A Child of Holocaust Survivors View of Surviving the Coronavirus, Covid-19

Gustavo-FringFor the very first time in over seven decades, I decided that I would participate in an on line video group of second generation Holocaust survivors led by an expert who is a second generation herself, who I had previously heard speak, in a discussion, “Intergenerational Transmission of Hope: The Legacy of Trauma in the Face of Covid-19.” In preparation for the discussion, Dr. Irit Felsen, the facilitator, recommended that we read “Intergenerational Transmission of Hope: The Legacy of Trauma in the Face of Covid-19.”  Periodically, as a child of Holocaust survivors I feel the need to share some of the legacy of this experience for my grandchildren and preservation of this history. The title of the group discussion was enticing. Even though we now know trauma of the Holocaust survivors is transmitted intergenerationally, the title of the discussion was optimistically sending a message of hope.

Although I learned a lot from the article and the experience of a discussion with an excellent facilitator and twelve adult children of survivors, I do not think I will not participate in this group discussion again.
When I had active shooter training as a family court judge, I learned about the mantra, “Run, Hide, Fight.” I could not remain for the actual reenactment of an active shooter experience. The initial gun shots had me running out of the courthouse. However, I was able to write a blog post about how to talk to children about such an event, “Active Shooter Training and How to Talk to Grandchildren About Terrorism Are Things We Grandmas All Must Know.”  The coronavirus, Covid-19, is not an active shooter event, or terrorism, but it is an incredibly world changing and world shattering event, especially for children. The suggestions and tips in that blog post are exactly what one may suggest to be used with children and grandchildren for this traumatic pandemic as well.

“Run, Hide, Fight.”

“Run, Hide, Fight” is apparently what so many of us have been doing with the coronavirus too. New York’s coronavirus strain has been shown to be in nearly every place in America. We know many New Yorkers fled ground zero in the coronavirus spread in New York. They left for places they felt were safer, and, yes, many times, had to hide from the year round residents of the area to which they ran who did not want them bringing the virus to their area, as well as hide from the coronavirus. Of course, the fight to contain the coronavirus and find a vaccine is all over the news.

“Run, Hide, Fight” is what my parents’ experience was in the Holocaust. It is a good tactic for survival. They survived. I know the what, where, why, when and how of their survival and the horrors they witnessed and learned it through their day mares and nightmares beginning at an age too young.
Dr, Irit Felsen spoke of children of Holocaust survivors, during this coronavirus pandemic, experiencing three characteristics: catastrophe response, great anxiety, and going overboard. Are these survival techniques that may be ingrained in the DNA of children and descendants of Holocaust survivors? I know that I have a very high level of the hormone cortisol, so does my daughter, and I suspect at least one grandchild has inherited it, probably all. It is the “flight and fight” hormone. It can serve one well to survive, but one must be on guard as it can be incapacitating too.
Yes, I went to catastrophe and prepared for Armageddon immediately when I learned of the coronavirus epidemic threat. Yes, I have great anxiety, not only for me personally and those close to me, but for our entire humanity. Yes, I went overboard and continue to go overboard to be self protective and protective of those I love. I am prepared. I am isolated. Yet, the anxiety to just leave my home is overwhelming, as I believe we really do not know everything there is to know about this enemy to be safe.

Overwhelmed is what I became after participating in the second generation discussion which seemed to me to significantly be comparisons of surviving Covid-19 to surviving the Holocaust. The comparisons of surviving Covid-19 to surviving the Holocaust appeared to me that night as I slept. In my nightmares, the coronavirus was the Nazis, and one had to hide and escape the Nazis. Just like the coronavirus is very highly contagious and life threatening, so just coming in contact with a Nazi was deadly for a Jew. Just like the Jews had to run from the Nazis, running from other human beings, social distancing, is a key to survival. Just like there were other people who would turn Jews into the Nazis without a care, so there are those who do not wear a mask or take precautions to keep a deadly virus from spreading and killing. Just like there were many Jews, like my parents, who became fighters to survive the Holocaust, so must we individually fight to stay alive, doing that which will keep us safe, to let us survive the COVID-19 epidemic.

The discussion I attended about how the Holocaust trauma impacts those of us who are children of Holocaust survivors triggered fear and worry and brought back overwhelming memories and emotional trauma. It made me more anxious, and that is unproductive for me at this time and in this place.

I find for me, as a child of Holocaust survivors, it is personally counterproductive to look backward and resurrect demons. Remember, we descendants of Holocaust survivors are fortunate to have a warm and supportive family. There is much for each of us to be grateful for. Yes, we must never forget the Holocaust and how it impacted our family, and the world. Looking toward the future that is better, working to create calm and peace in life is what I know I need to concentrate on and hope my children and grandchildren concentrate on. Survival is the future. We children of Holocaust survivors and their descendants know what to do.

I repeat to myself that I and the collective we cannot control other people. We can only control ourselves. There are good people in the world and evil people in the world, and that is just the way it is. I know that it will be a long time before I venture out. However, it seems that the majority of Americans will also be staying home after the government mandates are lifted.

They, like us children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of our Holocaust survivor family, know how to survive, and we will.

 

 

Joy,

 

Mema

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