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Notes from The German Trauma

The book is a collection of essays, written from the 1970's to the very early 21st century. The writer, Gita Sereny, was born in 1923 in Vienna. Ms. Sereny was objective and fair. She is not Jewish but refused to comply with the Nazis. Ms. Sereny left her native Austria as a teenager. She gave up a career as an actress to become an investigative journalist. During World War II, she cared for orphans in France. Immediately after the war, she investigated the kidnapping of Polish children by the Nazis.      Reading this book was informative and intense. There were times I had to catch my breath. The work is a compilation for readers who have a solid background in Holocaust history. The subject of the essays ranges from descriptions of the post war generation to the writer's experiences during the war to interviews with infamous actors from the period. I read most of the essays, but I skipped a few which were completely outdated. One caveat--I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors.      The "baby boomers" of Germany grew up in homes, shrouded in mystery, similar to the children of Holocaust survivors did in the 1950's--1970's all over the world. The majority of Jews will squirm at my thesis (derived from reading the book). How can the children of victims be compared to the offspring of perpetrators or bystanders of unspeakable violence? To come of age in a household with unspoken questions and responses is to be ignorant of aspects of one's history, to be insecure and anxious. Growing up with parents preoccupied with unresolved emotions regarding past trauma results in unstable parent-child relationships characterized by the transmission of misundertood grief and guilt. Children assume their complicity in problems their parents experience. Irregardless that children cannot possibly be responsible. Sensing overriding anxiety in a household disrupts the normal psychological development of an individual. Youngsters learn dysfunctional means for dealing with relationships in a home permeated with angst, especially unexplained. The children born in the mid to late 1940's to 1960 in Germany were raised by adults who had witnessed various tragedies of World War II or that their parents were Nazis or fought as soldiers.      The offspring of Holocaust survivors were born to parents scarred in terrible ways, whether they lived in a DP camp, the United States, or Israel. It is interesting that Germans became desentized to the war trials and the plight of the victims. Life moved on, and there was no time or an environment conducive to honest reflection of their complicity. This reaction is similar to the majority of survivors unable to share the horrors of the Holocaust with others. There were jobs to be done, children to be raised, and adjustments to a new life to be made.      America in the 1950's and 1960's was not a place to speak about the dreadful attrocities of World War II. Native born Americans wanted to enjoy the plenty of the post war period and put the Depression and war behind them. Life was fun, pretty, and clean. West Germans wanted to eat again, clean up the rubble, and be accepted in the family of nations. And guilt was too horrible to ponder, accept, and communicate with others. Holocaust survivors in the United States of the post war period aimed to assimilate, procreate, and foremost to be American. No time to think about dead relatives or why the Holocaust occurred. "Holocaust Survivor" was not a designation yet. I dare say most wanted to be normal and left alone.Yet people still whispered, "she was in a 'camp'". And these "survivors" denied the hardships they endured. For German children, growing up, thinking about what one's father, grandfather, or uncle carried out during the war, had to be a living nightmare. Bad news is unpleasant. Not knowing is worse.      The writer interviewed several criminals from World War II. She spoke with Franz Stangl in prison. Mr. Stangl compartmentalized, rationalized, evaded, and repressed his actions. He finally admitted "guilt" to Ms. Sereny and died the next day, still incarcerated.He was an uneducated man which was a commonality among Hitler's highest advisors and generals. Albert Speer was interviewed in his sumptous houses. And he was more arrogant and resistant to introspection. Not surprisingly, he survived prison. He used the word "guilt" in association for his wrongdoing during the war, but he fell short of admitting remorse and repenting. Ms. Sereny observed the John Demjanjuk trial in Israel that began in 1986. She felt he should have been aquitted due to inconsistent evidence, the age of the witnesses, the arguments of the prosecution and defense. The author agreed that this man was a liar and probably engaged in violent acts against innocent civilians. And she stressed that claiming that a case is faulty is not condoning murder and torture.      The women in Hitler's life were a remarkable--not in a positive way--bunch. Leni Riefenstahl, the infamous actress and filmaker, loved Hitler, as did various secretaries. Hitler was attracted to beautiful women. Riefenstahl was a success in her own right; so why she attached herself to the madman is mysterious and bizarre. Again, extreme compartmentalization occured with these women's interactions with Hitler. Their observations and comments are mind-boggling and deeply disturbing. His final secretary calmly described meals with Hitler, attending to his needs, and transcribing his last will and testament. These females did not appear insane but must have been sociopaths in disguise. "The blocking of memory is very simply the inability of the mind to take issue and deal with an experience which is unacceptable to the mind or spirit. It is very dangerous to block the mind: dangerous for the individual, his environment, but also in the context that has not yet even been touched upon tonight--to the whole community." Leopold Lowenthal (from The German Trauma by Gita Sereny)

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