Gated Grief

Gated Grief: The Daughter of a GI Liberator Faces Her Inheritance of Trauma

Leila Levinson’s story

I grew up proud of my surgeon father who had tended to wounded GIs in WWII from the moment he landed right behind them on Utah Beach to their entering and defeating Nazi Germany. But I also grew up lonely and sad, having been separated from my mother in a police station after she was caught shoplifting and never seeing her again.  My father refused to talk about her, to explain where she was, what had happened. Silence encased us. My sadness seemed invisible, and by high school full blown depression descended on me. But I kept persevering in being the good daughter. When I became a mother my world began to collapse around me, as the depression deepened and nightmares made deep sleep impossible.

But my father, perhaps unconsciously had left me clues to our family’s unhappy history: photographs in his WWII army trunk- a shoebox full that documented his division’s fight across Western Europe. At the bottom of the pile lay blurred images of piles of bodies. Skeletal bodies. Some in striped pajama like uniforms.

My father had witnessed a Nazi concentration camp. And had never even mentioned it. In fact, he barely could talk about the Holocaust, only saying when I came home nearly frantic from seeing a movie about Auschwitz, “Don’t think it can’t happen here.”

After finding the photographs I began asking relatives what they knew, and an aunt told me my father’s division had liberated Nordhausen, a slave labor camp, and for two weeks he had treated survivors, only to suffer a “nervous breakdown.” The Army sent him to the Riveria for “R&R,” where he stayed for many months, returning from Europe six months after all the other GIs.

I did not know what to do with this information, It upended my understanding of my father, of our family. What had Nordhausen done to him?  And what implications did that have for me?

I set out to find and speak with other veterans of WWII who had also helped to liberate concentration camps. As I spoke with close to sixty men and one woman I encountered similar stories: how they had no idea what they would find behind the camp gates, how they went into complete and total shock, how all the other horrors of the war paled in comparison, how no none could begin to speak about it- not to fellow GIs or to people back home who didn’t want to hear about such unpleasantness. How most still couldn’t speak about it to their wives, and none could to their children.  “I love them too much.”  “I want to shield them from the horror.” But then they would also say, “They don’t want to know. They don’t ask.”

These GI liberators have been living for almost sixty-five years with terrible trauma- not the kind that creates violence or alcoholism, but the kind that encases them in unresolved grief, in unremitting sadness.

And I saw how my depression, my sadness was a direct result of my father’s. Despite his best intentions, he had transmitted his trauma to me. And my depression was passing it along to my children.

It was time to break the chain.

And so the photographs began a long healing, a reckoning and wrenching turning around. I had to let go of the safety of depression. I had to open myself to looking back with clear eyes and feeling long denied anger, to trust that it would not destroy me.

I could not have taken that step if the veterans I spoke with had not shown me the generosity and courage of speaking their stories. I hope I returned the favor by showing sympathy and ability to take in their words, that I showed myself strengthened for hearing their stories rather than diminished. I hope that after telling me, they were one step closer to telling their own children.

Let us all speak our truths. We cannot afford not to.

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فروشگاه اینترنتی خرید ساعت مچی ساعت مچی مردانه ساعت مچی زنانه قهوه نسکافه