The events occurring now on our border with Mexico, where children are being removed from the arms of their mothers and fathers and sent to foster families or “shelters”, make me weep and gnash my teeth with sadness and rage. I know what they are going through. When we were children, my two siblings and I were also taken from our parents. And the problems we’ve experienced since then portend the terrible things that many of these children are bound to suffer.
My family was Jewish, living in 1942 in the Netherlands when the country was occupied by the Nazis. We children were sent into hiding, with foster families who risked arrest and death by taking us in. They protected us, they loved us, and we were extremely lucky to have survived the war and been well cared for.
Yet the lasting damage inflicted by that separation reverberates to this day, decades hence.
Have you heard the screams and seen the panic of a three-year-old when it has lost sight of its mother in a supermarket? That scream subsides when mother reappears around the end of the aisle.
This is my brother writing in recent years. He tries to deal with his lasting pain through memoir. It’s been 76 years, yet he revisits the separation obsessively. He still writes about it in the present tense:
In the first home I scream for six weeks. Then I am moved to another family, and I stop screaming. I give up. Nothing around me is known to me. All those around me are strangers. I have no past. I have no future. I have no identity. I am nowhere. I am frozen in fear. It is the only emotion I possess now. As a three-year-old child, I believe that I must have made some terrible mistake to have caused my known world to disappear. I spend the rest of my life trying desperately not to make another mistake. [Continue reading…]