Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up. --
History is perceived differently from country to country and
from generation to generation. History is not static and diachronic. In my
book Divided Lives, many of the women that I interviewed claim to discuss
German history as the Germans perceive it and tell it.
The stories of the Mischling women in Divided Lives -- Hecht,
Wecker, Yost, Wilmschen, Lorenzen, Randt, Ilse B., Wetzel, and Bosselmann
-- display vividly the trauma these women endured during and after the Third
Reich, and the coping mechanisms they sought after or adopted. Wilmschen's,
Wetzel's, Bierstedt's, and Bosselmann's mothers were deported to camps. Yost's
and Randt's fathers escaped Germany, Gretel Lorenzen's father was deported
to a camp, Wecker's father was killed by the Nazis, and Hecht's was purportedly
exterminated in Auschwitz.
Many of the women experienced trauma symptoms that did not necessarily
dissipate once they had "purged" their memories. As Laub says --
The traumatic event, although real, took place outside the parameters of "normal"
reality, such as causality, sequence, place and time. The trauma is thus an
event that has no beginning, no ending, no before, no during and no after.
This absence of categories that define it lends it a quality of "otherness,"
a salience, a timelessness and a ubiquity that puts it outside the range of
associatively linked experiences, outside the range of comprehension, of recounting
and of mastery. Trauma survivors live not with memories of the past, but with
an event that could not and did not proceed through to its completion, has
no ending, attained no closure, and therefore, as far as its survivors are
concerned, continues into the present and is current in every respect.
Hence, the women repeatedly commented, "I can't describe this,"
and "you can't imagine" as they attempted to narrate their past lives
in the present. They could not escape the fact that they were victims at one
time, that the people with whom they lived had been their persecutors. This
problem is seen also in the United States, such as with African Americans and
Native Americans. It would seem a difficult thing for anyone to live peacefully
among her tormenters. This problem exists in many other nations. South Africa,
Argentina, and other states have collapsed and been renewed under somewhat less
authoritarian conditions. There is a lot of bitterness and inability to forget.
We must look at the Mid-East, the Balkans, Rwanda/Botswana and other regions
where these hatreds continue for generations and generations. Perhaps it is
just part of the human condition -- not really a disease that can be "healed,"
or a trauma that can be "purged."
The issues that the Mischling women faced can be bridged to the present in
America. In a country verging sometimes on amorality, very often pushed by the
media, we grasp at techniques such as dehumanization, stereotypes, and violence
to talk about or act against "enemies." Do the same fears still predominate
in human nature, those of needing to exterminate for racial cleansing, and the
fear of the unknown?
History is difficult to escape. These Mischling women have little, if any,
support in Germany today. Silence is preferable to talking to the "wrong"
person about their background. Perhaps this is why they still struggle to one
degree or another with their identities. Most Mischlinge who survived do not
have support within the Jüdische Gemeinde (Jewish community). The "mixed"
women are still "mixed" psychologically and socially. They rarely
and cautiously reveal their heritage or their former outcast status so as not
to draw attention to themselves. Often they have not disclosed their past to
children or grandchildren. For the most part, they want to be included in German
society and not be seen as women who were once considered "inferior"
or "outsiders" by the majority.
Even though now they can speak about their past, they protect their current
status. Few of the women had ever spoken, and had not disclosed their identity
split between Jew and Christian. To the outside world, they were Germans. What
these women discuss can be viewed as a warning to other cultures. We see what
transpires from racist fanaticism and fascism. Through these women's narratives
we not only can better understand women's plight under authorized persecution,
but also the personal, individual traumas they withstood in regard to self,
parents, lovers, husbands, children, and career.
During the era of National Socialism, women more than men tended to be attached
to community life, and they were more aware of their disintegrating world. Women
also were expected to remain at home to care for parents and siblings, whereas
men were more mobile and able (by virtue of their gender) to hide or emigrate.
Because these women lived in constant turmoil, with relationships shifting so
dramatically, they had to escape from their lives, essentially, from their selves,
in some manner -- physically, psychologically, or both. Many academics, including
Raul Hilberg, argued that discrimination against the Mischlinge was not severe.
However, the narratives that make up my book dispute such historical suppositions.
As Büttner claims, "Reports of those involved give another picture
of the persecution of that time. That is why a new look at this subject is necessary."