In the aftermath of the most divisive election in the memory of our country, many are still feeling the ripples in the pond. Referral rates to mental health counseling and reports of suicidal ideation have soared. The phones at suicide hotlines have been ringing off the hook since the day after the results were tallied.
According to John Draper, project director of the the round-the-clock National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a support line founded in 2005 for people considering suicide or who are in emotional distress, “Between 1AM and 2AM on Wednesday morning, the number of calls spiked to 660 in a single hour, 2.5 times more than average.” He attributes that to the fear evoked in those who feel threatened by the rhetoric of the president-elect. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, find that the current state of affairs exacerbates their symptoms. Others whose skin color, gender identity, religion, ancestry or sexual preference put them squarely in the line of fire, have reason to experience the angst that is arising. What fuels their worries is the sense of uncertainty of what awaits in the next four years. People asked for change; they weren’t sure how it would present itself.
Although violence and hatred have been present throughout history, there has been an upsurge in the past few weeks, when perpetrators are emboldened by the messages coming from this person of influence and those with whom he is surrounding himself. Swastikas scrawled on buildings, taunts by school children toward their classmates threatening deportation, drive-by harrassment of women and other minorities, add up to the environment in which mental health crises thrive.
Some of the people in my life were impacted directly by the Holocaust. One was a survivor of the Kindertransport and although the majority of the children on the trains were coming to England from other European countries besieged by Nazis, she was shuttled from London to the countryside to escape the Blitzkrieg in her home town. This octogenarian reports that her PTSD symptoms have escalated since the election as she recalls the trauma that was cast upon her and others who were at the mercy of virolent hatred. She fears for our country if it is permitted to flourish. Another is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, who have since passed, but she knows the remnants of the horror her parents faced and sees the seeds for the possibility of its recurrence. Both of these women are outspoken peace advocates who refuse to feel helpless.
It was no accident, that in the midst of this whirlwind, I happened to be listening to an NPR interview with Jennifer Teege, author of the chillingly titled book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past. Teege was prompted to write her story after she was drawn to a library book when she was 38 years old. It brought to light a horrendous piece of her personal history, that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. A bi-racial child; the daughter of a Nigerian father and German mother, she was placed for adoption at 7 years old. Her biological mother and grandmother appeared back into her life later on, but she never knew the secret they had been keeping until the book brought it to light. After hearing stories about her grandfather’s sadistic treatment of those interned in concentration camps, she felt a sense of surrealistic disbelief that the woman she knew as her biological grandmother could have married such a man. When she looked at her own dark complected face next to an image of his, she felt certain that she would have been considered an abhorrent disgrace to him and he would have dispatched her as surely as he was portrayed doing to Jews from the balcony of his home in the film.
In the small suburban town I call home, an unimaginable event occurred last week that was relayed by a friend:
“A dear friend texted me last night, scared and shaken. She was wearing a Star of David necklace yesterday, given to her by her father. As she held the door open for another woman at the Starbucks in Doylestown, the woman said “If I were you I wouldn’t wear that.” Our friend, understandably startled, replied “What? I am not sure what you are saying.” Raising her voice and pointing at our friend, the woman replied:
“YOU people are not in control any more!”
Our friend thought about following the woman, but thought better of it. She felt shaken and scared for the very first time in her life as a Jewish woman. I am sure the woman who accosted our friend is too ignorant to know that the Star of David was the symbol chosen by the Nazis to identify Jewish prisoners. I am equally sure that the woman wouldn’t care.
We must resist, resist, resist. And then resist some more. ✡️💜💔☪️☸️☮️🔯⚛️🕉️✝️”
Had I been present, I would have approached the woman and asked who taught her to hate, since none of us come into this world with that mindset. We ‘have to be carefully taught.’ It might have made a difference.
I have heard it say that silence equals approval. Please don’t let fear silence you.
A group of Jewish Americans went to visit Israel in the sixties. There they met a well-known Rabbi who in spite of being debilitated by Parkinson’s, was a great beacon of light to those around him. He addressed the group and demanded, “what was the lesson of the Holocaust?” Mostly silence ensued, followed by some awkward murmuring of “never forget” and “always fight.” More silence.
“No!” the Rabbi said, slamming his fist down on the table. “When the Jews were in Auschwitz, the Nazis gave them one blanket per three people.”
“Why did they do this? So that they would fight among themselves. So that their humanity would be stripped away.”
“The lesson of the Holocaust, was simple,”
“Share the blanket.”
The divide and conquer mentality is what foments violence and derision. It is what gives consent for acts of hatred to continue. It occurred to me that if we want to truly be a United States (US), we need to acknowlege that we are ‘all us’