Enduring legacies: Ernst van Alphen on transgenerational trauma and approaches to the memoralisation of the Holocaust and the Gulag


At 18:00 CET (17:00 GMT/19:00 EET) on Friday the 23rd October 2015, Memorial hosted Ernst van Alphen for a comparison of the manifestions of transgenerational traumata and of differentiated memorialisation in the cases of the Holocaust and the Gulag.

This lecture was in English with some Russian introduction and questions. A full length recording of the evening can be found below, as can further information about the the topic and a series of selected articles which further explore the themes of the discussion.

Topic / Speaker / Location / Related reading / Video

About the lecture:

The Holocaust is a tragedy which almost all citizens of Western nations are aware of and whose memory maintains enough contemporary power to effect an international reaction when it is perceived to have been abused. Brought to an end with the collapse of the Nazi regime 70 years ago, its crimes are still prominently remembered in both European and American social memory, where they are kept alive as a warning to future generations. Holocaust victims are publicly mourned, both in Israel and in Germany, where a large section of the centre of Berlin is dedicated to a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe and the houses of deported Jews are marked with so called Stolpersteine.

Remembrance of the Gulag system tends, however, despite the extent of its proliferation, to be both minimal and problematic. While billions of euros of compensation have been dispensed to the victims of the Holocaust, few of those disadvantaged by the Gulag have received sufficient support. In Russia, associations looking to improve awareness of Stalin’s crimes risk being persecuted themselves, while one of the biggest museums looking at the history of the camps, Perm 36, was recently taken under state management and reopened with a new approach which neglects the prisoners and instead focuses on the camp’s material contribution to the Great Patriotic War.

Differences can also be seen in approaches to the transmission of the trauma experienced in the respective camps. In Holocaust remembrance, there is growing discussion of the impact of generationally transmitted trauma, with recent research going so far as to suggest a strong likelihood of the genetic transmission of trauma through multiple generations. Yet, while in discussions of second and third generation Holocaust survivors it is accepted that trauma is transmitted down the generations, in discussions about the legacies of Stalinist terror and the Gulag, the idea of the transmission of trauma is either absent or is explicitly negated. An approach which Ernst van Alphen opposes, stating that “although in the case of Stalinism and the Gulag the trauma manifests itself differently than in the case of the Holocaust, this does not mean that the Gulag was not traumatising”.

In his lecture, Ernst van Alphen therefore looked to trace and contrast the traumata of both Holocaust and Gulag victims, beginning with an analysis of the differences between the two phenomena. The talk then proceeded to look at how the differences between the Holocaust and the Gulag resulted in distinctive traumatic symptoms and how these differing symptoms themselves impacted upon the dynamics between survivors and subsequent generations, changing the types of trauma which were transmitted.

A video recording of the live stream will be made available on this page in the near future.


Ernst van AlphenProfessor of Literary Studies, Centre for the Arts in Society, Leiden University, the Netherlands

This event takes place with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Эрнст ван Альфен. Проявления травмы и постпамять

От 19:00 MSK в пятницу 23. октября 2015. Россия, 127006, г. Москва, ул. Каретный ряд, д. 5/10, Мемориал. На английском.

Tема / Место / Чтение / видео


Эрнст ван Альфен, профессор кафедры литературы Лейденского университета прочтет в Мемориале лекцию “Наследие сталинизма и ГУЛАГа: проявления травмы и постпамять”.
Свою лекцию профессор ван Альфен посвящает анализу отличий между травмой Холокоста и травмой ГУЛАГа, тому, каким образом эти различия обуславливают различные симптомы травмы и как эти различия приводят к разной динамике переживания травмы у первого поколения выживших и у следующего.

При поддержке Посольства Королевства Нидерландов.

Location / Место:

Related reading:

Transgenerational trauma:

– Natan P.F. Kellermann Transmission of Holocaust trauma

Luciana Lorens Braga, Marcelo Feijó Mello and José Paulo Fiks Transgenerational transmission of trauma and resilience: a qualitative study with Brazilian offspring of Holocaust survivors

The Gulag:

– Anne Applebaum Gulag: understanding the magnitude of what happened

– Memorial, Moscow and the Roy Rosenzweig Centre for History and New Media, George Mason University, Fairfax, USA Gulag history (an online resource for Gulag information)

Memory politics:

– Maria Paula Nascimento Araújo and Myrian Sepúlveda dos Santos History, memory and forgetting: political implications

– Nikolai Koposov Does Russia need a memory law?

– Richard  Ned Lebow The memory of politics in postwar Europe (Chapter 1 of The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe (Duke University Press, 2006))

– Monika Palmberger Making and breaking boundaries: memory discourses and memory politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

– Tatiana Zhurzhenko Russia’s never-ending war against “fascism”. Memory politics in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict

Trauma and memorialisation:

– Jenny Edkins Trauma and the memory of politics

– Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider The politics of commemoration: the Holocaust, memory and trauma

Concentration camps:

– Richard Overy The concentration camp. An international perspective

Representing and reporting on the Gulag and the Holocaust:

– Stefan Auer The Holocaust as fiction. From Andrzej Wajda’s “Korczak” to Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”

– Steve Sem-Sandberg Even nameless horrors must be named

– Timothy Snyder Commemorative causality

– Timothy Snyder Holocaust: the ignored reality