Children of Perpetrators of the Holocaust: Working Through One’s own Moral Self

Dan Bar-On

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25 Scopus citations


The present study tests stages in the ability of some children of perpetrators of the Holocaust in Germany to work through emotional and moral issues regarding their fathers' perpetrating role during the Third Reich. The following questions are raised: Did they try to distance themselves by playing down the Holocaust and the moral meaning of their fathers' involvement in it? Did any children try to work through issues relating to their fathers' impaired morality? Did any children successfully reach the stage of integration? Fifty-seven persons were contacted by the author between September 1985 and June 1987, of whom 9 refused to be interviewed. Thirty interviewees were children whose fathers had taken an active part in the implementation of the euthanasia program, in the Einsatzgruppen, in the extermination camps or in related activities. The fathers of the remaining 18 interviewees were affiliated with Ss units at times and in places where the atrocities took place, but what they actually did or did not do was not proven. In general, there was an almost total silencing of accounts of the extermination process in homes and schools. Acknowledgment, if any, of the atrocities appeared through accounts of trials and friends and in newspapers or, only recently, through the children's active searching. When children who learned what their father-perpetrator had done during the war also came to understand the moral implications, they usually experienced severe emotional conflict, which they had to confront on their own. Only a few succeeded in walking. across a very narrow bridge to a working through of the related issues and emotions. The implications of the present analysis for future research on the prevention and outcomes of genocide are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-245
Number of pages17
JournalPsychiatry (New York)
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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