As We Care for Survivors, Don’t Forget the Damage Done to their Descendents
The words “Never Forget” have become synonymous with the Holocaust, but as the actual horror of the Holocaust starts to fade, it’s time we add to the mantra an addendum: “Never Ignore.”
As the events of 60 years ago start to slip into history, the suffering of those who survived the Holocaust has been a steadfast reminder of the atrocities of which humanity is capable if we do not keep ourselves in check. Their scars are front and center. Their tattooed arms impossible to ignore. And helping them heal will be our cause even as they enter the last stages of their lives.
Yet as we focus on that generation, often lost are those whose pain will endure long after the last survivor is gone—the generations of their children and grandchildren who have been traumatized by growing up with the pain their families endured during the Holocaust and scarred by the trauma of growing up with those in post-Holocaust shock.
The tales of some survivors are certainly famous, but most suffered in silence, refusing to discuss their terror as they tried to protect their children from pain. Their children grew up with parents who never dealt with their own trauma, and the silence was often deafening and painful.
Some have been able to deal with the silence constructively, teaching about the Holocaust, not letting the world forget what happened. Some fight it by being vocal about genocide. Others research the genocide in attempt to understand what happened to their parents.
Yet thousands more simply suffer from psychological disorders such at post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem and hoarding, according to such publications as the Cambridge Journal.
Take for instance “Anna,” a 35-year-old architect and grandchild of survivors, who suffers from a hoarding disorder.
Her apartment is packed with things she will not throw out. Every counter space is covered and every drawer is bursting forward. She keeps a pair of shoes that she swears she threw out 26 months ago. Walk into her apartment and you’ll find one thing: stuff. The more that is available, the more she keeps. She just can’t escape the need to hold on to stuff.
Yet she can’t let go of things that even she knows are meaningless junk. Why? Because that is how her parents acted—and how could she throw away an old pair of shoes when her grandparents would have died for a pair of shoes?
It’s time we begin paying attention to the thousands of children walking around today with these disorders.
That’s why Yeshiva University students who are third-generation Holocaust survivors and still live with the repercussions of the Holocausts have created a forum in which we can address some of the unique challenges our generation faces and learn how to finally move forward. We are hosting a conference that will discuss in scientific and medical terms what many of us still endure because of the Holocaust. We want to ensure that our generation is informed and sensitive about how the pain of the Holocaust lives on even today.
On October 21, we will bring our issues to the forefront and publicly grapple with them at a forum onYU’s Wilf Campus that will include such speakers as Dr. Michael Grodin of Boston University, Irene Hizme, a survivor of Mengele’s twins experiments, and renowned psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz.
As descendants of survivors, we are responsible for remembering the six million of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation who were needlessly killed. We know that we need to keep alive their message. After all, it is we who have been privileged to hear their first-hand accounts and we must inform our children of what happened.
But with that responsibility comes a price that many of us have paid. It’s time that we teach about that as well.
The authors, Mordechai Smith and Yosefa Schoor, are co-presidents of Yeshiva University’s Student Medical Ethics Society. Read the op-ed in The Jewish Press and listen to their interview on JM in the AM. The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Yeshiva University.