We are not Numbers

Young Gazans between despair and resilience

Team of We Are Not Numbers Gaza Strip

by Alexandra Senfft
Adapted version from first publication in: „Der Freitag“, Berlin July 25, 2019 https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/veraenderung-kommt-von-unten

Despite the misery, the spirit of resistance among the people of the Gaza Strip remains unbroken. For 69 weeks, thousands of Palestinians participated in the “March of Return” at the military barriers to Israel, protesting against the siege and confinement that has now lasted for 13 years. They demand their freedom and the right to return to their ancestral homes. Even the sea is militarily closed beyond the first 6 miles, also true for fishermen. But who wants to swim or fish in it when the sewage from the refugee camps has contaminated everything?

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Alexandra Senfft is a German Author


“Every democracy must be stimulated, challenged and developed – continuously. Democracy lives and thrives through self-critical confrontation with the past – personal and collective – and by scrutinizing the assumptions of earlier generations.
Where such reflection does not take place, people adhere rigidly to generationally-transmitted patterns of thinking, feeling and action. Lack of reflection allows far-right and nationalistic forces present outmoded messages of salvation that develop their own dynamics and create new injustice.
By means of dialogue my work, in an interdisciplinary and international fashion, confronts the past to develop tasks for the present so that society can withstand anti-democratic trends and movements in the future.”
Alexandra Senfft

Alexandra’s central themes

  • Biographical work, life portraits, political analysis
  • Intergenerational consequences of the Holocaust, especially for perpetrators’ descendants
  • Dialogue between descendants of Holocaust survivors and of Nazi victimizers
  • Storytelling and dialogue in intractable conflicts based on the resolution approach of Israeli psychologist Dan Bar-On
  • Israel and Palestine: the conflict and the Peace Movement
  • Germans vis-a-vis Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East Conflict
  • Anti-Semitism and populist hostility to Muslims

Senfft presents and discusses her areas of expertise in Germany and abroad. She lectures, participates in round tables and panels, speaks on radio and TV, and features in film documentaries. Outside of Germany, Senfft has presented her work for example at the University College London (UCL), the Leo Baeck College (London), Facultad de Ciencias Sociales (University of Buenos Aires), Ben Gurion University (Israel), Harvard University (Boston), Queens University (Charlotte, North Carolina), in synagogues in Birmingham (Alabama), Savannah and Augusta (Georgia), in Austen Riggs Center (Stockbridge, USA), Goethe Institute, Bratislava (Slovakia) or Heinrich Heine Haus (Paris).

Her book, Silence Hurts: A German Family History («Schweigen tut weh. Eine deutsche Familiengeschichte», Ullstein Buchverlage, Berlin 2007) won the German ‘Best Biography Award’ [2008]. The book was published in Slovakia in September 2018.

Alexandra’s book Strange Enemy, so far. Encounters with Palestinians and Israelis («Fremder Feind, so nah. Begegnungen mit Palästinensern und Israelis») was released in 2009, and in 2016 she published The Long Shadow of the Perpetrators. Descendants face their Nazi family history («Der Lange Schatten der Täter. Nachkommen stellen sich ihrer NS-Familiengeschichte»).

Presentation and Discussion at Ost-West-Forum in Gut Goedelitz near Dresden February 15, 2020
Foto: Frank Dabba Smith
Presentation at Ost-West-Forum in Gut Goedelitz near Dresden with director and moderator Axel Schmidt-Goedelitz, February 15, 2020
Foto: Rudolf Leppin
“Schweigen tut weh”, Slovakia, July 2019

The Long Shadow of the Perpetrators – Excerpts

Excerpts from
The Long Shadow
of the Perpetrators
Descendants confront

their Nazi Family History

Alexandra Senfft
Language English
World Rights available

56 pages

«Even today, the trauma of the Second World war, the still-raw crimes committed by the Nazis and the silence of those responsible are making themselves felt.»
Alexandra Senfft

During numerous events for her previous book Schweigen tut weh (Silence Hurts), Alexandra Senfft witnessed, how children and grandchildren of Nazi perpetrators break their silence: Her conversations reveal long-kept family secrets with painful emotional effects. In this book, for the first time, the silence within the families is related to other traumas that were passed on through generations. Building on research on transgenerational transmission, she illustrates in 9 moving portraits how silence became a burden. The very personal point of view helps to break the ritualised patterns of narration, reveal identification with the perpetrators and point out ambivalences. Most protagonists have come to terms with their family past and are taking an active stance against Xenophia and radical right wing. The portraits do not deal with perpetrators from the first row but with blind followers and war profiteers who, after the war, were caring mothers and fathers – but have never been held to account and could settle in their silence.

“Alexandra Senfft’s book is like an icebreaker in the frozen ocean of German families.”

“Senfft analyzes the emotional mechanisms which have led to massive denial of shame and guilt.”

“The Long Shadow is a very personal book. Such publications are still necessary for the comprehension of the Nazi era and how it has impacted individuals.”

“No other book shows, with such a wide spectrum, how much historical guilt in the family has shaped peoples’ existences.”

The silence of the perpetrators, non-acknowledged Nazi crimes and traumas from the Second World War are still at work. Inherited anguish has silently left its mark on many people, damaging biographies and relationships and even influencing politics. Alexandra Senfft’s journey through memory, supported by current research, tells of the burden of silence. Her book poses uncomfortable questions confronting denial: How did perpetrators come to be perverted into victims, what impact do feelings of shame and guilt have—and is there such a thing as justice? Sensitively and sagely, her book presents ways for descendants of the war generation to deal with this legacy soundly, if possible also in dialog with the descendants of the survivors. It makes remembrance mandatory in the present and for the future.