Intergenerational trauma in times of modern day Nakba.

For over a month now I keep reading the news with disbelief and shock.

See, I was born and raised in Poland- a centre of second world war atrocities, Holocaust and mass murder of civilians. Three out of my four grandparents had to leave their home and the city/ village of their origin and could never go back. One of them still remembers the city of Warsaw on fire after the bombing and the scary way out of the bombarded city. One was pushed out of a car heading towards the wood for a mass execution- his live saved by adults who have all been killed. All of my grandparents where children when this happened.

We are all centred in our own stories and perspectives, and so from the Polish point of view it was Polish people who have suffered the most -millions dead and displaced – our capital Warsaw being destroyed in 90 percent. The history I learned treated the loss of Polish Jews as a loss of Polish citizens- they lived in Poland and where a big part of our culture. I named my own son after a poet Julian Tuwim – a Polish Jew.

The words “never again” have been engraved inside my soul since childhood. War is more than a memory when you grow up in Poland- the buildings are often “adorned” with holes from shootings, never repaired, every family you know has stories to tell, the phrase ” before the war” is used almost every day. The past is deeply felt and yet the collective trauma was never acknowledged.

When I moved to Canada one of the things I loved the most about this “new world” was the lack of this collective trauma. The lack of horrible family memories that influence how people act and think. Lack of the ” something bad will happen” feeling in the air.

Apparently it takes up to three generations to rid of the generational trauma- I’m the third one.

And while it may be over for my family soon- as my children hopefully won’t inherit it – it’s starting all over again for thousands of hundreds if not millions of others.

But what is a post war intergenerational trauma you may ask?

The first generation who have first handedly experienced the horrors of war will usually live with a PTSD- sleep problems, outburst of anger, deep generalized anxiety, victimisation of self and difficulty with taking rational decisions that are not influenced by emotions. They want to feel safe but they never do.

The second generation is raised by unstable emotionally parents. They’re often feed with war horror stories told around the dinner table- told in an unemotional factual way. They often struggle with anxieties and survivors guilt. They’ll have an acute reaction to any potential danger and a deep need to “feel safe” like their parents.

The third generation, raised by adultes full of anxieties will see the world as mostly dangerous, will learn to always be prepared for the worst case scenario, and most likely will live with anxieties too.

Now, I think it’s interesting to see how each of these generations reacts to wars happening elsewhere.

The first one will react with fear. They might say they’re scared without saying why- finding other reasons to the overwhelming feelings of fear yet not wanting to acknowledge that it’s the conflict that triggered them. Remember, thy have mostly likely never worked through their trauma. Their PTSD symptoms will worsen. The second one might say they feel unsafe even if the conflict is far and does not really involve them. Or they might be re centering the conversation to their own feelings. They might either be overwhelmed or completely cut off their emotions. As a third generation I must say we are at best more involved emotionally then people raised in families without the intergenerational war trauma- and at worst we might repeat the patterns of our parents and grandparents behavior.

Now, I say this all from my psychological perspective, form observation of my own family and many, many other families that have lived with the post war intergenerational trauma- and from reading articles such as this, this and this here.

And my point is that people with this trauma are biased. They re center the narrative about their own fear, they continue saying they need to feel safe- but the truth is they won’t ever feel safe.

And yet you hear them the most in news giving their opinion. They are the ones making decisions. They are the ones who will start a story by – my grandparents are survivors- my family suffered greatly- we are the family of victims of 2WW. My grandmother had to run away from the bombarded Warsaw and my grandfather as a child was almost killed. See, even I am recentering the narrative.

And as they re center the narrative about their own feelings on CNN, as they bend political decisions to their own insecurities on BBC, as they let their anxieties guide their choices while voting against a ceasefire-thousands of people in Palestine are being killed.

When I look at my Polish family and at my Jewish friends, as I read news and social media posts it’s so clear to me that the post war intergenerational trauma is the main guide of their actions:

  • the irrational fear of never feeling safe enough
  • the re centring of narrative to their own feelings even if they live far far away now
  • the cognitive dissonance of “we are a peace loving nation” – confronted with the number of deaths caused by the ongoing Nakba

And now. You might wander what is Nakba, and why do I mention it again?

So probably just like me you learned history from the american and european perspective. An in that narrative I learned that the country of Israel was simply created. That’s it. And then I learned “it’s complicated”. Only recently did I learned about the Nakba– forced displacement of 750,000 people, mass murder of thousands more, and how their houses, land and freedom was taken away from them. I encourage you to educate yourself- there’s plenty of historical resources now available, including this great book ” The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by a Jewish Historian Ilan Pappe

So going back to the intergenerational trauma in times of modern Nakba that is unfolding in from of our eyes: I think we should realize that so many of us are biased by our fears and irrational thoughts.

And I think that once you see that Nakba, is an indirect result to the trauma that millions of people carried and still carry around the world, you can also see how unjust it is to make Palestinian people pay for the atrocities of Holocaust.

The history is repeating itself because humans did not heal- they just started re creating what they went through. The similarities between Warsaw ghetto and Gaza are chilling. The dehumanisation and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians echoes what Jewish people suffered in the past. The suffering is perpetuated but it’s not justified.

Then you see how “good people” support the cruelty and injustice happening now- because of their cognitive dissonance between the actions of a “good” government that was supposed to make them feel safe- and the apartheid system that it imposed to control the “danger” – the danger being the occupied people, living with no rights or freedoms.

Then you realize that the reaction of thousands of people around the globe who are re centring the narrative to their feelings of insecurity now- while thousands of Palestinians are being killed- all that too is a tragic face of intergenerational trauma.

While I type this the atrocities of war against Palestinians continue- alongside dehumanisation, propaganda and disinformation- all so similar to what already happened before.

Now let me recenter for a second- I can’t stop crying reading the news. And as I look at my Canadian friends I see a shocking for me lack of emotion. They may nod and murmur ” it’s so tragic” as they continue living their lives. They will say it’s horrible but they don’t feel much- they won’t go protesting because it’s too far. Too inconvenient. For me, the third generation, I can’t shake the thought that ” it’s happening again” . Maybe my reaction is too acute- maybe theirs is too detached.

As I look at the second Nakba unfolding in front of our eyes I see the horror that we collectively said won’t happen ever again- happening again. I see the cruelty repeating itself. I see thousands of children killed and orphaned and injured. And I see my own grandmother at 5 years old looking through the threshold at a burning city. The wheel of history repeating itself.

I could allude to the articles mentioning the Gaza oil and gas resources involved in this current Nakba, the calculated gain that this conflict will bring to many international companies, the “business of war” involved in it- but that’s not my field of expertise. Google it.

What I can do is remind us that people who make decisions are most likely a second or third generation of intergenerational post war trauma. I can remind you that people who influence the narrative in the media are mostly also carrying this trauma- and that they are biased.

Their fear is guiding them. And fear is never a good guide as it usually leads to aggression and victimisation of self and to dehumanisation of other.

And I can ask you- where you raised in a postwar intergenerational trauma infused family, and if yes, is it possible that it has affected your own reaction to the Nakba happening now? If yes, you’re not alone. But remember, it’s never too late to use your voice for good and change the narrative. It’s never too late to educate ourselves, and to spread what we know now like seeds.

And if you where wondering what does this floral art has to do with anything- creating and painting makes me feel calmer- and the watermelon is a symbol of Palestine. And this quote:” They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we where seeds” by Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos– has become a symbol of resistance. So let’s resist the world that wants us to lose our humanity and look away, and let’s resist our own fears and do whatever we can to help end this madness.

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