Remembering the Holocaust, Today and Always

January 27, 2015

Today, we embrace the collective experiences of our fellow members of the human race, this Holocaust Remembrance Day and 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz liberation.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"31425","attributes":{"alt":"Auschwitz","class":"media-image","id":"media_crop_3954654844848","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3312","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Today, we embrace the collective experiences of our fellow members of the human race, this Holocaust Remembrance Day and 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz liberation.

In 2012, Susan Kweskin gathered particularly poignant articles, videos, and recordings for Psychiatric Times. In his piece, Children of the Holocaust, Harold Bursztajn, MD, a psychiatrist and child of the Holocaust, writes:

The grief that the Shoah brought to its victims would make its reappearance even at happy times long afterwards.

When I was 7, I remember walking with my father on a Sunday afternoon (in Lodz, Poland) when a man, some years younger than my father came running across the street to hug him. “Avram,” he called. He quickly and warmly introduced himself to me. “Your father saved my life. I was only 14 when he took me with him and the others into the bunker in that paved over little brook that had become the sewer, the ‘brucke.’”

After he left, I noticed my father had tears in his eyes; he knew I needed an explanation: “He was the youngest I could help save,” my father said and squeezed my hand.

We walked on as the day grew late, far more subdued.

I know he and my mother, who worried till the end of her life, “In 50 years no one will believe it ever happened,” would each find a measure of meaning from these articles and the exhibition being presented by the United Nations. Remembering and sharing. . . even sadness, can be a consolation, a way of bearing for otherwise unspeakable loss.

In Sixty-Five Years After World War II: A Family Secret, Drs Gerald Schneiderman and Magda Budziszewska evaluate persons years after the Holocaust who remained in Poland and discovered the “secret” of their Jewish ancestry, despite not being raised as Jews. They conclude, “The consequences of secrecy reverberate through a person’s life. It is important to remove secrecy that only causes anxiety, shame, guilt, and constriction as it perpetrates self-destructiveness in the present and in future generations.”

In a 2014 piece, Hitler’s Children, Other Children, Myself, Ourselves: Legacies of Psychological Trauma, H. Steven Moffic, MD, notes that the remainder of his “father’s family never had left Europe and were all killed in World War II. Surely, some of this history, unconscious or not, suggests some survivor guilt in me and an attempt at some relief in a career serving the underserved.”

Circling back to Dr Bursztajn in a video about how his parents survived the Shoah, he writes, “As a clinician and forensic psychiatrist I find it helpful to remember that love can catalyze the creativity needed to work for survival even in the midst of great helplessness, hopelessness, uncertainty, danger, and suffering. This journey also served as a reminder that to know ourselves we need to be comfortable learning deeply our family histories, and that, for us as clinicians, one way of helping our patients know themselves is to help them become more comfortable learning about their family histories in all their complexity, including loves and fears, joys and tragedies, gains and losses.”

A particular area of interest of mine is the intergenerational transmission of behaviors and the supposition that trauma, joy, fear, optimism, experience, love, fortitude, and resilience pass to our descendents in the DNA. If it is true that our cells have memory, it is impossible to forget-and that’s a good thing. We are inextricably linked in bearing the unspeakable losses of this and countless atrocities never recounted in human history.

“In the echoes, if you listen you can hear the sound of a lonely Jewish child crying.” -Dr Michael Benjamin

Image Wikipedia Commons.