Reliving My Mother’s Nightmare as a Holocaust Survivor in Trump’s America

As a part of Holocaust Remembrance Day, on which we remember the systematic extermination of six million Jews and millions more who were killed because of who they were, PoliticusUSA’s Adalia Woodbury talks about living in Trump’s America as the direct descendant of a Holocaust survivor.

In the years immediately after finishing my formal education, the work I did wasn’t relevant to my life. It was easy to separate my emotions from the writing I did. I wasn’t part of the issue at hand, it didn’t touch anyone I loved or knew.

A while ago, I was advised to put more of myself into my writing. It went against my training, but the biggest reason is because it hurts too much.

For the past 3 years I’ve felt as if I’m relieving my mother’s nightmare – but at a different stage in life and in a different part of the world. This was supposed to be part of the world that valued and accepted everyone; that recognized knowledge as a virtue.

It was supposed to be beyond the petty tribalism has denied some people peace for centuries. It was like the lights went on everything good the moment the clock struck 12 noon January 20, 2017.

This whole business of objectifying people who look, sound, pray or love differently than the cookie cutter image of Mr. and Mrs. Stepford is so juvenile and such a pathetic waste of energy. The destruction and the suffering are so unnecessary and again a waste of energy.

The worst thing is that Trump made all of us the walking wounded for the rest of our lives. Sure, there are some freaks of nature out there salivating as Trump calls human beings scum, dogs, animals, and other equally dehumanizing labels. But we’re all walking wounded. Some of us just don’t know it. Others know it too well.

I know about the walking wounded, because that was my mother. She was a brilliant scientist who was nominated for the Nobel Prize. It was one of those times when yeah, it’s a big deal just to be nominated. That’s because my mother was an immigrant, a Holocaust survivor and a woman. In those days, on this side of the Atlantic – who you were still determined what you could accomplish in life. Unless you were born here, were white and Christian, you had to be truly extraordinary to be considered adequate.

She did it. She was truly extraordinary in her work, which by logic meant she wasn’t at home doting over me. No milk and cookies after school. But, I always knew she loved me. If I called and needed help she was there. If it meant talking about a crises at midnight because that’s when she got home from work, we did. It’s why I thought nothing of bringing her corgi over here from Europe – to fulfill her last wish.

Nothing was too hard if it was to have my mother’s back or she mine.

And for all the amazing things my mother was she, like many Holocaust survivors, had her dark moments. Maybe hers was like other peoples, or maybe it was different. That I don’t know. I can only know that she relieved nightmares from the Nazi era until the last days of her life. She had nightmares and there were times she had symptoms a lot like ptdsd. I had to learn how to look after her – talk her down from the ledges in her nightmares when I was a young girl. Not that I had a clue what to do. But, I figured loving her, listening to her would be better than nothing.

My mom told me bits and pieces about what life was like during her childhood. She told me about the early years when her dad was a diplomat, later when her mother ghost wrote resistance like articles. Later still when her mother died at the young age of 32. A year later, the grandmother who volunteered to help raise my mother and her siblings, died too.

That led them to the woman I knew as my grandmother. Then came the war, and a lifetime of nightmares that would last a lifetime.

My mother saw a friend of hers blown up on a bridge – minutes after their last conversation. She saw people shot in the town square – because that’s what Nazis did to keep people in line.

The main challenge in life was staying alive and keeping your moral compass.  As my grandfather would tell my mom, you can’t fight if you’re dead.

It means a constant resistance to the propaganda that promoted the evils of Nazism as if they were okay, normal even justifiable. My mother figured the best way to street proof me as a child was to teach me about logic, rational analysis and how to recognize fallacies.

My mother’s family had to move to a different country, with fake ID’s and identities because, crazy as this sounds, it wasn’t like they could ask the Nazis for help as they sought asylum in another country.

My mother and her siblings’ lives depended on an ability to look, sound and act like people native to that country. The thing I got from that is that nationalism is merely membership in a club and it’s possible to join any club provided that you conform.

But if exposed as a fake, bang, bang you’re dead in the town square so that others see what Nazis do to real or perceived traitors.

Resisting the Nazis still happened, but not quite the same way as some people here think should have happened. I can say with absolute certainty that second amendment remedies wouldn’t have achieved a thing when put up against tanks and bomber planes.

But I digress. Children would organize to get the Nazi propagandist kicked out of their school. Small things like that because saving your soul still mattered. Holding on to who you are and what you believe in matters – even if gift wrapped in an ethnic or religious disguise.

And while some would point to the fakeness of pretending to fit in, the fact is people who could be trusted were eventually told the truth. They got it and continued to accept my mom, her father and her siblings.

That was the other big lesson. Ultimately, it is possible to live in diversity if you’re willing to do so. And no, the minorities in your neighborhood aren’t there to steal from you. They just want to live – just like you.

My mother told me about some of the good times – which were few but they did happen. After all, she would explain, no one knew if the war would end or how it would end so they had to keep living and making the best of a truly horrible situation.

With that as the backdrop to my life, I find it truly ridiculous for people like Donald Trump to complain because the press was mean to them. I’m beyond angry with the people who voted for Trump’s reign of terror because they felt ignored. Sorry, but feeling ignored doesn’t justify placing millions of people under the siege of Trump and his hate filled band of nationalistic thugs.

In fact, any interest I had in wanting to make life better for people who got screwed in the Republican built economy – for decades – was lost as I was consumed with fear, anger, depression over the latest mass shooting at a Synagogue, or the most recent horrible thing Trump said about brown people, or images of babies in cages.

But after a bit of time, I came to the realization that any kind of division strengthens Trump. So yes, a time must come to forgive people who voted for him without understanding what they were voting for. However, I remain angry and frustrated with those who remain tied to the “MAGA” illusion. Fortunately, I continue to live well, love well while they continue to consume snake oil.

Like my mom was during the war, I’m forever walking wounded. All of us are. We’ll feel it differently and it will affect us differently. We’ll have moments of determination and others where we just feel defeated – yet ultimately we refuse to give in – to succumb to the evil.

The most frustrating and heartbreaking thing about all of this is it was so unnecessary and it’s unlikely we can ever just reach back in time – to forget this ever happened. And so, the cycle of trauma and that determination to survive with morals intact continues.