Hate crimes pass legacy of trauma onto survivors

www.bethyam.orgApril 25, 2014 

19940901 Jewish star

The children of Holocaust survivors are also affected by the horrors experienced by their parents.

ROBERGE — McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Earlier this month, a man went to a Jewish Community Center and Jewish assisted living facility for seniors outside of Kansas City, Missouri, and killed three people: a grandfather, a teenager and a woman who was visiting her recuperating mother.

He is accused of shooting them in the parking lots of these institutions because he thought they were Jewish. They were not. They were Christians.

The alleged shooter was escorted to a police car and heard saying, "Heil, Hitler."

No doubt this crime will create the usual response: Gun lobbies will say this is why we need more guns on the street; clergy will hold community services; the media will gear up for another story that dominates the news cycle; politicians will decry the crime; and many words will be written about how hate crimes -- and, in this case, anti-Semitism -- are a virus that continues to spread.

But how do the relatives of the deceased continue to live? What is the long-range impact of these crimes? How do these memories of being mistaken for a Jew and shot down in cold blood become part of the family history to be passed down from generation to generation?

On April 27, Jewish communities will observe Holocaust Memorial Day with commemoration programs throughout the world. In our community wide memorial service, our focus will be on the second generation, that is, the children of those who survived the concentration camps or who fled as refugees before, during and after World War II.

The Holocaust is, of course, very different from an isolated crime, even though the recent killings in Overland Park, Boston, Newtown and even Fort Hood were also fueled by hatred. But when I sat down with the adult children of Holocaust survivors, I could sense a generational impact that applies to these incidents.

Some children of survivors remember their parents saying nothing about the Nazis or their lives in Europe before and during the outbreak of Nazism. Others only came to learn about these crimes in their teens and young adulthood. Most children of survivors want to know the secrets their parents protected them from, some even insisting they hear them. It is a complicated healing process, and I have known some who emerged strong and resilient and others whose lives never developed in a healthy manner because of unresolved memories.

My question in these kinds of tragic circumstances is whether one can pass on post-traumatic stress disorder from one generation to the next?

I feel confident that the community and interfaith services conducted in the wake of hate crimes teach that God is the source of comfort and consolation. What concerns me, though, is what pastoral or mental health counseling the survivors of the deceased will receive after the services are over.

All Americans should mourn deaths that stem from hate crimes -- all hate crimes, whether driven by faith or sexual orientation or race. The families of those who survive these crimes are facing profound loss and have a lifetime of challenges ahead of them. Many of the children of Holocaust survivors know this all too well.

As a nation, we must address what causes a person to commit a hate crime so that we can build a better and safer world for the next generation. We also must condemn those who propagate hatred as their ideology. Most importantly, though, we must offer continued support and compassion to those who lose loved ones because of or who survive a hate crime.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.

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