Note to Children of Holocaust Survivors-or-Spectacular Suffering
For Marsha; may you always find your cloud with a silver lining.
My parents immigrated to Canada in the early 1950's to make a new home for themselves. I was born in 1955. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I ironically left Canada when I was twenty to study in Europe. At the time, I was confused, searching for answers to questions I did not even know how to ask. I needed to understand my family's past, humanities past, how could people, human beings allow such horrors such as the Holocaust take place? As a student at the University of Zuerich (1975-83), I formally started a dream notebook on 11.11.1977 in search of answers. I had numerous dreams of pre-WW II Germany, WW II and the Holocaust. Two dramatic dreams stand out;
"In a dream that felt very real, I found myself in Hitler's Germany circa 1937-38 and walked around a city for a day and a night with the intent to sense the communal atmosphere that the Germans had at that time". In the dream, "I was walking the streets during the day, observing people going about their business, there was I felt a quiet sense of security". We know this thin venier of the appearance of security and silence, was behaviourally reinforced by the totalitarian threat of being sent to concentration camp.
Then at night, a nightmare emerged, the appearance of security disappeared. In this dream, "I was being taken under armed guard to the gas chambers. I was then completely alone in this empty grey room that had shower heads in the centre of all four walls. The next moment of this scene, a sense of horror engulfed my mind. I was in the gas chamber, my upper torso was coming out of the walls (where the shower heads were), like some hunter's animal trophy (Fromm's Anatomy of Destructiveness discusses the "hunter theory of man" at length) that is often seen in Germany and Europe hanging on walls in restaurants and homes. The upper torso of my body and my head were in gaseous molecular form. I watched (as if disembodied), as out of the centre of all four walls this gaseous mass that was me, was screaming in unthinkable agony, because of the excruciating pain I felt."
Barbara Ehrenreich Blood Rites: Origins and The Passions of War speaks about how reportedly Hitler's given name was derived from the Old German ‘Athalwolf', meaning ‘noble wolf' with which Hitler evidently identified with. Small wonder we find Hitler's Eastern military headquarters named Wolf's Liar, as well the Nazi's naval military tactics were dominated by the Wolfpack. Hitler's animalistic and militaristic metaphor then can read as the Nazi hunters stocking its prey, namely the enemies of his Third Reich. The Nazi predators had vanquished millions of its prey in the death camps. Simon Wiesenthal a Holocaust survivor would after the end of the war then hunt the Nazi hunters. Adolf Eichmann was one of the hunted and captured, he was found guilty and hung for crimes against humanity.
Most likely my dream was influenced by my reading of such books like Fromm's Anatomy of Destructiveness, Night by Elie Wiesel and Third Reich of Dreams, although they were not by any stretch of the imagination the exclusive anamnestic (memory) sources. Not a day goes by that I am not somehow reminded by the unspeakable agonies of that dream I call The Nazi Chamber of Horror. Nor have I ever forgotten the psychohistory of my own psychological trauma and pain and suffering. Spectacular Suffering: Theatre, Facism, and The Holocaust by Vivian M Patraka explains the Nazi's political spectacle of horror, the theatre of injury, agonizing pain and injustice of the atrocities and the crimes against humanity witnessed in the Holocaust and in my nightmare. It remains however, an explanation not a remedy.
I have never visited the Holocaust memorials in Germany, Europe, Canada or the United States although I have had many an opportunity. In 1968, I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I have read about the Holocaust, visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. That, and my nightmares surrounding the Holocaust were enough for my taste and my stomach. In 1996 my family completed a video (Survivors of the SHOAH established by Steven Spielberg) documenting our families experiences with the consequences of the Holocaust.
When I was in a serious motor vehicle accident in 1999, Chagall's Jerusalem Windows were before my eyes for three days. I never would have consciously imagined that my mind when my body was close to death would go there for spiritual consolation (comfort). The Jerusalem windows image faded, as I was weened off pain killers. About five years ago (2005) I visited a friend's mother (who had survived concentration camp) shortly before she died, she told me that she was constantly hallucinating about being back in concentration camp. Proving not only, that traumatic and tragic experiences can only be repressed but never forgotten. As well, that when one is older, even the ability to repress such past traumatic events begins to progressively fail.
Daniel J. Goldhagen "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust" builds his case against the German public, providing his arguments and evidence in the court of public opinion about "who did the killing", and anti-semitism. Goldhagen's remains a superficial historical reading of ordinary German's behaviour. While Goldhagen is reportedly a cousin of mine (my name was originally Mark Goldhagen until I was eight years old), I beg to differ with many of his perceptions and his judgments. I know anti-semitism is alive and well, I had been made to feel it already as a child living in Canada. I had posted an interpretation Anti-semitism -or- Die Juden Frage in 1998. Nowhere in "Hitler's Willing Executioners" are the dreams of the German's living in Nazi Germany seriously discussed, without the dreams of those who did the persecuting and killing, any accurate and consistent historical or forensic and psychopathological understanding of crimes against humanity will remain incomplete and suffer because from their lack.
Ilany Kogan, "The Black Hole of Dread: The psychic reality of children of Holocaust survivors." in; Joseph H. Berke (ed); "Even Paranoids Have Enemies".