Part of the reason I took on this topic for this project was to broaden my definition of grief and challenge my own stigmatized view of it. When browsing for information and articles on ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief I came upon an extremely interesting article about the disenfranchised grief that is experienced by the descendants of the Nazi regime. I chose this article to read and reflect on because, honestly, it is not a kind of grief I would have ever considered and I almost looked right over it. This paper, titled, Opportunists for Mourning When Grief is Disenfranchised: Descendants of Nazi Perpetrators in Dialogue with Holocaust Survivors, was written by Kathy Livingston of Quinnipac University in Connecticut was written to document and analyze a new and growing phenomenon. As the children of Nazi perpetrators grow into adults and start their own families they are coming up against awful stigmas of grief. It would seem that just about no one sympathizes with one who is grieving for a Nazi. I hate to say, I am not surprised. What does surprise me, however, is one of the only groups that adult children of Nazi perpetrators are receiving sympathy from is Holocaust survivors. According to the paper, dialogue groups consisting of multiple generations of perpetrator's families, survivors, and survivors and victims families are coming together to talk about their grief. Though the article is a scholarly one, and a valuable one, I couldn't help myself from focusing more on the amazing power of forgiveness and the resiliency of the human spirit. Children and grandchildren of Nazi perpetrators have been living a silent grief for years, unable to express their pain. They grieve over what there ancestors did during the time of the Third Reich and, a bit more confusingly, the loss of these people. Livingston states that as a group the second and third generations of the Nazi regime can be characterized by the, "secrecy, anger, and shame they experienced as they pursued knowledge of their parents’ involvement in the Holocaust". Not until I read this paper would I ever had considered the difficulty in both despising what a loved one stood for but mourning them at the same time. She goes on to describe the differences between grief, an almost entirely reactive process, and mourning. Mourning, she says, is "active rather than reactive, and involves intentional and deliberate attempts to cope with the loss...". She emphasizes the need for these generations to mourn, whatever they may mourn.
In conclusion, this article really opened my eyes even further about the needs of those who are experiencing disenfranchised grief. Also the need of mental health professionals to continue to expand their knowledge of the topic and empathy for those who are experiencing disenfranchised grief or ambiguous loss. This article reminded me of how I must never assume to know what someone is going through or think that their experience of loss is invalid.
Until next time,
Livingston, K. (2010). Opportunities for mourning when grief is disenfranchised: Descendants of Nazi perpetrators in dialogue with Holocaust survivors. Omega: Journal Of Death And Dying, 61(3), 205-222. doi:10.2190/OM.61.3.c