As a Child of Holocaust Survivors, I Have Experienced My Parents’ Extreme Trauma and Severe Shock

yazidiWhen you are a child of Holocaust survivors, when Holocaust Remembrance Day comes around again, you can remember vividly the year before that and the year before that.  You read articles about the Holocaust again or you try not to read them.  You read again about the myths of anti-Semitism and the rise of anti-Semitism.

Most of the time, I wish I could unknowing, as recent surveys show Millennials are, or at least forget what I know.  As a child of Holocaust survivors I have experienced my parents’ extreme trauma and severe shock. . . .over and over again. . . . beginning at an age too young to process it.

Millennials might say what happened in the Holocaust is so in the past. Not. What is happening today finally explained my past experiences to me.

My Mother, the only survivor of her village in Poland, did not speak to my brother and me about the Holocaust.  She loved to sing, especially Yiddish songs from her childhood.  She would stand near the window box where our parakeet hung in his cage and sing to it.  All of a sudden, she would fall to the floor, writhing around and screaming in Yiddish, Polish, German, things like ‘don’t kill me.  Don’t hit me.”  I spoke several languages and understood what she was saying.  How young was I?  My earliest distinct recollection is when I was almost four and my brother was about six or seven months old.  We were in the alcove bathtub and there were candles, so I know it was a Friday night.  My brother was in my lap and I was holding him up, so he must have just learned to sit up.  My Mother was washing us and singing Yiddish songs from her childhood.  Without warning, all of a sudden, she fell back on the floor, writhing around and screaming with her face looking like the Scream, by Edvard Munch.

My brother and I started screaming.  He was slippery and I could not hold onto him.  His head was slipping under water.  I could not save him from drowning.

Fortunately, my Mother regained consciousness, grabbed my brother, and turned him over hitting his back.  We were all sobbing.

Then she told us, “they were only killing the children.”  She proceeded to recount how the Nazis would build a bonfire on Friday nights, the Jewish Sabbath, and take the Jewish babies and toddlers that arrived in the work camp that week and throw them alive into the bonfire.  There were piercing screams from the fire as the babies and toddlers were burned alive.  She said she and the other young women of child bearing age were stripped naked and were required to dance around the bonfire singing lullabies, and if they cried or stopped, they were whipped.  Our Mother had whip marks on her back.  She said some mothers jumped into the fire with their babies and toddlers.

I did not remember that story when I was four.  Over many years and into adulthood, I had frequent nightmares that my brother was dying and I could not save him.  It was not until 1994 when I was 47 years old that I finally understood where my nightmares came from.  My Mother had gone to see the movie, Schindler’s List, and said that what was in the movie was nothing, and proceeded to say what she had told us in 1950.  She said she knew she had told us that before.  Yes, I was under four years of age.  I then realized that the extreme trauma and shock of that story translated into nightmares for 43 years.

As a child of Holocaust survivors I have experienced my parents’ extreme trauma. . . .over and over again. . . . at ages too young to process it.  My brother and I witnessed my Mother repeatedly writhing on the floor and screaming on the floor horrific things and mutterings when we were very young.  When I could read, I would grab my brother, and tell him to listen to me read him a story rather than to listen to my Mother.  To this day, when I read I hear nothing around me.

I remember once, a long while ago, that someone confirmed that their female family member in a work camp experienced that traumatic bonfire on Friday nights while she was in a work camp.  Psychological torture intended to destroy any survivors, and passed through the survivors to the next generation.  I remember speaking with the Cantor at our grandchild’s Bat Mitzvah about her being raised by Holocaust survivor grandparents.  I said, “did you witness daymares?”  She got a strange look on her face.  She said she had not hear them called that before, when you find your loved one screaming and writhing on the floor.  Yes, she could not sleep, as I did not sleep well at night either, because our loved ones experienced nightmares, as well as daymares.

Finally, April 10, 2019, I understand what these Holocaust daymares and nightmares are.  I read The Washington Post article, “Far from the crumbling caliphate but haunted by ISIS

Yazidi refugees in Canada live with profound and persistent trauma,” by Emily Rauhala and Amanda Coletta.

The article is about Yazidi women who survived sexual enslavement by ISIS, and have been taken in by Canada.

“Mohamad Elfakhani, a psychiatrist at the London Health Sciences Center hospital and professor at Western University in London, Ontario, treats Yazidis with symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, including dissociation and extreme sleeplessness.”

“He said their symptoms exceed what he’s seen, even compared with recent Syrian arrivals, because the concentration of extreme trauma is higher and they have less support.”

Now I know a term, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, because the concentration of extreme trauma and severe shock.  My Mother said she tried to get psychological help early on, but the care providers could not listen to what she needed to tell them either.

In 2019, we have the same thing happening with the Yazidi women.

“Yazidi refugees display symptoms that most care providers are scarcely prepared to treat, including seizure-like episodes that leave women writhing on the floor, as if reliving rape.”

“Merely witnessing these episodes can be so troubling that care workers need support of their own. “The squealing — ” said Bindu Narula, a settlement and immigration manager at Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, pausing. “No matter who you are, it’s traumatic.”

My brother and I were witnesses too young.   How are the children of the Yazidi women being  protected today, if adult trained providers cannot handle the extreme trauma and severe shock?

Yes, the lessons of the Holocaust are being forgotten and the repeated horrors of extreme trauma inflicted today will damage another generation of innocent victims.  See, “When the survey says the Holocaust is fading away | Opinion,” by David Winston, Sun Sentinel, April 20, 2018, which includes a video by a Holocaust survivor telling his story.

See, “Study: Social media users under 30 mostly ignore the Holocaust,” By Yori Yalon, Sun Sentinel, May 6, 2019.

This last article ends with:

“Kochavi [of Vocativ] told Israel Hayom that “we are in a period of growing anti-Semitism and fake news, when it’s hard to tell what is true and what isn’t. That combination creates a dangerous platform that allows for increased expressions of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, and neo-Nazism.”

“Young people today know very little about the Holocaust, and as the number of survivors continues to shrink, the challenge of preserving the memory of the Holocaust is more important than ever. We must find the right way to broadcast the story of the Holocaust to young people and adolescents in Israel and worldwide, and make the subject relevant to them,” Kochavi said.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is called Yom Hashoah and was celebrated in 2019, on Thursday, May 2.

This month, “broadcast” this blog to anyone under 30, old enough to handle its content, and anyone older that 30 so we all “never forget.”  If not for the Jews who perished in the Holocaust, then for the Yazidi women and children of today, for there to be an end to extreme trauma perpetrated on innocent victims leaving them in severe shock, that can last generations.

 

With little Joy,

 

Mema

 

 

 

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