“More than 100 years”
by Renée Roberts
Let me tell you a story.
I am approaching 70 years old. I have an aunt living in New York City who will soon be 102. A few years ago we went down to the city to celebrate her 100th birthday.
I am from a Jewish family, both sides. My father’s family immigrated to the United States around the turn of the century, but my mother’s family escaped just before the Warsaw ghetto was closed.
I was talking to my Aunt Harriet at her birthday party and asked her to what she attributed her long life. She answered that she has always looked on the positive side of things, and when I thought about it, I do not remember ever seeing her uncontrollably emotional, even when she lost a beloved husband and a dear companion, or other members of our family.
That was until we moved on to some genealogical questions. My cousins and I have all grown up knowing that one of our aunts, her husband, and their son were murdered by Nazis at Auschwitz. But I didn’t know the little boy’s name.
My aunt’s demeanor immediately changed. We called him Stepke, she said, because his name, Shloime was the same as my father’s. She was visibly upset. Before the Nazis took his parents away, they took him, she said. He was blond and blue-eyed. Nobody in the family knew what happened to him – whether he was murdered, tortured, or given away to another family.
My aunt looked at me. If he was still alive, she said, her voice quivering, I would adopt him and tell him about his real family and love him.
She had been carrying that loss inside her entire life. And so had all of her siblings. It was a loss so unspeakable that nobody ever spoke of it.
So, to answer the question, when a child is ripped away from the family, how long does trauma last? It lasts more than a lifetime. More than a generation. Longer than memory. More than 100 years.
Renée Roberts, Ph.D., is Director Foundation Relations for Fairwinds – Nantucket’s Counseling Center.