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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

The Holocaust is Obsessed With Us

In July 2021, I wrote a blog about a conspiracy of silence among therapists of the 1970's through the 1980's. I questioned why my unusual family background was discounted as an influence during my formative years of childhood. Perplexed that living in a large metropolitan area populated by a sizable Jewish population, a psychotherapist who treated me seemed unaware of ongoing research regarding the characteristics of children of Holocaust survivors. This week I had the pleasure to listen and watch a live streamed video of a psychiatrist from Vancouver B.C. Dr. Robert Krell, a child survivor of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, describe his experiences and those of other survivors and their families. Born in 1940, he emigrated to Canada--with his parents, also survivors--in the very early 1950's. He earned his medical degree in the United States. Dr. Krell treated and studied Holocaust survivors for decades. He corrobrated my observations, which I have included in the two memoirs I have written about my family. During the post World War II period, professionals recommended that survivors forget past trauma. The denial which resulted from this advice profoundly influenced the victims and future generations. Dr. Krell stated that the world began to regard the survivors of the Holocaust in a different light in the 1980's. Imagine, 40 years after an event, psychologists and sociologists realize that surviving trauma effected the overall adaptation of victims and their offspring. Think about the time span for a moment: given the latency between precipitating event and serious study of the negative consequences to the victims would have us considering the "boat people" of southeast Asia in 2021! Returning to my experience, Dr. Krell clearly stated that psychotherapists, in the 1970's and 1980's, were in denial about the survivors of the Holocaust. These same psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers were terrified to delve into a subject that possibly touched them or at the least was a horrific chapter in recent history. Though the therapists encouraged introspection, the message to "get on with your life" was the cogent message. I was told, "why are you so concerned what your mother did," or "that was the Depression, everyone did that." Actually I still hear this type of comment. But the truth is that my mother was a young child in Germany during the Depression. And my father was a child and teenager, living a fairly privileged existence, at the time, with the exception of the growing threat of Nazis. Would my psychological growth have accelerated if I had been aware of the commonalities among children of trauma victims? If my therapist would have regarded me as part of a group? A question that occupies my mind yet remains impossible to answer. I am not complaining for I feel fortunate, but my curiousity is piqued. Dr. Krell reported that survivors, including himself, often are questioned: "Can't you put the Holocaust behind you?" or "Why are you obsessed with the Holocaust?" I have had these accusatory questions posed to me. Dr. Krell eloquently answered, "The Holocaust is obsessed with us!" My original family is embedded in the neural pathways and cells of my brain, in the form of memory and ingrained patterns of thought. Yes, I have evolved. I am not particularly dysfunctional as a human. But just ask my niece, she will tell you. Recently, she exclaimed, "You and Mom are exactly alike. You are one." My sister and I are polar opposites in personality; yet, apparently our fundamental behaviors originate from the same source in time and place, which would be the 1950's in San Francisco. However, not so--our mother and father and grandmothers remained in Shanghai, Berlin, and Konstanz, Germany. Actually, the adults who raised my sister and I lived in the dark alleys and narrow streets of memories, regrets, and guilt. *Originally heard on October 28, 2021, by Dr. Robert Krell. ©2021 Karen Levi

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