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Intergenerational Heroism

The Holocaust may have occurred 80 years ago, but on Yom HaShoah 2020, I am still living with the ramifications of the trauma it left behind. I'm not even the second generation of Holocaust survivors; I am the third generation and I am feeling its effects deeply. The Holocaust is not just a horrific chapter in our history books. It is a tragedy that still influences today's generation and can continue to damage future generations if we don't deal with it now.

The survivors themselves suffer from countless hardships many years later. Some experiences include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the physical and emotional trauma, physical pain and infertility because of Mengele's experiments, grief from losing numerous family members, medical issues from malnutrition and living conditions, and the list goes on.

After six years of living (more like dying) through hell, survivors were forced back into a collapsed society, alone. Their previous lives were non-existent. Their homes were demolished. Their relatives were killed. They suffered from incomprehensible trauma. But therapy wasn't a fad in those days. Most survivors weren't privileged enough to talk through their experiences with a professional and heal. If they couldn't figure it out on their own naturally, they would have to endure the flashbacks, PTSD, and anxiety for the rest of their lives, inevitably affecting how they would raise their own children.

The trauma of the holocaust doesn't disappear on its own. PTSD doesn't disappear on its own. Anxiety doesn't disappear on its own. These emotional wounds require loads of inner strength to tackle and overcome.

I haven't studied anyone's DNA or done any research projects. I don't claim to know how or why things happen. I do feel that it is only right to share insights of my personal experience and I'm sure many others can relate as well. I feel that it's reasonable to conclude that the Holocaust caused a great deal of emotional difficulties, whether it generated mental illness, or it was the spark that lit many people's genetic predisposition (to mental illness) on fire.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The trauma developed from the Holocaust is a domino effect and continues knocking us down generations later when we could have been standing upright, living peacefully. My grandmother spent her childhood in hiding with enough food to feed mice, all while listening to gunshots and the barking of the German soldiers. My grandfather fought with the partisans, a life of daily bloodshed and fear. With resilience, courage, and a fierce passion to rebuild their lives, they brought two children into this world.

I don't need to guess how their kids were raised. I know how they were raised. It was with unimaginable anxiety. My mother, who grew up in that atmosphere and internalized the constant fear, then carried many anxieties onto to her children, myself included. Although my anxieties are incomparable to those of my grandparents, they still accompany me every day. It is a daily inner battle. It is continued moments of challenging the irrational thoughts in my mind. It is living in lots of discomfort.

I fear that I will pass it on.

I can ruminate in anger over what happened. I can blame our family's emotional issues on the past. I can allow the anxiety to continue controlling me. I can let the trauma pass on to future generations. Or, I can pass on my grandparents’ heroism by taking the uncomfortable route to stop the chain. I have a choice to tackle the difficult emotions, work hard, and make worthwhile changes, with the hope of lessening and possibly preventing mental illness in future generations.

My grandmother didn't have the privilege of attending therapy. My mother didn't have the privilege of attending therapy. But I do. And I will take advantage of the opportunities I am given, so the future dominoes don't continue tumbling.

Let us use this day to remind ourselves that we have the power to discontinue the emotional anguish the generation of the Holocaust endured, and actively transfer their heroism to our children instead.

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Robin Gutman, LPC
Robin Gutman, LPC
Apr 22, 2020

I appreciate your article encouraging others to avail themselves of therapy to heal and grow. Therapy can help people take the powerful step of healing generational trauma which seems to be prevalent among families of survivors.

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