"They never dismissed questions or glossed over the truth."
For Holocaust survivors, finding the perfect balance between sharing too much with their children and withholding upsetting information is extremely difficult.
Florie's memories of her upbringing are a refreshing example of a healthy approach to the parenting of a 2G. Her current attitude and that of her sons seems to provide the proof.
Pictured here are Florie Sagett with her two sons, Ari and Scott. Florie lives in Illinois and is a volunteer with the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
Following is our interview with Florie:
2G INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
In just a few sentences, tell us where your parents are from and where they spent the war years.
Both my parents are from Berlin, Germany. My father was arrested on Kristallnacht and sent to Sachsenhausen. He was released quickly and immigrated to the USA at the end of 1938. My mother left Berlin in 1936 and moved with her family to Amsterdam. She was arrested in 1942 and sent to Westerbork, then to Vittel where she was liberated and returned to Amsterdam. She immigrated to the USA in March 1947.
1. Your childhood:
Do you remember when and how you first realized your parents were Holocaust survivors?
My earliest memory is in third grade when I heard my parents explain their holocaust memories and I talked about it at school for show and tell. I believe I brought one of the Nazi arm bands that my father had brought with him from Germany. I guess I wasn’t afraid to talk about their experiences and what this arm band meant.
How was your childhood affected by this knowledge?
I don’t recall that my childhood was affected by the knowledge of my parents’ history. It was their story and that of all my aunts and uncles and it was spoken about regularly at family dinners and everyone was very frank and honest about what happened, no hysteria at all.
Growing up, did you know other children or have friends whose parents were survivors?
My dearest friend to this very day was the child of survivors from Poland. They ended up living in Israel and my friend and her parents moved to the USA when she was about 12. We met in high school and have been friends ever since. To this day we still talk about our parents and what they experienced. We have a very strong bond because of this.
My parents also had a number of friends who had children my age. We weren’t best of friends but we did get together at family visits. We really never discussed our parents’ experiences. Their histories were just accepted.
If so, were you aware then that they were survivors? How did you know?
Yes, I was always aware that they were children of survivors. It was just common knowledge. I never really gave it much thought.
Did being a second generation (2G) make you feel different from other kids when growing up?
I don’t think I thought a great deal about being different from other kids. I just accepted that my parents were from Europe but it didn’t change my relationships with the other kids. In high school I met my friend whose parents were from Poland and we have had a close relationship ever since.
Did your parents openly discuss their experiences? Or did they deny, dismiss, or gloss over them?
They openly discussed their experiences as did the rest of our extended family. They never dismissed questions or glossed over the truth. It was their history and they were open about it.
Did you want to hear their stories and memories?
Yes, my younger sister and I listened carefully to their stories and were interested in all they had to share with us.
2. Pros and Cons
Did your feelings about your parents and their experiences change as you got older?
It didn’t change -- it was only enhanced by making sure that our children were able to understand and appreciate all that our parents had gone through during the Holocaust. My two sons were always interested in the stories my mother shared. My father died when they were young boys so they didn’t hear that much from him.
Did you feel there were advantages to being a 2G? Were there strengths you gained?
I don’t think that I felt there were advantages except that I felt privileged to share their stories with my friends and work colleagues because so many of them were interested to hear my parents’ stories. I felt proud of their survival and honored that I have become a 2G speaker for the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
Do you feel that you have suffered being the child of survivors? Were you scarred in some way by being a 2G? Has your life been hampered by being a 2G?
Absolutely not. I have not suffered, been scarred or hampered in my life by being a 2G. My parents were open, honest and straight forward about their lives and we appreciated all that they did to survive and come to the USA. I think I only felt bad that I never had a chance to meet my father’s parents or siblings because they were murdered in Auschwitz. Often wondered what they were really like. I did know my mother’s parents and brother and they were a very important part of my life. My grandmother lived with us until I was 14 years old so I learned to speak German since she never learned English.
As an adult, how has being a child of survivors influenced or possibly defined you?
It has heightened my awareness of the holocaust and the importance of making sure that the stories are never forgotten. My involvement in the Illinois Holocaust Museum has given me the opportunity to do something worthwhile with my spare time and to give back to a part of history that means so much to my family.
Do you now feel different from non 2Gs?
I don’t feel different from non 2Gs, I just feel that my parents’ survival is my history which is different from those whose parents were born and raised in America and not part of this horrible part of history.
3. The “inherited trauma” question
Do you think there is such a thing as “inherited trauma”? Do you see it as a form of PTSD?
I cannot really answer this question. I haven’t experienced “inherited trauma”.
Have you experienced a pivotal moment or realization in your life relating to your 2G status?
I think a pivotal moment was when I joined the Museum as a volunteer and started to relate to other volunteers who were also 2Gs. We would trade stories of our parents’ history which gave us a common background unlike those who were not 2Gs. We now proudly wear a badge at the Museum that indicates we are second generation so that guests can ask us questions.
Are you now concerned with the world’s perception of the Holocaust? Are you interested in Holocaust education? Have you worked for Holocaust causes? How do you feel about that?
I am very concerned about the world’s perception because when the survivors have all died and our generation is gone it is up to our children and future generations to make sure the history and story is not lost. I volunteer regularly at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and am a 2G speaker which gives me the opportunity to tell and retell my parents’ stories to younger generations.
(If you are a parent), How has your parenting been influenced by being a 2G?
I don’t believe that my parenting has been influenced by being a 2G. Most importantly I have made both our sons and their families aware of my parents’ stories and luckily our sons had the opportunity to know both my parents and they would hear about the holocaust from my mother on a regular basis. She died in 2010 and both our sons took her stories to heart. My younger son (42 years old) is now working towards becoming a board member of the Illinois Holocaust Museum as a third generation.