They say that it takes at least 10 generations for traumas to fade from the DNA of the traumatized. Studies have shown that trauma actually alters your DNA and can be found in your offspring and their offspring, and so on down the line.
I grew up Jewish, but not in a religious way. We were Jewish in the way that we had big dinners during the holidays and focused on spending time together as a family. My father would quickly tell the traditional story of Passover every year, and then launch into a paper he read about two PhDs in the 1960s who found a scientific cause for the 10 plagues of Egypt and thus the ending of Jewish slaves. Or, he would ask us to try and find a scientific reason to explain how one day of oil could have lasted for eight days.
My family came to New York City after being run out of Russia during the 1903-1906 pogroms*. They were in contact with the family they left behind until 1930, when the letters stop coming; and they were never heard from again. These traumas have yet to fade from my family line.
This current presidential administration has brought that trauma and fear to a level I haven’t felt before. The rhetoric makes my heart stop and my stomach drop. More than that, the attack on the capitol has brought it to a new height that I couldn’t imagine. Armed people flashing white supremacists hand signs and wearing “camp Auschwitz” shirts attacked the government. People brought Confederate and Nazi-inspired flags and waved them through the halls of our legislature.
In 2002, I joined 150 other Jewish youths from around the world, and we went to see the “camps” in Poland. It’s called the March of the Living. I toured Auschwitz with a survivor who was imprisoned there during the war. He told me “This is where I slept,” “This is where I saw my mother and sister for the last time,” “This is where I hid from Mengele.” I saw the shoes piled up, the eyeglasses in a heap. At Majdanek, I saw seven tons of human ash they hadn’t had time to dispose of before Liberation. I walked into a gas chamber that could be operational in 24 hours, the Nazis left so quickly. I didn’t think I would have to worry about this happening in my country, a supposed bastion of democracy, but now I do.
While living in Israel, I had friends who had escaped Iran in the 70’s, friends who walked to Israel from Sudan to escape the violence. I taught English to Eritreans who had fled to Israel to escape the dictatorship in their country. In my “peace and conflict management” classes, I studied Rwanda as a case study for community justice, truth commissions and coming together after violent conflict. My friends, students, and the material I studied all concluded that this is how it begins.
I learned about the insurrection in Washington D.C. while I was in Oregon on a business trip. I had just taken the most magical hike through the woods, and then I got into the car to go back to the hotel, and I heard on the radio what had happened, and the fear started to rise.
As my husband and I were listening to everything unfolding on the drive back to Colorado, I turned to him and said, “If our democracy fails and these people take over, you have to deny knowing my heritage and your love for me.” I talked about other contingency plans in case I am no longer welcome as an American citizen, and he chided me for my panic. But I told him that he doesn’t have this trauma in his recent past. That people have never come for him or his family in the night, never burned his family’s villages to the ground, never rounded his family up and disposed of them. Never had his country decried, his nationality, and humanity.
In 1918, the German navy went on strike for lack of wages and poor command; soon the army followed. Kaiser Wilhelm was forced to abdicate and surrender to allied forces, ending World War I. But the German people didn’t see it that way. A lie was created and perpetuated to keep up the spirits of the German people who were feeling the humiliation of the defeat. The lie was “undefeated on the battle field,” a slogan the German people used to greet their soldiers coming home from the Front. It meant that while the government had given up, the soldiers were brave, valiant, and most of all, undefeated. Those who believed and perpetuated the lie talked about how it was the Jews and the Socialists who had forced the Kaiser to abdicate and surrender, so blame should be laid at their feet for the suffering of the German people. Humiliation was compounded by the harsh measures the Allies put on the Germans following the war, and the feelings of resentment grew. It wasn’t hard for Hitler to play on the resentment which was turning to hatred. It took all of five years for this lie to whip up the hate required for the Nazis to implement the Final Solution.
As for the genocide in Rwanda, while not as sophisticated as the Final Solution, it was started a few hours after the plane carrying the Presidents of Burundi and Rwanda was shot down. The Hutu majority were ruled by the Tutsi minority, the Tutsi having been chosen by the Belgian colonizers to be the ruling class. After decades of class discrimination and hardship, the Hutu Rwandans felt that balance and democracy could only be had through a violent cleansing of the Tutsi.
In a nutshell, the Hutu militias that had been forming in the few years previous to this incident immediately took violent control of the government and the state-run communications where they spread propaganda and incited the Hutu citizens to “kill their Inyenzi”** Tutsi neighbors. The killing lasted 100 days and nearly one million people were slaughtered.
People have been asking me if I am worried about Inauguration Day, or the days leading up to it, and I have to laugh at their nearsightedness. I am not looking at the next few days or the next few months, I am looking at the next decade. This “stop the steal” could become this county’s “undefeated on the battlefield.” These militias could grow and become more organized, and in a year or two, stage an insurrection that succeeds.
When I hear the rhetoric from this administration and those Senators and Congresspeople defending the President’s words and actions… when I see these violent attacks… my heart races and I swear I can almost hear the sound of boots marching down the street, coming for me.
*Pogrom is a Russian word designating an attack, accompanied by destruction, looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another. In modern Russian history pogroms have been perpetrated against other nations (Armenians, Tatars) or groups of inhabitants.
**Inyenzi is the Kinyarwanda word for cockroach. Kinyarwanda is one of the national languages of Rwanda.
The name of the author of this Opinion piece has been withheld by request, due to the current violent actions and harassments taking place in America against people because of their race, religion, ethnic origin, gender, and more, in order to protect the writer. The Lyons Recorder has confirmed the identify of the person, and that they have written this piece for publication.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Opinion Column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any staff member, contributing writer, or the Lyons Recorder. The article is presented for the readers’ information and entertainment purposes.