Collective & Transgenerational Trauma in Germany

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


Jürgen Wölfl & Sucha Gesina Wolters


Julia Tzotchev, Ingrid Pickel, Ellen Schieß




In this Lab we explored the collective and transgenerational trauma that is present in Germany. The topics which arose in this first lab cycle were the Second World War, Fascism, the Holocaust and the division of the nation into East and West Germany. For our exploration, we used embodied contemplative practices, attunement and the coherence of the group field as a vessel for what wanted to show itself. We endeavoured to find a good balance between expanding our perceptions, whilst respecting our limitations and boundaries, acknowledging their protective functions.

We started out with a group of 46 participants and completed with 36 participants, having on average around 33 participants part-taking in each session during the course of the Lab. We met for 11 group sessions overall, from November 2020 – June 2021, and triads were formed during our first four sessions.

We explored the following questions:

  • What constitutes the historical background to current day Germany?
  • How do collective and transgenerational traumas influence the construction of identity and the process of ‘othering’?
  • How do collective and transgenerational traumas influence the development of the cultural architecture?
  • How does our use of language reflect and reinforce the consequences of these traumas?
  • How do collective and transgenerational traumas show up in times of crisis?
  • Can coherent ‘we-spaces’ and a process of witnessing collective and transgenerational trauma lead to an integration and eventual healing of collective trauma?

Stages of our process as a group:

1. Synchronising & Resourcing
We started each meeting with a guided 3 and 4 sync meditation, feeling the group space and contemplating on our key questions and any important issues that emerged during the meetings, weaving them into our ongoing process. The Facilitation team dove fully into our own vulnerability during the preparation of the Lab, and we shared this with the whole group, which resulted in a significant synchronisation and deepening of the group field, leading to a very intimate quality of connectedness. When participants shared, we invited and guided the whole group to follow a grounding movement. We navigated on the edge of the trauma field in order not to fall into it, and in order to stay resourced during the sessions. We highlighted the moments of connectedness and invited the whole group to feel them when they arose. The facilitation team reflected on our preparation and follow-up meetings and on how the collective trauma showed up in us as well, holding space for each other.

2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape
We made efforts to address when we were meeting the collective trauma landscape by: Guiding the group into sensing positions, issues, and themes, and acknowledging that these are interwoven with collective trauma landscapes. This was palpable in many voices, inviting the group to feel “behind and underneath” rather than to stay stuck in certain positions. Setting the intention to include the collective trauma landscapes in our perceptions, acknowledging that we can meet these landscapes in anything and at any time. Sending out questions to the group for individual research and exploration. During the preparation meetings, reflecting upon the already heard voices, sensing what should be the focus for the next group meeting, and including also our own standpoint vis-a-vis the trauma to the extent possible. Noticing that some information laid out in the timeline provoked discussions around “Querdenker” demonstrations.

3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
We felt that the group widened both its individual and collective radius of consciousness around conditioning throughout the duration of the Lab. Our research questions after each Lab session, as well as the triad work, helped to expand this consciousness. We found the majority of participants very committed to this exploration. Below we present some examples of this exploration: One participant shared his sadness caused by the small number of male participants and the lack of connection between men. Later a woman made the connection to WWII: men coming back traumatized and ashamed, often resulting in muteness, numbness and separation. A woman shared the feeling of having nothing she felt can lean on. A woman with a Jewish background shared her hesitation around making her background known to the group, and also shared her feeling of perceived hostility when she did eventually share her background with the group.

4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
Some participants shared their anger and rage concerning the Nazi regime and WWII, and about their pride of being German having been stolen. Others said that they felt a black dense energy looming behind them, that they do not feel supported from behind, and that they struggle to find any positive role models or support in the German past. Another woman shared that she did sense the feeling of support, and that there are energies supporting us and our ancestors. The example was given of cases when, shortly after the war, family members who had lost each other were on many instances reunited again by "coincidence". The group felt connected by the felt experience of common symptoms in our families and ancestors, such as the unfolding of a felt context of traumatized soldiers who turned to alcoholism, suicide and drugs. The recognition that for many in the group (particularly the older generation), the phrase: “the Russians are coming” is still alive. It also became apparent during our Lab that there is still a certain numbness lingering amongst Germans towards Russia, and a certain resistance towards the East and Eastern Europe. The decision to tune into a specific period of the WWII and to open a group process around that opened a deep space of authentic relating between the group members and in connection to that historical event. This was a big and significant step in our process. Experiencing and holding both the ‘getting in contact with our ancestors’ fascination’ and the ‘proudness for the cold technical perfection planning the Operation Barbarossa’, and at the same time sensing the anger, shame and grief regarding the occupation of Russia and the plan to demolish the country and its people.

5. Integrating & Restoring
We perceived a collective sense of relief resulting from the sharings of thoughts and feelings that for many had long been dormant and kept hidden inside. We realized how valuable a group such as this one, and a platform such as this Lab was, in providing a safe container for the sharing and witnessing of unspoken truths and unexpressed emotions.

6. Transforming & Meta-learning
We noticed a change in how we look at and perceive our lives. We felt a widening and deepening in our consciousness vis-a-vis our ancestors and the collective dimension. We felt this change within the Facilitation team as well as in every participant. We also acknowledge the unique qualities that this particular Lab held. It was challenging to follow the energy of the group, especially in the beginning, and this turned out to be a learning process for us all. The challenge lay in finding our own “truth”, rhythm, and path (as individuals and as a group) within our collective exploration, rather than to be confused or distracted by theories and ideas (or processes in other similar Labs) about how our process should look. For example, and in hindsight, we gave perhaps too much attention to developing the timeline in the beginning, without realizing that this activity turned out to not be so helpful for our Lab. That said, it was extremely helpful to instead form a Timeline Group of 5 participants who met regularly throughout the whole lab process to develop the timeline, interweaving this process into the rest of the Lab work in process. The timeline group also benefited significantly from their more focused, small-team work. Some of the Lab participants shared their poignant experiences throughout the process. For instance, one participant shared that shortly after our May Lab session, her daughter decided to look for her father, whose father in turn had been in the concentration camps until 1945. She found and met her father one month later and experienced only love in their reunion. Another participant decided to join the witnessing of an empathy journey to Auschwitz.
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Moments of Challenge

  • To find the balance between that which was overwhelming and that which was under-challenging.
  • To find a way between pushing and avoiding.
  • The invisible undertow that so easily pulls us to look away again from difficult issues.
  • Challenging after-effects – with personal trauma showing up – after the session on Operation Barbarossa.
  • Even in writing this Lab report we felt tension in the team. One important aspect seemed to be the polarity between writing a “good” and coherent report with clarity and the energy of our endeavour, whilst respecting the fragility, incompleteness, and vulnerability that accompanied us throughout. 
  • Acknowledging that we still know so little, and trying to stay as humble as possible, knowing that we see and feel only a fraction of the whole picture, and even then we continue to see through our own filter systems.


Below we share, in the words of our participants, some moments of grace from our Lab journey together:

  • “To be part of a movement toward the numb, unseen, mute, and cruel, during the group process tuning in with the Operation Barbarossa.”
  • “To feel that unbearable things can and should be seen.”
  • “To see how the “water” becomes clearer, and the “fog” disappears when previously unspoken and unfelt aspects are named, voiced, felt and witnessed. A greater understanding arises for the connectedness of symptoms. Gratefulness for insights, deepening of understanding.”
  • “During the Labs I became more aware of my own and the collective ambivalent relationship to Russia. Both the presence of a Russian-origin team member and the emergence of traumatic events during and after the Second World War within the Lab intensified the longing for reconciliation on the one hand, and on the other hand the simultaneity of distancing and a deep feeling of familiarity and closeness became more palpable.”
  • “It was a moment of grace when, during my sharing, I could leave the frequency of my personal state (with an intense headache) and connect with the frequency of the Lab. That’s when the stuck energy from my head started to flow down and my spine felt like a freshly cleaned pipe where the light could flow freely again. I was completely free of pain after the meeting.”
  • “The experience that my body might be overloaded by holding the light and the shadow and then realising that this is not my task; that I can rather be or hold the space in which the terror and the light can meet; I can devote myself to this encounter, but I cannot and do not have to make it.”
  • “Feeling the love for this group.”


  • An even greater appreciation for  how important good preparation is. We dedicated a good amount of time for the Facilitation team to meet before each Lab group session. 
  • The importance of preparing the space in which the Lab takes place and to hold the container in the widest possible way.
  • Additional Facilitation team meetings would have been helpful in order to share and witness our own standing in the field of trauma.
  • The question arose: How does a conscious connection emerge from individual voices/experiences to the collective landscape? If this connection is not named by participants during the group process, would it be the Facilitation team’s job to reveal this connection?
  • More sessions focusing on precise collective trauma topics and sharings in the whole group could deepen the awareness of the collective trauma field.
  • We Germans often have a certain kind of roughness/directness that easily leads to talking “about” instead of talking from personal emotional and physical experiences. This can lead to the avoidance of relationing, both to oneself and to others. 
  • The sense of what is fascist and what is not, as well as the definition of the term, seems to blur and sometimes cause confusion.
  • In one of our post-processing Lab sesssions, the Holocaust arose again, this time stronger, as something or someone that was missing and especially shedding light on all the children who were murdered and could not live their lives. After a moment of sitting with this, we returned to the question of why Holocaust issues came up so little during the sessions overall. Although we did touch upon the topic of being Jewish as well as the extermination of the Jews a few times, we did not go into these questions in depth. We were very concerned with our responsibility as Facilitators, as well as aware about our own feelings and tendencies to look away, and acknowledged fear and respect for the topic and for the question of how we want to deal with it in a future session or entire Lab cycle.

Our Lab Team

Sucha Gesina Wolters

Sucha Gesina Wolters

Jürgen Wölfl

Jürgen Wölfl

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