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Too terrible to bear

March 8th, 2012

There is considerable evidence concerning dissociative amnesia in Holocaust survivors. An annotated list of scholarly articles has long been part of this site.  A presentation at the Ninth Miami International Torah & Science Conference by Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz, Minister of Science and Technology of the State of Israel, should be added to evidence of memory repression in the Holocaust.

From the abstract:

Various studies have revealed that in the testimonies given through the decades by Holocaust survivors, the memory of children who were killed is blocked because it is too terrible to bear. Studies show that in the early years the testimony papers that survivors filled out characteristically lacked testimony about their lost children, and in later years had an abundance of testimony about these children. There are survivors who could not testify about their children who testified about their parents and their other close and distant relatives. The on-line database of names helped fill in the void, sometimes decades after the incomplete testimonies had been given. My talk will focus on the connection between the repressed memory of the children that Holocaust survivors lost and the contribution made by the on-line database of names in building a new memory of the Holocaust.

Harvard psychology professor Richard McNally has dismissed studies involving memory loss and Holocaust victims with the following statement, reproduced on the FMSF site: “It is hardly surprising that isolated events, similar to others, had been forgotten…” But that logic has no application to forgetting the murder of a child, a singular event unlike any other. We look forward to seeing how Prof. McNally and others explain these findings, which cannot be chalked up to “normal forgetting.”

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