On Listening to Holocaust Survivors

09-25-2019 09:27 AM

This seminar is based on the instructor’s forty years of interviewing, teaching about, and writing about Holocaust survivors. In contrast with conventional “testimony” models--2 or 3 hours in front of a video camera--the instructor spoke with the same survivors over months, years, and-with a few people--even decades. The course also emphasizes listening attentively and in depth. That approach often yields surprising insights not otherwise attainable.

Core topics include: (1) The psychological impacts of sustained hate; in this case, antisemitism; (2) What does “trauma” mean and how is it related to other agonies survivors suffer (loss, abandonment, humiliation, stigma, etc.)? (3) How does the experience of survivors challenge conventional psychological assumptions about both injury and resilience? (4) How do listener expectations and capacities--actual and perceived--impact whether, when, and how survivors retell their memories? (5) What does it mean to be able to “listen” to someone who has gone through such experiences--and what is and isn’t the potential impact on listeners? (6) In what ways can it be informing to juxtapose Holocaust survivors’ experiences--in the aftermath--with the experiences of others who’ve gone through hells--especially other genocide survivors, survivors of rape and assault, and survivors of life-threatening illness (especially cancer)? (7) What will actually change when there are no living Holocaust survivors (not as obvious as it may seem)? Hank Greenspan is a psychologist, oral historian, and playwright who has been interviewing, writing about, and teaching about Holocaust survivors since the 1970s--now almost fifty years.

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