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Removing the Mask of Power

“The soldiers came for her at night. They took the girl to a barrack and forced her to watch a woman get raped…..The young witness was next. Five soldiers held her down and took turns….Later, her sister cleaned her up, but they didn’t speak about what had happened. No one talked about such things. They didn’t have to. Or maybe they couldn’t.” – “Silence Lifted: The Untold Stories of Rape During the Holocaust,”, June 24, 2011

Shame loomed large over my family as a child. I don’t know if this had to do withhushed-up child sex abuse in the Holocaust, the extent of which we will never knowbecause the boys and girls who were sexually abused, raped, gang-raped, and prostituted–either by the Nazis or their fellow Jews–kept their mouths sealed firmly shut.

After the Holocaust, the victims went on to get married and have kids. If at that point they didn’t keep their mouths shut, the researchers did it for them because “why harm survivors who’ve suffered enough.”

When I was growing up we did not talk about the Holocaust. We didn’t bring it up at the dinner table, we didn’t argue about it on Sabbath, we didn’t scream in synagogue to the Lord above.

The adults would hold up a finger to their mouths. “Shhhhhhhh.”

The taboo against speaking out, against naming oneself as a victim of trauma, against removing the protective barriers that shield one from the judgments and re-victimizations of this world, remains firmly intact.

But every day it crumbles more.

People simply cannot hold their secrets in forever, they cannot keep up a front so as to impress the rest of the world, and they are seeing others step bravely forward despite the retaliation they face for doing so.

Yesterday a well-known Jewish activist and survivor, Manny Waks, shared the following update to his Facebook page with permission to post it publicly.

“I am a successful person, I have built over 12 start-ups and I have sold 4 of them to large international companies. I have over 100 people that depend on me for their monthly income and I have lunch and dinner with government leaders around the world on a weekly basis. I am living the dream and most of my problems are most people’s dreams but…….I am a 15-16 year-old boy alone in a country far away lying in my bed in the dormitory tied to my bed being raped over and over by a man who took my innocence away. I am a grown man that closes a million-dollar contract with a government and then goes back to his hotel room and cries like a baby. I have been to 164 countries in the world and I have cried in each one of them. I am that person you look up to but at the same time I am……well what am I? How is it that almost 25 years later I still do not know what to say I am…………………..”

When someone is a victim of abuse, of any kind of abuse, that person needs to talk about what happened in order to heal.

Yet they face constant and tremendous social pressure, don’t they?

Because their pain makes the rest of us feel bad. Let’s just go on, we say. Let’s do our jobs and focus on tomorrow.

But we know that attitude is just a cop-out. And when someone gains the strength to finally take off their mask, it is an unbelievable kindness to serve as a witness.

Victims deserve to be fully compensated. But the reality is they risk re-victimization by opening their mouths. They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. And on top of all that they must keep it together so they can keep their jobs and raise kids.

I recall vividly having a discussion about this subject with an older person. Who said that people should “put it in the box,” and “pretend it never happened.”

But what that person did not understand, perhaps could not afford to understand, is that the box is not all that sturdy. At some point those memories come bursting out, and when they do the victim finds themselves in a crisis yet again.

Please be open and accepting and strong. This is a way to help victims heal.


All opinions my own. Photo by Andreas Leversvia Flickr (Creative Commons).


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