Settling old debts

1. I recently went on a four day bus trip to several concentration camps near Hamburg, Germany, with residents from my native village. My village had less than 1000 inhabitants in 1944 when, in two SS raids, 95 innocent men were arrested and deported to Germany. This was in revenge for the killing of the son of collaborators. 67 of the men died, leaving a huge percentage of the village women as widows and orphans. In one day, the psycho-emotional and spiritual balance of the village changed forever. Among the deported were my grandfather and granduncle on my mother's side.

2. As I was growing up, my father looked at all the documentaries about WW2 and talked a lot about it with others in a negative, resentful way. My widowed grandmother who was in her 80s, lived in our house and I shared a twin bedroom with her until she died when I was 10. I remember her praying a lot and looking at little obituary cards of the deceased.

I must have closed myself off from it, unconsciously, in order not to feel the pain, despair, fear, and bewilderment all this created in me. 

3. When I was 14 in my class at boarding school, we initiated the habit of choosing nicknames for ourselves. I chose... Adolf. I thought it was cool. It reflected my inner attitudes of wanting to be harder than life, negativity, rebellion, destruction, suppressing all emotions, utter selfishness and self-obsession, living in my head, fear of life.

I had never been interested in the suffering of my mother, grandfather, granduncle, grandmother, family, village. I was too selfish and self-absorbed. 

4. On top of this, when looking at war movies I was secretly attracted by the Nazis... I had become so sick that I was attracted by their uniforms, their power, their violence. While masturbating, I fantasized that I was a senior Nazi officer, served by everybody, dominating women as if they were objects. I fantasized that I would pick out the most beautiful women in the camps and have sex with them. I was totally blind to the inhuman pain and suffering of the prisoners. To me it seemed a period of fun, adventure, excitement, ... for the few, and imagined I was one of the favoured ones, tall and blue-eyed as I was. I think I could have been a Nazi collaborator... thank God I was not alive back then...

5. I stayed totally blind to the suffering, grief and trauma of my village and mother, and all the war victims. When I heard about it or visited the military cemetery, ... I was blind, shut off from any feeling, but was instead cynical, hard-hearted, ridiculing the whole thing. War movies of the Third Reich were adventures. I felt a perverted sympathy for Hitler, his officers and the Reich. I guess I was attracted to the goal of unlimited power, no limits and values, eternal life.

6. I became a predator myself, even before I was acting-out: stealing from my parents and family members, losing my moral values and respect for God, making self-centered sensual enjoyment the highest goal in life.

7. In active lust addiction, this progressed into, looking at women as mere objects to do with what I wanted, looking at rape scenes, totally abusing my sexuality and body, abusing others, not having any respect for myself or women I had sex with... I became an alcoholic, drug and sugar addict to run away ever harder from myself and my inner pain.

8. Last year, a programme friend recommended I read two books by camp survivors, 'The Hiding Place' by Corrie Ten Boom and 'Man's search for meaning' by Victor Frankl... something started to change... then I went to Israel in May this year and became friends with the overwhelmingly beautiful, warm-hearted Jewish SA members there. These events began to soften my hardened heart.   

9. I started to feel the desire to go the camps where my family members had been killed. So one weekend, I did, with 35 people on a coach. We visited the concentration camp of Esterwegen, then the huge concentration and destruction complex at Neuengamme near Hamburg, where in only 5 years 85,000 people of different nationalities were killed. In this camp bricks were made in a huge brick-baking factory, to build new, big German cities. The prisoners had to work in the clay pits and died 2 to 3 months after their arrival because of the hard outdoors work. People slept 5 to a single person 'bed', 3 beds on top of each other. 

10. We went to Blumenthal-Bahrsplate, near Bremen, the workcamp my grandfather and granduncle died in, only 3 and 4 months after arriving as well-nourished, healthy farmers, because of the extremely hard work, undernourishment and unrelenting diabolical sadism of the Nazis. Together with the bodies of many other dead prisoners, their corpses were transported by train to Neuengamme where they were burnt as garbage in the camp ovens.

11. Thirty minutes before we went to the camp I was asked if I wanted to lay a garland of flowers with a remembrance letter at the monument which bears the names of all the victims of that place - my mother had done the same there a few years ago. I was very happily surprised by this warm proposal from the organizers. During the short trip to the camp, I scribbled a quick amends letter to my grandfather and granduncle, asking my HP to write it for me and to guide me if it was His will for me to speak it aloud there before the group. At the end of the garland ceremony which had been accompanied by the Belgian flag and anthem, I read the letter in a loud voice in front of the whole group:

Dear Grandfather M....; Dear Granduncle R...., 

I am glad to be here today in this place where you died far too early and unjustly.
I have scribbled this short letter to you very quickly on the bus drive here 10 minutes ago.
I want to apologize to you that, until very recently, I didn't want to hear anything about the war, your suffering, the suffering of my mother, of her mother, and of the villagers of M-K.
I was wrong. Forgive me please. 
I have started to realize how deep your suffering must have been. 
And how big the godless insanity of the Nazis was. 
I have started to see that I missed you as a child and that I still miss you in my life. 
Much Love, 

It was an emotional and grateful amends for me, which touched many others too, as they told me afterwards. I was and still am grateful for it. 

12. Somebody on the bus gave me a map with all the punishment, labour, concentration and destruction camps in the German empire in 1945. It was such a sickening sight to see that the whole empire had camps all over the place! Not only the notorious ones, like Auschwitz, Dora, Ravensbrück, Treblinka, etc., but literally hundreds of them, with many subsidiary camps scattered all over the place! I started to see the truly diabolical, destructive dimension of the whole Nazi ideology and practice, the complete insanity, the psychopathological and utterly terrifying intelligence that had masterminded the whole enterprise.

12. It will take time to process all of this. I have started to realise now that the dysfunctionality in my mother's family probably started on that 1st August 1944 when her grandfather and granduncle were arrested and deported. Suddenly she became a four year old orphan, the only child of a 48-year old widow, who never remarried. What did my mother miss by her father's absence? Did this make her easy prey at age 18 when she met my disturbed father, who also grew up in this traumatized village? It helps me to broaden my view on my own disease, which is a family illness.  

13. Back at my parents' home, I told them how deep and touching the experience had been. I told my mother how I realized now that I had always missed my grandfather. She had to cry. How hard must it have been for her? I got a new perspective on my home village and villagers, feeling more one of them.

14. It feels that there is a connection between my lack of self-esteem and self-loathing and this whole war trauma. If my grandfather, the beautiful, healthy, worthwhile father of my mother, completely innocent and without a personal reason, was just like that arrested and deported by the Nazis, and then destroyed in an inhuman death in only 3 to 4  months by unspeakable violence and cruel slavery, by a superior-acting people, treating him like garbage, waste, lower than an animal, ... what message did this give to the child I was? What message have I absorbed from my mother and father, from the whole village? 

16. I feel I need to speak more about these events and their effect on me and have just called my former therapist to do so. I feel the need to learn more about the entire village trauma, but believe it will come in God's time, so I don' t have to force that today.
In September, the participants of this trip will have a reunion during which they will share about this experience with each other. I am eagerly anticipating attending this event.