On words and wounds: Intergenerational Trauma and Identity in Selected Shoah and Apartheid Memoirs

Following the trauma of the Shoah, many survivors took to writing their experiences in memoir. The trauma  memoir, a term defined in the body of this thesis, became a significant space to share real world experiences of a genocide that shocked the world. Trauma is continuous, it lives on through the repetitive behaviours of the survivor, a concept that Sigmund Freud conceptualizes as the “compulsion to repeat” (XVII 1920–1922 19).


These enduring expressions of trauma made space for a new kind of Shoah memoir; the memoir written by the child of the survivor. These memoirs opened a space to unpack the symptoms of intergenerational trauma. Samuel Juni explains, in his discussion of intergenerational trauma, that following the Shoah, many survivors “adopted various coping strategies” “to maintain a functional life” (99). However, given the severity of their experiences, many of these strategies “engendered significant negative repercussions in the children they raised,” labelling these children as survivors in their own right (99).


Following the dismantling of apartheid South Africa, just 28 years ago, the effects of intergenerational trauma are still unfolding. This thesis argues that the severity of violence, economic and social devastation and exclusion, and the persecution of Black people under the apartheid government, constitutes an intersection with Raphael Lemkin’s nuanced definition of genocide, in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress. By drawing on four selected memoirs from these two historical events, this thesis aims to analyse how these works narrate the complexities of intergenerational trauma through idiosyncratic and personal experiences.


On Words and Wounds: Intergenerational Trauma and Identity in Selected Shoah and Apartheid Memoirs considers the intersection of literature and psychoanalysis in the trauma memoir. This thesis considers the representation of intergenerational trauma and its effects on identity in the following four memoirs: Art Spiegelman’s The Complete Maus, Mark Kurzem’s The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood, Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata’s My Father Died for This, and Kelly-Eve Koopman’s Because I Couldn’t Kill You. The narratives utilise language to emulate the affective dimensions of trauma through the representations of the traumatised psyche. As Roger J. Kurtz suggests, in Trauma and Transformation in African Literature, “literature shares a language with trauma in a way that other discourses do not” (7). Accordingly, literary devices, such as a fragmented narrative structure, metaphor, and narrative voice, can be used to symbolize the traumatised psyche.



This thesis aims to add to the ongoing conversations concerned with the theoretical frameworks pertaining to literary trauma theory and intergenerational trauma, and the four selected memoirs.

Lara Alhadeff | 2022
114 pagina's | Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
Holocaust (en), Intergenerational Effects, Memory, Psychotrauma, South Africans, Survivors