After a long struggle with a mentally-crippling illness, my mother died yesterday. Due to her illness and other psychological trauma, we were never able to get as close as I would have liked. She was just not capable. But as a direct result of her passing, I had reached out to my aunts, her sisters, and a world of understanding enveloped me.
Shortly after World War II, at the age of eighteen, my mother left Germany with her mother and three sisters. As a child, I knew my mother was German, but what I never knew was how much the trauma of living in Hitler's Germany had affected her and her family.
In 1933, Hitler began his reign of terror in Germany. That same year both the Gestapo and the Hitler Youth Organization were formed. From 1933 until 1945, my mother's family, like most families in Germany, watched their beloved country change from one of freedom to one of oppression. Our American history books teach us that Germany was so much better off under Hitler and, at first, they were. What the history books don't acknowledge is the psychological trauma...and of course, as Hitler built up his army and prepared for military aggression, the lack of food for the German populace, the long lines in local shops and the rations began.
I remember when I was a child my mother told me that she once ate worms during the war, she was so hungry. She said they weren't so bad if you add chocolate. Though she was probably joking, as a teenager with a growing body, I can only imagine her reality.
Per my discussion with one of my aunts, I was enlightened to a world where six people, a family, struggled not only to survive but because of Hitler's indoctrination of German youth, found it hard to communicate. Each of the six members of their family seemed to live in different worlds coping with their individual reality the best they could.
My aunt also told me of a family where the son had been belligerent with his father in regards to Hitler. In the heat of the moment, the mother had slapped her son. This could have gone so badly for them, but fortunately the son realized his lack of respect and apologized to his father. When my aunt told me that story, I could only imagine the minutes of absolute terror in the hearts of his parents as they awaited their son's reaction.
It has been seventy years since the end of World War II and Hitler's Reich in Germany, but the survivors of his world are still suffering with post traumatic stress. My mother seldom talked about her life in Germany. When she did it was mostly about her childhood years before the war. With her mental illness, I can only imagine the continued post traumatic stress she must have faced daily even as her body slowly shut down over the weekend.