Accepted Paper:

Suffering and hope in the age of therapy: Germany's 'grandchildren of World War II'  


Lina Jakob (ANU)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the recent emergence of Germany’s ‘grandchildren of WWII’. It discusses the construction, exploration and performance of their newly-found identity as sufferers of transmitted war trauma in the context of the debate around Western ‘therapy culture’.

Paper long abstract:

For decades talking about the wartime suffering of the German population was felt to be a moral taboo. Out of shame about the inconceivable crimes Germans had committed under the Nazi regime, suffering remained excluded from public discourses and psychotherapeutic practices. Recently, however, the topic has moved into public focus, and questions about the long-term psychological impact of WWII on the eyewitness generation and their families are being raised.

This paper focuses on the generation of the 'Kriegsenkel' - the 'grandchildren of WWII'. Born between 1955-75 the Kriegsenkel feel that through processes of transgenerational transmission, war experiences were passed on to them by their families and are responsible for many of their emotional problems; from depression, anxiety and burnout to relationship break-ups and career problems. Kriegsenkel now meet across the country in self-help groups, workshops and Internet fora, sharing personal stories and discussing ways to overcome their emotional inheritance.

Drawing 80+ biographical interviews undertaken in 2012/13 in Berlin for my PhD, my paper shows that this new identity is constructed, explored and performed entirely within the framework of Western 'therapy culture' (Furedi 2004). Sociologists have critiqued therapy culture as cultivating vulnerability and victimhood and as promoting political disengagement and narcissistic self-concern. Looking from the subjective experiences of 'consumers' of therapy and self-help culture, I argue that a more nuanced view is needed. Therapeutic discourses also create meaning for emotional problems, help break through social isolation and offer therapeutic interventions, often seen as the only hope for a better and healthier future.

Panel Med05
Disease and goodness