It’s true that it was my mother’s parents who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s in a leafy, well-to-do suburb far from the killing fields of Europe. So why am I haunted?
Why do I find that morbid thoughts occasionally float into my mind, uninvited and unwelcome?
- Life might look secure but it might all come crashing down in a moment
- What would I do if I knew they were coming for me?
- Which non-Jews do I know who would take the risk to help me?
- Is there somewhere in the house which we could use as a hiding place if they started banging on our door?
- Why do I feel sad/annoyed/pained about my little problems? Think what they went through in the camps!
- What would I say to my kids if we were all about to die al kiddush Hashem?
- How would I keep my baby quiet if we were hiding and they were looking for us?
- What would I grab if we had to leave our home in a hurry?
- This non-Jew seems very friendly now but how would they treat me if we were in the Holocaust?
- This society seems democratic and liberal… but so was Europe before the war
- Is it better to go into hiding or to assume a false identity?
- Why am I working so hard to succeed in this project? If it the Holocaust came, how would it help me then?
I don’t have these thoughts all the time. Some plagued me more when I was a child, while others relate to being a mother. Thank God . Apart from Tisha Ba’Av, of course, I am generally a normal person who is too busy for these ruminations.
But then, late at night as I lay in bed, a morbid thought pops into my mind. Suddenly I find myself plotting our escape route along the highway near our home.
Is this normal?
Recently I heard a prominent Jewish psychologist quoted as saying: “Hitler is keeping all the therapists in business.” So perhaps this problem is pretty common.
But this also opens up a whole new perspective on the impact on survivors’ descendants, besides fleeting dark thoughts: After all these years, is he still poisoning our relationships with our parents and children? Are homes still suffering because of that madman? Is he interfering with my life even though he has been rotting in a special pit in gehennom since decades before I was born?
Are we still bearing the scars of psychological warfare two and three generations on?
But perhaps that is the point… In the decades following the Holocaust, the survivors and their children focused on rebuilding their world from the ashes, and in many cases they never healed the scars on their hearts. Maybe that was an impossible task for them.
Perhaps that task has been handed down to you and me.