For “Second Genners,” as the children of Holocaust Survivors are often referred, “memory” is not a simple construct. Rather, it encompasses the obligation to memorialize our murdered ancestors, not only by reciting special prayers and commemorating Yom HaShoah, but virtually experiencing their suffering that filters through our DNA.
It is a profoundly deep level of consciousness evolving from constant exposure to those who have lived through traumatic psychic injury. The soul damaging destruction caused by the Holocaust infiltrates second and even third generation descendants, with recent research bearing this out. We have inherited unconscious memories not of our own making, but feeling no less real. While we may not experience the same level of threat when these memories surface, we are on alert. Images that should be perceived for what they actually represent are transformed into memories of something much more sinister.
For my father, the worst of those memories occurred when he was in the hospital for heart or back surgery. It was as though he had been sucked into a wormhole. It was 1939 again and reality became a nightmare for survival. He would rip the intravenous tubes out of his arm and climb onto the window sill when no one was in the room. When my brother and I would visit, he spoke to us in a hushed voice, sometimes even in Polish which we did not speak, urging us to run and hide from the demons chasing him.
While I have never suffered such delusions, I am nonetheless sensitized to these types of images. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses treating my father had no clue what to do other than forcibly restrain him. This of course just increased his fear.
As someone who has always tried to face my anxieties, I have wrestled with the evil that haunted my father and still lurks in my own head. Instead of pushing those thoughts away, I have chosen to study and ultimately transform them. This process has taken me on a path towards reconciliation through restorative justice – my gateway to peace.