Growing up in postwar London I never heard the term ‘Second Generation,’ nor was I aware of it until many years later. In Israel at some point in the 1960s or 1970s there was a discussion, possibly even an argument, as to whether people who had fled Europe before, during or even after the Second World War could be considered Holocaust survivors if they had not actually been incarcerated in a concentration camp. Once that debate was settled, anyone whose life had started somewhere in Europe or Russia (or even North Africa in some cases) and had been obliged to wander as a result of Nazi persecution was officially defined as a Holocaust survivor. Their offspring became known as the Second Generation.
My parents were refugees from Germany, and although they – thankfully – did not experience a concentration camp themselves, their lives were completely disrupted and they experienced terrible personal loss as a result of Nazi persecution. Nonetheless they, like their friends and acquaintances, went on to live active and productive lives, and as a child I was not aware of the dark cloud that must have overshadowed their life. It was not until much later that I learned that both my parents had experienced Kristallnacht, and that my mother would often cry out and scream in her sleep.
As a child I was very conscious of the fact that my parents spoke English with a foreign accent. Since I must have been a very nasty child, I remembering laughing at them with my sisters for that. In that respect, however, I felt that my parents were no different from most of their friends and associates, many of whom were themselves refugees. Some of their friends’ children were my friends, and we all found it perfectly normal for our parents to speak with a foreign accent. What did bother me as a child, however, was the absence of a grandparent, and I managed to persuade one of my father’s elderly cousins to let me call her ‘Auntie Grannie.’
I went to a Jewish primary school, an all-girls’ grammar school and belonged to a Zionist youth movement. I mixed with young people like myself, some of whose parents were born in England and others who were not, but it never occurred to me to ask about their parents’ origins. It’s true that most of my friends at school and university were Jewish, but I prided myself on also having friends of the non-Jewish persuasion.
When I realised that I was a member of the second generation, namely, that I belonged to a group that I hadn’t known existed, I acquired a new sense of identity, which I gladly accepted. I found that in many ways it defined who I was, and it led me to explore this situation in articles as well as in my first two novels. In fact, by now my awareness of what my parents and that whole generation went through has come to inform much of my thinking and writing. I have even been accused of allowing it to dominate my consciousness excessively. I suppose that there is more than a grain of truth in that, but I am happy to accept it as an intrinsic aspect of my being.