Writing biography in the face of cultural trauma: Nazi descent and the management of spoiled identities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cultural trauma after mass violence poses challenges in micro-social settings. Children and grandchildren of the perpetrator generation address these challenges in multiple, more or less fictionalized, biographies and family histories, explored here for the case of the Nazi Regime and the Holocaust. Their books serve, at one level, as quarries for harvesting depictions of interactive situations in which intra- and intergenerational sets of actors manage stigma through practices of silencing, denying and acknowledging in the context of family and friendship circles. At another level, biographies themselves constitute efforts at managing the authors’ spoiled identities through their conversation with an imagined audience. In retelling family history and reporting interactive situations, authors are torn between the desire to engage with—and cleanse themselves from—a polluting past and to maintain family loyalties and affective bonds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-64
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg for contributions to stigma management; Alejandro Baer for feedback on an earlier draft; anonymous reviewers for the AJCS and Jeff Alexander as editor for their critique and guidance; Johanna Muckenhuber, Wolfgang Savelsberg, and Hakan Seckinelgin for supplying me with books; the authors of the books I analyze here, especially Nora Krug for courage and inspiring communication; and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study for the opportunity to write a first draft.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature Limited.


  • Cultural trauma
  • Holocaust
  • Interaction
  • Literature
  • Silencing
  • Stigma


Dive into the research topics of 'Writing biography in the face of cultural trauma: Nazi descent and the management of spoiled identities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this