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Children of Persecuted-Persecutors *

Date: 28 May, 2007 at 3:35PM

The Psychological Effects on Children of Czech Jewish Communists after World War II

by Jana Svehlova

Children of Jewish Communists were interviewed for this project because their parents held top positions in the Communist Party after World War II when those who opposed communism were persecuted.  The interviewees’ parents joined the Communist Party before World War II because they feared the rise of fascism and they had the illusion that communism would bring an end to anti-Semitism in Europe.  With the power struggle within the Communist Party during the Stalinist era, many Jewish members were accused of alleged Zionist plots and they became the persecuted “Enemies of the People.”Some of these children, now middle aged, are speaking for the first time about their experiences after their parents were arrested, imprisoned or executed by their communist Comrades. They do not find much empathy within the post-communist Czech society. As one of them points out: “Under the Communists we were seen as the children of the Enemy of the People. After the fall of communism, we are seen as the children of former Communists. And for the rest, we are always the Jews.”These children were too young to enjoy the temporarily prominent social status of their parents when they held high positions in the Communist Party.  But they were not too young to be traumatized by the memories of being torn away from their mothers, placed in children's institutions, and hearing on the public radio that their fathers were to be hanged. Although they try to understand their parents' belief in the communist utopia, they question their parents’ judgment. These children experienced pain and suffering similar to that experienced by children of non-communist political prisoners. As another of the interviewed women mentions: “But how could I be a fanatical anti-communist? I had the Communists at home. I would have to hate my parents. That’s not possible.”  Reading excerpts from some of the stories will illuminate a perspective on the communist and post-communist era rarely explored previously.

The author received her PhD from The Human Sciences Program at George Washington University with area of concentration in political psychology. Her research is on intergenerational psychological effects on children of victims in former communist Czechoslovakia. She has presented her research at various scientific meetings in the United States, Canada and in Europe. Born in Britain during World War II, she left Czechoslovakia in 1966 and arrived in the United States via Austria and Great Britain in 1974.

* Term borrowed from Albert Camus: “The First Man

©Jana Svehlova 2006