Many of us, me included, are triggered by Shabbos and holidays like Passover; for whatever reason it brings back bad memories and we can’t or won’t go back there.
What exactly happened to me? I just don’t know, and was trying to figure this out last night after watching an episode of the Israeli show “Prisoners of War.” That (fictional) show, upon which “Homeland” is based, somehow gets me very upset every time.
The show portrays 2 Israeli soldiers who return from 17 years of captivity in Syria. The men try to get back to life, but at every step their minds are flooded by memories of the most extreme physical and psychological torture.
Nobody tortured me. Nobody did anything to me. And yet, things happened. And they weren’t normal. I know this not from my own memory, which is largely blank, but from the very specific attitudes of very specific people. In fact I would go so far as to say that it is a generation of us, walking around, haunted.
Well beyond our specific homes and our specific parents there was a silent curse that hung over all of us. It is the curse of the ovens, of cattle cars, of laughing soldiers playing rape, of families stripped and starved and robbed and made to turn upon one another. It is an entire generation crying why…why me…why us. What did we do. Why did You abandon us.
Those were our grandparents, and we’re in our forties now. Our parents did everything they could to apologize for being a burden. They took care of Bubbie and Zayde or Grandma and Grandpa or Oma and Opa and nobody could upset them. The Holocaust was never spoken of, it was the past and we were not to go back there. But they showed us movie after movie in school, silently screaming, look at what they did to us! Look at what they did!
There is no question that the survivors’ children bore the burden. And they became sick from it, and they transmitted it to us. What should have been happy times, celebrating with family, instead became fraught with tension and worry and lies and shame. Because honestly, there were the ordinary problems, compounded by the trauma, and the fact that nobody – nobody – could break the code of silence.
I made myself a promise when I had kids. Because initially I did not set out to marry; I didn’t want to pass on the trauma any further. But God has a way of making lessons out of our fears, and I did fall in love and we had children. The only thing I said to myself, over and over, was: “The sickness stops with them. It stops.”
You realize as you get older that you never controlled anything. And when they grow up and leave, that point is really driven home.
“You’re upset?” said my aunt, a long time ago. “Blame Hitler, that bastard. Look what he did to us.”
At our small but heartfelt Seder tonight, I will be doing just that. I hate that evil man for what he did to my parents and my grandparents. I hate how he turned us into a group so fearful, we can’t even stand on an orderly line for food, because we’re terrified of starvation.
The truth is, I am not free. I feel it, I cry it, it is real at the cellular level. Whatever would have been me, was melted down by what happened to my people.
Pesach, though, represents a chance to be reborn. Not bound to Hitler anymore. Not by hatred and not by decades of trauma.
To say, it’s over. F— Hitler. I will use every ounce of pain in my body to fight him. I will spend the rest of my life if I have to, fighting every single thing that he represents: hatred, dictatorship and the abuse of vulnerable people.
F— you, Hitler.
We made it, thank God.
By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License For more information: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/