felt like, one imagines what it was like to use something or do something with an object. When telling me about the presence of the Holocaust in her home, Michelle proudly shows me a tablespoon. I stare at the spoon, wondering why she is showing it to me in the middle of our interview. She tells me smiling, This was my mothers spoon. Still confused, I respond noncommittally, Really. Realizing I do not understand, she explains, This was my mothers spoon in Auschwitz. This is what she ate with, you know THE SOUP. Attempting to restore my professional composure despite my surprise, I ask her where the spoon is kept in her parents home, thinking to myself that it must be in some closed cabinet for safekeeping. She explains with a broader smile, It was in the kitchen, in the drawer, with the other utensils we ate with it. My mother fed me my morning oatmeal with it. At this point, I am shocked. The spoon from Auschwitz strikingly recalls the way in which Greek grandmothers chewed the food to be placed in the grandchilds mouth so that, via the intimate bodily experience of nurturance, intergenerational transmission of memory and meaning may take place (Seremetakis, 1994). It is precisely the silent sensory experience of sharing food that encapsulates the personal, familial and collective past without narrative. Seremetakiss analysis suggests that the mundane use of an object infused with sacred symbolism is not blasphemous. Rather, when the trajectory of the object moves forward into the present and future, enmeshed in the everyday sensuous life of the household, its semiotic meaning is preserved, enabling the embodiment of relations of love and caring. Nevertheless, I wondered how and why Michelles mother turned evidence of genocidal suffering into a souvenir or trophy. As Stewart (1993) recounts, souvenirs such as a key chain of the Eiffel Tower allow the one-time tourist to evoke memories of irretrievable visits to attractions he or she nostalgically longs to return to, at least, in the minds eye.


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The portable place conjures up the presence of the absent pleasurable chronotope. Similarly, trench art, a trophy of prowess and endurance, evokes the soldiers glories of combat and survival. Although the art evokes death and suffering, it clearly elicits positive memories of camaraderie, strength and pride in ones victory over death (Saunders, 2000). Displaced refugees objects in flight also have positive sentimental value as souvenirs of the pre-displacement lifeworld, not of the actual traumatic events of displacement (Parkin, 1999). Michelles spoon, in contrast, conjures memories of hunger, feared starvation and humiliation. Why keep it, and if kept, why not place it on display in a museum? I ask Michelle how she understands her mothers choice to keep the spoon in use at home. She replies, Look, she won, she survived with that spoon. Every time she fed me or my sister she probably said to herself: Hah, I won not only didnt I die, but this spoon that kept me alive is now feeding my children. The spoon is, in fact, a war trophy, yet unlike the trench art, its material functionality allows it to perform in its relational force or will in the home precisely so that the family may routinely re-enact the relief of hunger, nurturance and survival. They are living with and through the Holocaust, and, in this way, surviving the Holocaust becomes perhaps the most tacit and present experience of the body enacted between mother and child, becoming perhaps the most basic and life-giving of transmissions. Thus, rather than being displayed behind glass in frozen sites and times of memory, the spoon remains woven into the daily practices of the home so that it may perpetually inscribe within the lived body (Merleau-Ponty, 1962) the sensual experience of survival. The materially constituted and sustained embodied memory of survival, thus tightly interwoven in the everyday domestic social milieu, depicts what Nora (1989) and Halbwachs (1980) term lived memory.

Family photographs: visual portals into the past

Despite the mnemonic potential of objects, children of survivors depict the remembrance of the Holocaust dead as particularly problematic. The painfully presentabsent dead are difficult to fully evoke, yet nonetheless are sorely felt. Rebecca describes her discovery of photographs of her dead relatives:
One day when I was alone at home I went into my parents bedroom to try to get a look at their pictures from before the war. They were hidden in a trap drawer underneath some books in an antique desk I felt you know, like I was invading their privacy ... more than that, like I was breaking into something holy. There were two old black-and-white worn-out pictures of people that looked, you know, from old times. I sat down and stared at the pictures, thinking wow, so these are the people my parents left behind. In one of them I recognized my father as a teenager with a lot of children around him, I guessed his brothers and sisters, and his parents in the centre of the photo. I could not get over how BIG his family was. I knew he had a lot of siblings, but suddenly they became real they had faces, personalities, one looked shy, another precocious. I kept thinking how amazing it was that all these people had literally disappeared. I looked at the faces, tried to see if my brother or I looked like any of them. One of them looked a bit like me. I stared at her for a long time. You know, it kind of feels like being in another world when you stare long enough at their faces. The other picture was one of a couple. They looked much richer than the other family. The women had a fancy dress on, she looked very much like my mother, especially her eyes, she had my mothers piercing stare, kind of scary. She seemed to look back



at me. For a second it was as if she was really looking at me, really there. The man looked like a nice man. At least I could say I knew what they looked like but to say they were my grandparents my aunts and uncles I couldnt do that. They were strangers ... from another world. I had no idea who they were what most of their names were how they died. But at least I knew that they were part of my parents life before

Rebeccas monologue articulates the complexity of personphoto interaction. The photos are well hidden under and behind multiple protected gateways: the intimacy of her parents bedroom, an old desk, books and trap drawer, all provide layer upon layer of security. To access the photos, Rebecca must gradually move from more public family space to the inner sanctum (Turnbull, 2002; Yates, 1978), excavating in stealth to reveal the secret family images. Using her teenage father as a familiar anchor to enter into this entirely other world of his past, she begins to stare at its inhabitants, examining those she identifies as his relatives left behind. Although they were left behind in the death camps of the 1940s, the photographic frame encloses them in pre-war eastern Europe. Despite their shallow and static two-dimensionality (Hirsch J, 1981; Hirsch M, 1997), Rebeccas gaze animates the faces in the photo. Searching for family resemblance and recognition, evidence of a familial bond and genetic link, her gaze triggers an illusion of being in the past and the momentary fantasy that her grandmother is looking back at her. Their mutual gazes (Hirsch, 1997: 5) provide the sensation that the dead grandmother is really there. According to Julie Hirsch (1981: 131), all photos suggest bonds enduring through time because the dead and the dying live forever in our family photos as long as our eyes see them it is our glance that bestows the final gift of life. Barthes (1981) depicts the mesmerizing process of recognizing resemblance in a photo when gazing, after his mothers death, into her eyes. This familial look is affiliative and identificatory, the viewer not only desiring to recognize the relative in the photo but also to be recognized. A familial look engages nonetheless a particular form of relationship that is mutually constitutive (Hirsch, 1997: 11). In the process of this mutual silent looking, the past is resurrected and, with it, the network of selfother relationships. Barthes (1981) claims that, as a material emanation of a past reality, the photo is not a representation or copy but a material aspect of past reality reaching into the present and future. Thus, the photograph may be perceived as retaining a synecdochical relationship to the dead, the image preserving a material part of the whole person. The animated presence of the ancestor thus allows the viewer to enter the picture as through a portal into the past, making present descendants and deceased ancestors co-present. Yet the temporarily resurrected living dead cannot provide more than the illusion of identification, interaction and, especially, knowledge. Although stupefied by their presence, the observer is left frustrated by the impenetrable faade (Hirsch, 1997) of the image, unable to ascertain the deceaseds histories, access and recall their names or even conjure them up as separate individuals. Later in the interview, Rebecca explains that she cannot even recall her ancestors names but remembers them only as a group of people frozen in the pyramid formation. Apparently, temporary and partial animation of silent affective viewing cannot combat the flat death that both attracts and repels us, inviting us in and expelling us from shared presence (Hirsch, 1997: 4). Although both objects in flight and photographs are metonymically linked to the Holocaust and thus capable of evoking that


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whole, one may consider the photograph an inferior trace like Magrittes pipe actually evoking the whole through the guise of the mimetic simulacrum. Barthes (1981: 96), too, succumbs to what he terms the punctum, or puncture, of the image, namely, the realization of the ultimate death signified in all photographs. The dead remain forever liminal both magically present in photos and painfully absent beyond their frames. In survivor and descendant interaction with pre-war photos, the tension between presence and absence is intensified. For most survivors, the sudden rupture in the linear flow of their own and their relatives life courses is compounded by the fact that they did not witness the deaths of their loved ones or experience the process of mourning, allowing for the illusion that the dead indeed, the life prior to the rupture continue to be present. Thus, the magical resurrection of the dead is intensely desired, but the gap between past and present realities made evident by the photo only serves to intensify the finality of their absence. Can the tension between the presence and absence of the dead be bridged in survivor homes? How may one keep the dead present hovering over their photographic images without succumbing to the reality of absence? Beth tells me that the presence of the Holocaust in her home was concentrated in a drawer in her parents bedroom. Her father periodically entered the room and locked the door. Having occasionally been allowed to accompany him during these visits, she recounts: B:  The drawer was in his dresser, next to his bed. It was his secret place, where he kept things close to his heart He would open the drawer and begin taking out a picture of himself with his parents from before the war and a collection of toys he had salvaged from his childhood. The toys included magnets, a train, stamps and marbles. The minute he opened the drawer his face changed. He became softer, more gentle, and more alive. In our everyday life he was a zombie you could see the death in his eyes, like he had lost control of his life. But when he opened the drawer and took out his things it was like he was taken back to his life before the Holocaust before the rupture to his childhood. He re-enacted intimate moments of his childhood, playing with his magnets, smiling at his family in the picture. The drawer for me was like an enchanted forest not just because of its content but because I could be with the person I never really knew. We would sit together on his bed while he played with his things. It was really intimate I guess you could say that symbolically he opened himself up when he opened up the drawer. It was his black box, you know, like a plane, what made him who he was. He never told me anything about the toys, or the people in the picture, no story, but by the way he acted like a child and the way he wouldnt let any of us open the drawer ourselves or touch his things, we knew he was back there. C:  I dont really understand what you mean about him being a zombie and coming alive with the drawer? B:  The way he was when he played with the drawer, so different, so alive we had to realize that his life with us was not real to him because he never really left his past. That drawer was a miniature of his real life. With us outside the drawer he was dead. There was no connection between his two lives just the drawer when it was closed it separated the before and after the Holocaust and when open, like a gateway into his past it let him go back to his childhood.



Moving into the bedroom, into the drawer and finally into interaction with the childhood relics, Beths father travels in time back into his pre-war life and to his revivified pre-war self. The use of domestic space to activate chronotopic shifting into the past recalls both Yatess (1978) analysis of the use of topographic architectural layouts as material scaffold along which one may gradually trigger recall and Turnbulls (2002: 131) account of the movement through architectural space as constituting and embodying a non-verbal spatial and temporal narrative that can be performed by the subject and read by spectators. This movement thus resurrects the past in and through space just as the exposure of the objects in the drawer, to different degrees approaching access and practice, not only constitutes the past in the present but also transforms and makes the consciousness of subjects as they move back into and perform the past (Turnbull, 2002: 134). Here again, personobject interaction semiotically and sensuously resurrects the past. Beths fathers smiling gaze at the images of his parents and his ritual play with childhood toys animates the images and objects and makes the absent past virtually present. Unlike Turnbulls monolithic public structures, however, these mundane objects are private, hidden from view and forbidden even to his own children without supervision. How can one understand the extreme sequestering of the images and relics of the Holocaust past? Moving beyond psychotherapeutic frames regarding secretly coveted transitional objects (Parkin, 1999), one may consider Laws (2002: 95) claim that, to preserve the structural integrity and semiotic meaning of material objects, one must maintain the original personobject relations, thereby preventing object deformation. Unlike Michelles tablespoon, the toys in the drawer could be used only by Beths father, just as his pictures could only be looked at in private through protective eyes. Although hidden, he maintained repetitive ritual practices of interaction with both the images in the pictures and his surviving toys, making sure to return the objects to the drawer at the end of each visit. Unlike Derridas and Peirces traces, which signify the passage of time and are gradually deforming remnants of a presence that is no longer, the contents of Beths fathers drawer were protected from exposure to surrounding objects in the present that would have created a progressive linear temporal reality culminating in their pastness or flat death (Barthes, 1981). As long as the contents did not interact with the present and the father retained his original relations with them, they remained frozen in the virtual chronotope of his 1930s childhood in Poland. Once frozen and preserved, rather than surviving parts signifying the absence of the whole, the objects continued to evoke the whole that includes Beths ancestors and her fathers childhood. It should be clear that, when opening the drawer, the survivor animates the frozen past, making it dynamically present, ready for personobject interaction. However, Beths reflexive account adds a layer to the resurrection of the past, namely, the concomitant transformation of the demeanour and selfhood of the survivor as he enters and exits his past. When accessing the drawer, the survivor becomes softer, gentle and alive, in sharp contrast to his everyday cold, distant, dead or zombie-like behaviour. A very sharp dichotomy exists between her fathers daily self-presentation as someone who had no control and who had death in his eyes and his playful, happy moments when reunited with his past. Beths labelling of her father as a zombie recalls the Musselmen (Muslims)2 the living dead who stalked the concentration-camp deathworld. Yet unlike those living dead, Beths father was capable of negotiating the border between life and death, paradoxically childishly alive when in his virtual deathworld and dead when moving among


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the living. Beth, however, goes one step farther, implying that even when leaving the virtual past of the drawer, he never totally disconnected from it or fully experienced his life in the present. The drawer and in other accounts I received, boxes hidden in closets, attics and so on must be understood as a highly complex mechanism. Not only is it capable of encapsulating the frozen past and of becoming animated during survivor visits, but it also functions as a powerful gateway or portal, separating temporal and spatial dimensions and activating the alternative selves of the survivors as they move in and out of its space. In contrast to the transitional object, which temporarily acts as a repository of the traumatized and displaced self and later returns the contents to the resettled self, the drawer is a permanent black box, periodically dormant and unactivated, and periodically animated and fluid. Beth admits to sitting in total silence with her father, unable or unwilling to elicit stories about the family photographs or his toys, forbidden from directly interacting with his relics. Her moments with her father allowed her to enter his enchanted forest, to be with the person she never really knew and to share, albeit passively, in the intimacy of his playful imaginary world. By no means belittling the empathic challenge of relating to and interacting with the zombie that he was during most of her childhood, Beth nonetheless paints a picture of parental emotional absence alongside moments of intense emotional presence and sharing when he opened up. As with Rickis empathic exchange via her fathers tattoo, one must move beyond the death-related context of interaction to uncover the underlying silent connection, interaction and communication. It is during moments of virtual co-presence in the past that children can go back there with their parent and encounter, in Beths words, what made them who they are. Thanks to the mediation of material objects, the intensely intimate process of parent and child movement into the Holocaust past and the joint feat of synchronizing chronotopic worlds to be together in time (Sharon, 1982) breaches the trauma-related wall of silence and engenders corporeal and emotive forms of knowing in lieu of narrative history.

I have shown that tattoos and scars, souvenirs of flight and hidden photographs sustain the co-presence of the genocidal past in the Holocaust survivor home. Despite varying degrees of exposure to view, all these objects share the ability to engender personobject interaction, empathy and imagination. Just as bodily markers and objects in flight constitute the embodied or imagined presence of past deathworld sensations, practices and events, photographic images of relatives allow for the imagined presence of the dead to take shape in the present, providing a face, a gesture and an interfamilial bond to what might otherwise be experienced as the presence of absence. Descendant accounts also disclose the way different objects utilize dissimilar mnemonic mechanisms to make the past present. In the case of Michelles spoon, the virtuality of the living presence of the past is sustained by embedding the artifact in the mundane domestic space of the kitchen, in everyday use and in intimate and open corporeal parentchild interaction. In great contrast, hidden photos, toys and scars resist public display and explicit and/or vocal parentchild interaction, yet they nevertheless evoke the presence of the past



via empathic and emotive personobject relations, somatic modes of attention to loved ones corporeality and imaginative silent dialogic interaction with the potential material narratives encapsulated in the object. Both mechanisms, in their own ways, appear to shield against the onslaught of temporality and forgetting. Resisting deformation (Turnbull, 2002), the spoon, photos and toys retain their original personobject emotive relations of commensality, familial mutual gaze and playful kinetic practices, respectively. Moreover, in keeping with Millers (2001) work on domestic everyday lived experience and deviating from the literature on the sanctified aura of genocide-related artifacts in the public domain, whether hidden or exposed, all these objects remain tightly interwoven within the takenfor-granted and social milieu of domestic materiality and phenomenal lived experience of family relations. All objects also share the potential to simultaneously signify death (or near-death) and animated life, to shift between and conflate chronotopes. Beths account of her fathers movement vis--vis the drawer suggests that, with the help of their mementos, survivor parents subsist on the border between life- and deathworlds and that descendants can silently (albeit vicariously) share in this experience. If survivors and descendants utilize objects to traverse life- and deathworlds, then, in keeping with Hallam and Hockey (2001), survivor mourning may not follow a linear trajectory of bereavement from intense grief and attachment to gradual separation, closure and forgetting. This finding is most certainly in keeping with the growing interest in continuing bonds with the dead (Klass and Goss, 1999; Schiffrin, 2009) and the ruptured past, and with the critique of traditional attachment theory. Yet, trauma discourse, in general, and Holocaust and genocide literature, in particular, have consistently mystified the trauma survivors experience either as one of constant pathological failure to mourn, integrate and separate from what could not be fully owned or as one that has been therapeutically redeemed and disentangled from the oppressive past through testimonial voice and/or ritual commemoration. Critically deconstructing this binary and reductionist reading of traumatic memory, my data show that there is still much to learn regarding the mundane practices through which survivors of near-death situations or those who mourn violently ruptured lives straddle life- and deathworlds to maintain continuing bonds and experience this ambiguity. As I have shown, personobject relations play a critical role in the perpetual and normative practices of resurrection and inner talk (Bakhtin, 1981) with the dead and the lived commemoration of pre-rupture lives. Descendant interactions with their parents and with surviving material traces also problematize the trauma literature regarding the impermeable wall of silence between parent and child and the history withheld. Rather than depicting the transmission of trauma and an emotional void of absence surrounding the familial past, descendant accounts describe material objects as key conduits in the intergenerational transmission of sensorial, emotive and embodied forms of knowing the past (Csordas, 1993). Thus, speaking in their stead (Appadurai, 1986), objects breach the wall of silence to engender a tacit, yet no less powerful genocidal legacy. Even in the case of relations involving hidden and apparently silenced objects, such as Beths fathers drawer or Ethans grandfathers scars, Holocaust mementos and subsequent chronotopic journeys taken via these material conduits constitute descendant selves as virtually immersed in the Holocaust past as it is phenomenologically co-present in the survivor home. Thus, these objects trigger descendant vicarious identification, intersubjectivity and intercorporeality despite the historical narrative withheld.3


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The observer may perceive descendant relations and practices with tattoos, scars, spoons from Auschwitz, hidden photos of the living dead and the concomitant shifting between chronotopic realms as disconcerting or even psycho-socially damaging to the emergent descendant self. However, Beths account, for example, calls upon us to further examine trauma descendant narratives for the way they may depict intimate and empowering bonds and normalized experiences of conflated life- and deathworlds (Kidron, 2009). Although I in no way intend to make light of the suffering of survivor families, the complexity of survivorfamily-specific interaction with the painful past calls upon us to question reductionist pathologizing discourses. Beyond the issue of pathologization, survivor and descendant resistance to the public display of surviving objects raises questions regarding the public enlistment of trauma victims and their mementos as material testament to the past at monumental sites of memory. Within the moral and politicized economy of public enlistment, it has become more difficult, but all the more important, to unravel the micro-moments of survivor and descendant everyday lived memory from the top-down macro-forces that have captured public imagination. Further research is necessary to explore the everyday processes of personobject relations and to ascertain whether the agendas of intervention and enlistment of survivor tales and objects are not at odds with families perceptions of their own best interest. Survivor and descendant avoidance of the public display of memento mori in the home or in monumental museums raises further questions regarding not only the limits of enlistment and monumental representation but also the future of the home as sanctuary for authentic memory. What will be the fate of surviving objects with the demise of those who carried them into flight? Subsequent interviews with Beth and Michelle point to the attempt on the part of descendants to preserve the living contexts of the objects in their new homes and of continued resistance to public display. Yet, when Beth preserved her fathers c. 1950s Israeli nightstand and drawer in her very modern bedroom suite, I wondered if she had not converted her fathers previously mundane and living context into a votive shrine or museum exhibit. Moreover, although the spoon and the toys retain their authenticity for Michelle and Beth, what will the careers of these objects be when passed down to their descendants, who did not perform personobject relations with their survivor grandparent? Does Beth sufficiently embody her fathers somatic responses to the drawer to perform them for her children, or will she have to tell her children a narrative account of her more authentic founding event? Although much research has examined how collectors transform the home into a museum (Hecht, 2001; Stewart, 1993), we know less regarding the way collectors move in and out of more or less private or hidden domestic space to create different degrees of presence and memory and the way they do or do not transmit this process and the concomitant memory to their descendants. Finally, resistance to public display implies that monumental dead or duty memory (Nora, 1989) is perpetually at odds with the phenomenological experience of lived memory (Halbwachs, 1980). Within the museum display or even the family living room display, objects are carried away in the temporal flow of the displayed narrative, no longer free to dynamically move between past and present or perform idiosyncratically with those who relate to them (Hirsch, 1981; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 1998). As long as surviving objects remained interwoven in the social milieu of everyday life, family members continued to dynamically interact with the past as vitally impacting their body-selves, their subjectivities,



their relations and even their worldviews. Aging survivors have recently begun to donate copies of surviving mementos to newly emergent domesticated mini-Holocaust museums doubling as community/geriatric centres for Israeli survivors and their families (Kidron, 2010). These sites might be explored as niches of intimate materiality in the meso-public domain in which familial interaction can be sustained outside the home without totally sacrificing the mundane living context that has preserved them. Acknowledgements
This research was funded by The Halbert Exchange Program, The CIHR Strategic Training Program in Culture and Mental Health Services, and The Morris Ginsberg Foundation. I am most indebted to all the descendants who generously shared their intimate memories with me. I thank the anonymous reviewers for comments that have enriched the discussion. I would like to thank Don Handelman, the late Tanya Forte, Erica Lehrer, Anat Hecht and Giora Kidron for their thought-provoking conversations, and Linda Forman, Eline Zehavi and Inbal Meudad for their skilful assistance.

1. The continued qualification of the process of post-memory as simultaneously tenable and inevitably limited (sustaining the axiom of the crisis of traumatic representation; see Hirsch, 1997; Luckhurst, 2008; Rothberg, 2000) consistently frames understandings of survivor and descendant traumatic experience and memory work as only partially bridgeable. Although all memory work, certainly that involving transmitted memory, involves mediation and a crisis of representation, the conceptualization of traumatic memory as ineffable mystifies the process of remembering and transmission and thus shifts scholarly attention away from the interesting processes of shared, albeit vicarious, experience to the potential failure of mediated memory. 2. Musselmnner in German, which was Auschwitz slang for people near death from starvation and privation in the camps. 3. Virtual presence does not imply immediate experience of the Holocaust, and identification does not imply identity or equivalence with survivor parents. Descendants do not achieve the authentic status of victims and witnesses of the Holocaust past.

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Author biography
Carol A Kidron is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Haifa, Israel. Her publications include Embracing the lived memory of genocide: Holocaust survivor and descendant renegade memory work at the House of Being (American Ethnologist, 2010) and Toward an ethnography of silence: the lived presence of the past in the everyday life of Holocaust trauma survivors and their descendants in Israel (Current Anthropology, 2009). Kidron has undertaken ethnographic work with Holocaust descendants in Israel and children of Cambodian genocide survivors in Cambodia and in Canada. Her research interests include personal and collective memory work, subjectivity and psychological anthropology.