Interview No. 003 about the Jewish identity
The interview No. 003. is one of the typical items in the interview collection on Jewish identity. Ferenc Erős and Bea Ehmann analysed this interview in their joint study (Erős Ferenc, Ehmann Bea. “Az identitásfejlődés tükröződése az önéletrajzi elbeszélésben.” In Azonosság és különbözőség: tanulmányok az identitásról és az előítéletről, 96-113. [Budapest]: Scientia Humana Társulás, 1996).
At the time of the interview, the interviewee, a member of the intelligentsia from Budapest, was 26 years old. The conversation took place in 1984. Her parents hid their Jewish origins from her. The family followed the “strategy of silence,” as did the overwhelming majority of other families with Jewish origins. Her narrative reveals other typical features of these sort of families.
The interviewee has Transylvanian ancestors on her father’s side and relatives on her mother’s side living in Budapest. According to her, she knew nothing of her Jewish origins, the history of Jewish community, or the Holocaust until the age of 13. Her parents tried to forget their origins, and they never spoke of them with her.
The information came from outside of the family circle (this was by no means unusual). In her case, it was one of her friends who raised the subject: “When this boy told me this, it touched me deeply, but at the time I encountered Antisemitism only on the verbal level, but this time I had to face the fact that this was terrible and I am actually a descendant a persecuted race.”
The narrative includes the psychological techniques of aversion. These methods are examined in detail in Erős and Ehmann’ paper. The interviewee indicated that the word Jew was a source of anxiety for her, without a clear object. According to her experiences, young people in Jewish families were more distressed and less self-confident. The explanation for this lay in the fact that their parents passed on their own fears and the experiences of their persecution unintentionally with their gestures. The sense of the dichotomy of Jewish existence appeared in her narrative: to be a Jew to her meant a sense of security which roots from the notion of belonging to a community, but at the same time, it meant uncertainty and anxiety, which is intensified by the nightmare of possibly being persecuted in the future.
By referring to Erős and Ehmann’s interpretation, by the end of the discussion the interviewee arrived at a point from which she could continue her life. This framework of explanation gives a much more stable background than the notions of Jewish identity which pervaded the world around her: exclusion, persecution, and trauma. In the end, these concepts and memories can be verbalized and discussed.This interview exemplified the process during which the strategy of silence becomes counterproductive. The parents of the interviewee did not tell her daughter of their origins. By failing to do this, instead of sparing her from the conflicts and traumas they feared her Jewish origins might mean to her, they made these conflicts and traumas more difficult to address. (Erős, Ferenc, András Kovács, and Katalin Lévai. “Hogyan tudtam meg, hogy zsidó vagyok?” Medvetánc, no. 2-3 (1985), 129-144.)
- Huhák, Heléna