In the course of human history there occurred a lot of tragedies, which were not only personal by nature, but concerned and wounded the whole nations or races of people. What is more, these tragedies have left painful signs not only on people, who were involved in the situations directly, the worst thing that proves the seriousness and chronicity of the communal traumas is the fact that they have long-term effect based on their insolubility, that may be observed in relation to the descendants of the victims of racial atrocities. It is commonly known that the most awful intergroup tragedies are as follows: holocaust, genocide and slavery. The book “After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust” by Eva Hoffman is aimed at the study of the impact of the past negative experience on the current situation with collective identity of people. The same perspective may be applied with the consequences of the greatest tragedy of American people, 240 years of slavery and one hundred years of the sanctioned segregation based on racial prejudices.
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First of all, it is necessary to resort to Hoffman’s concept of communal trauma and its perception by the second generation of the Jewish people. The authoress presents the change of perception of the tragedy that may be illustrated by the title of the chapter “From Event to Fable” (1). She urges to “transform potent family narrative into a fully informed understanding of forbidding history” (Hoffman ix). The chapter suggests the effects of holocaust on the post war people, mainly, children who were born immediately after the end of the World War II. The personal reminiscences of the authoress vividly depict psychological and social deviations that were typical effects of the holocaust that had affected her personal collective identity: in her childhood, Hoffman was sure that people “emerged not from the womb, but from the war” (3), she was surrounded by traces of destruction everywhere around her: “in the injured bodies of war veterans, … in the orphaned children … in the pervasive presence of and consciousness of death” (Hoffman 3). Since it is commonly known, that a person’s character is mainly formed during childhood, deviations caused by past, even indirect, experience are evident, like, for instance, constant anticipation of war and unconventional reaction to the death of parents (Hoffman 5). Nadell also mentions “emotional legacy” of post war children as “depression, anxiety, panic attacks” (845).
The grave long-term consequences of the holocaust for the Jewish people suggest the analysis of the human atrocity that was not less awful and, what is more, long-lasting, slavery in America and subsequent segregation of certain groups of people that lasted for 340 years. Though the tragedy of holocaust and slavery occurred in different countries and in different epochs, the traumatic effect of them is absolutely the same: deep psychological traumas of the next generation that in the case of slavery was supported by long segregation of the people. Brooks defines the element of society that is guilty of it; it is government with its main function of protection of the citizens, that was neglected, because it “denied liberty in a most blatant way” (Brooks 21). Harm done to slaves is defined by the author as “deficiency” in all spheres of life: denial of life and dignity, absence of property, absence of education and absence of adequate attitude of other societal groups (Brook 21). The life of a free black was also spoilt by “artificial freedom”, for he was never as free as a white man could be (Brook 32).
The legal end of slavery does not exclude the racial problems among free societal groups. The question of “deficiencies” is brought up by Brooks again when he dwells on the harm of slavery for the descendants of slaves. Here we should mention, for instance, lack of access of black graduates to elite educational establishments. If the question of violent racism is not topical today, the problem of racial subordination still remains urgent (Brooks 40).
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that though the saying states that “time is the best healer” the long-term consequences of the tragedies connected with race still remain urgent and need attention and action. The tragedies of the past should remain in the memory of the next generation as historical experience of the people. However, they should not harm the psychological and social world of the descendants of victims of injustice. We agree with Brooks that the matter should be handled by the government that should find the way how to make all people equal and free in democratic American society.
Brooks, Roy L. Atonement and Forgiveness: A New Model for Black Reparation. Berkley: University of California Press, 2006.
Hoffman, Eva. After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust. : PublicAffairs, 2004.
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Nadell, Pamela S. “After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust.” Biography 27.4 (2004): 845-846.