narrative of Ester Golan - A case study: Representative of young
who lost their mothers during the Shoa.
EstherGolan is a Sociologist, Educational Counselor, Author, Artist, volonteer Lecturer at Yad Vashem School of Shoa Studies. She has presented papers at various International conferences.
home page: http://sites.google.com/site/golanes
The 6th International Conference on Holocaust and Education
The International school of Holocaust Studies.
The narrative of Ester Golan
A Survivor Reflects on 60 Years
A Case Study:
Representative of young Adolescent Girls,
who grew up in the aftermath of the Shoa, without a mother.
Hello. My name is ----- and I'm 18 years old.
My mom died. I was 17 and she was 47.
Her death was a complete shock.
Honestly, I'm not even exactly sure how it happened.
Her death basically left me all alone.
My mother was truly my best friend.
Still, to this day, I am deeply affected by her death.
I think about her all the time, I cry almost every day, I have nightmares about her, I talk about her like she's still alive.
I think the hardest part of this is, knowing that no one will ever love me like she did.
I know that my mom would have done anything for me.
I feel so alone and lost without her.
I'll never stop missing my mom.
My mom has taught me a lot and I have grown up since then.
Anyway, thank you all for listening to me and being here for me. I'm so thankful that I found a place where there are people who are going through the same thing as me.
No, the above was not written by me.
I found it on website on the inter-net, while searching for background materiel for my story.
It was written in the year 2004 by a young girl aged 18 living in Chicago and still going to school.
I opened with it because it gives a very clear picture of what the loss of mother feels like to any young girl.
If we add to this the special circumstances of the Shoa, we can get a fair picture of what that meant to a great number of young girls who survived, but their mothers did not.
“Literature shows that the mother-daughter relationship is considered the most significant of all intergenerational relationships,” says Dr. Mudita Rastogi, (1999-2007) associate professor of psychology at Argosy University/Chicago and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Even though ethnic groups varied somewhat in terms of relationships, all of the women in the study wished for the same level of connectedness with their mothers, says Dr. Rastogi. John Bowlby gave a lot of attention to Maternal Deprivation in early childhood, about separation anxiety and lack of mothering care.
According to Dr. Karen Eriksen, department head of counseling psychology at Argosy University/Orange County, society expects women to be good mothers; if they fail, they are considered ”bad women.” “Mothers, rather than fathers, are held responsible for good parenting,” says Dr. Eriksen. “Estrangement between a mother and a daughter is a combination of individual, familial, and societal factors,” says Dr. Rastogi. “And the reasons why mothers and daughters become estranged can be varied and complex.”
“In some instances, women haven’t been well-prepared for their parenting responsibilities.” “Mothers, on the other hand, need great understanding and forgiveness from their daughters given the inequities in some of society’s expectations.”
This last saying is very strongly felt when second generation of survivors are talking about their relationship to their mothers.
Kestenberg (1996) talks mainly about the trauma Child Survivors experienced, but there is no mention in her book and little bibliography to help understand what growing up in the aftermath of the Shoa without a mother meant for young adolescent girls.
The question raised here is:
This paper uses Erikson (1959) stages of development in life and the study of Identity as background material.
Early maternal loss is a traumatic event with lifelong impact on a woman's sense of self and on her subsequent development.
Feelings of isolation, confusion, and anxiety are common.
Normal life-cycle milestones and transitions are particularly difficult.
In Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, the emergence of an identity crisis occurs during the teenage years in which people struggle between feelings of identity versus role confusion.
For this paper I picked three relevant stages:
In the case of teenage survivors that I shall be talking about, there was no safe place for the young girls to continue the normal grieving process.
There was no way to deal with the unique legacy of their mothers' deaths on their adult lives.
Identity crisis was often carried over from one stage to the next and right unto old age.
For example, if young girls do not experience or observe positive female role models that project the image of self-respect, intelligence and ambition, but on the contrary are repeatedly told through rhetoric and discourse that they are expected to be submissive, unintelligent and self-sacrificing they will likely lose their sense of self.
Before I enter into the narrative I would like to add here a few comments about the diversity of the human being, each one being a unique individual. In the same way that we find great differences between children, we also find great differences between old people, and we find great differences among old people who are survivors.
They differ in their background, age, in the way they cope with life, they differ in the way they have learned to live with their past as well as in many other respects.
While searching for background materiel Elisheva at Amcha brought an interesting article by Peter Suedfeld (2005) from the University of British Columbia to my attention, which appeared in International Journal Aging and Human Development
Peter Suedfeld et. all wrote: “Erikson’s Components of a healthy personality among Holocaust Survivors immediately and 40 years after the war. It shows how survivors have dealt successfully with 8 psychosocial crisis thought by Erikson to mark important stages of lifespan development”.
But that is all that the research was looking for. The fact that survivors reviewing their lives have generally positive views about their families, accomplished goals, and a place in the world is not surprising. On the whole they wanted to feel good, and show that they made it in spite of it all, they do not want to be considered to be a looser.
But simmering under the surface there is great pain, a feeling of great loss, which sits deep down in the heart and hurts more with old age creeping up on us. There seldom is an opportunity to address that pain and it is hard to admit.
For actually, there is nobody who wants to hear about it. When the survivors were young they did not want to burden their children, nor their husband with their hurt. Most of them got used to keep that sorrow to themselves.
That is why at this conference, Women and the Shoa, I would like to bring to light this seldom discussed aspect, as to what extend the Shoa, affected the life of women as women throughout their lifespan.
My own experience will demonstrate, what many thousands of women have experienced.
This was confirmed by a talk with Dr. Nathan Durst, a clinical Psychologist as well as a talk with Elisheva, who is in charge of the library at “Amcha“ in Jerusalem.
Ester Golan’s Narrative (Golan 2000)
In 1935, when I was 12years old, I had been turned down for adoption to America, being told that for such an ugly girl it was difficult to find anybody who would want to adopt her. My grandmother, who had always lived with us, emigrated in 1937 to Portugal. My elder brother came to Erez Israel in 1937 with Youth Aliyah, while I was turned down because of under weight. My sister aged 9, left wit a Kindertransport for London.
In April 1939 I left home in Berlin on a Kindertransport to Whittingehame, the Estate of the late Lord Balfour, a Youth-Aliyah Hachshara center in Scotland. My mothers parting words were: להתראות בארצנו see you again in our homeland.
I was 15 at the time, rather naïve, innocent as well as an ignorant girl, when I was taken from a secure background, with a loving caring mother daughter relationship.
My parents stayed behind in Berlin until in 1942 they were transported to Theresienstadt, where my father died and my mother was send in May 1944 to Auschwitz. I never saw my mother again. My normal physical, metal and emotional developments were abruptly interrupted and it took years and hard work to overcome.
What happened to me since?
From being a well cared for child within a normal family setting to becoming an independent adolescent. Growing up and passing through many different stages in life, I missed my mother at each and every step.
Within the first 6 month of leaving home I had my first nervous breakdown. Before I was 17 years old I had to stand on my own feet and make my own way through life. I had no one to turn too to ask for advice. For all around me there were only other refugee girls who were in the same boat.
None of us had any role models to depend on. Many of the girls around me felt abandoned and lonely. As they say in German, “Mutterseelen alleine”. I felt very lonely.
When I had to leave Whittingehame because the guaranty come to an end, being considered an Enemy Alien by the British, I was allocated to work as a maid in a very remote village, having to take care of evacuated boys from Edinburgh, scrubbing the floor, polish their shoes, wash their socks, having to bath them, and taking them to Church on Sunday. Kashrut was unheard of. Shabbat was a regular working day.
It was a freezing cold winter with meter high snow on the roads. For our Jewish holidays I did not get of.
At night piling all my belongings on top of me for a bit of extra warmth, which did not help much, I cried for my mother. During the day I had to work hard. It took month before I was permitted to move to another location.
Quoting Erikson : Adolescence (12 to 18 years) Identity vs. Role Confusion.
I often ask myself who am I? Who do I want to be? My surrounding did not like who I was. For the Germans I was a Jew, for the British I was a German. I was a foreigner, a refugee, soon to be called an Enemy Alien. I did not belong. I was neither a child nor grownup. No longer being a girl, not yet a woman.
Eventually in the summer of 1941 I joined a group of young refugees on agricultural Hachshara of the Hechaluz. They soon had to leave the site and were relocated to another place.
I had got friendly with Josef, a young man who was four years older then the average age of the group, who suggested that I move with him to a more grown up group. I was seventeen and a half at the time.
When we arrived we were shown to a room. When I asked, and where shall I be put up, I was told that this room was big enough for two people and anyway there was no other room available. We pushed one bed into one corner and the other into another corner, switched of the light and went to sleep. When he wanted more from me I said that first we would have to get married. And so we did.
Quoting Erikson: Teens needs to develop a sense of self and personal identity.
Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.
That was just what I felt like, (for years and often even now). I had a weak sense of self, having been considered to ugly, to skinny to be able to be accepted for emigration, not knowing where I belong.
At this stage I was totally overshadowed by Josef taking over the decision making process. He never consulted me. I had nobody I could turn too for advice. I knew I wanted to be a good girl, behave decently, for that was what was expected of me in the many letters that I had received from home, but I was totally knuckled under by Josef’s domineering character.
One Shabbat afternoon after work we went by bike to the railway station, by train to the nearest town, on to the magistrate. The mop ladies, as the cleaning women were called, were the witnesses and the magistrate declared us man and wife. Sunday was a day of and by Monday we went back to work.
How do you move on from being a teenager to become a woman? I had no clue. His expectations of me were way beyond my comprehension. He was a trained gardener and expected me to work hard as his helpmate. His need was that I should remain as I was, that I just do what he tells me. He could not cope with my need for further development. We were forevermore moving from one place to another, as he was looking to better himself.
Until that time I still received letters from my mother via Portugal where my grandmother lived. In October 1942 my parents were send to Theresienstadt.
While working with my husband in gardening, during the coffee break, post was delivered. I received a letter from Portugal telling me that my father had died in February 1943 in Theresienstadt. I was deeply shocked and cried bitterly. All that my husband had to say to that was: “How long are going to sit there and cry. You know there is work to do”.
There was no mourning period, nobody to comfort me. I was all-alone. I felt abandoned by God and the world. Our relationship broke down. When shortly after that we returned to a communal Hechaluz Hachshara, I moved back into the girl’s dormitory.
In May 1944 my mother send one more message saying that soon she would have a new address.
By the time that this message arrived the war was over, but no more messages came. June 1945 a few Certificates arrived for the “Garin Aliyah”. If I wanted to be on the list I was given no other choice, but to go together with my husband or not at all. I hoped to find my mother in Erez Israel. After all her parting words had been: "להתראות בארצנו" (See you again in our homeland.)
I went back to him and we sailed on the first boat that left England for Palestine. In Italy, after Italian POW had disembarked, over a thousand survivors from Bergen Belsen and Buchenwald were brought under cover of night on board ship. We were all in shock and tried to help wherever possible. They spoke different languages, but in my childish manner I tried hard to find out if anybody had seen my mother. I did not even know what her new address might have been.
As soon as we arrived in Haifa, the British carted us all of to the detention camp in Atlith. Men and women were separated and I settled down on an iron bedstead with a straw mattress in the women’s hut. Having missed my period my tummy started to swell. I was pregnant. I did not know how it got in, neither where it will get out. There was nobody to talk to. In the short break that it was permitted for men to see the women, my husband never visited me.
Our group was released from the detention camp in Atlith to go to Kfar Blum. I tried to talk to the nurse there. She just did the necessary tests and told me to be pleased that I was alive.
I grew bigger and bigger and feared what would be. The doctor thought that I might have to have a caesarian birth and the nearest hospital for that was Affula. In the last weeks of my pregnancy I was send to a Kibbutz nearby. The people there were all strangers to me.
February 1946, windy, stormy, raining day and night. I was put up in the sickroom. The toilet was up the hill a hole in the ground covered with a plank. After midnight I needed to pee. I went behind the hut and peed and peed and it did not stop. I could not understand what is happening. And then I had pain, and after a while again. I woke the nurse up who told me that I had to get to the hospital, the water had broken. What water I asked?
She had to find the watchman, who had to go up the hill to the quarry where a phone was, in order to call the ambulance. I was cold and frightened when I arrived in hospital all alone by 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. There was no doctor available till the beginning of the morning shift. When the pain got worth, they decided to try and deliver the baby anyway. I tore badly and the bleeding did not stop. I cried for my mother and tried to hold on to Dr. Davidsohn who came on duty, for dear life.
I needed blood transfusion that lasted all day long. By the evening a young doctor came, put his elbows between my legs and sewed my up. I was in pain all over. He just told me to shut up or he would leave. My breasts swelled and leaked. They finally brought me a bundle and told me to breast feed her. How do you do that? I had no clue. I had high temperature. It was still raining and the laundry did not dry. They had no clean bedding or nightgown for me. I was hospitalized for 10 days. During that time my husband came once and without consulting me registered my daughter with the name of his mother.
A nurse from the Kibbutz was sent to pick me up. We drove by bus from the hospital to Egged in Affula. After some wait, another bus to Tiberias and a two-hour long wait for the next bus to Rosh Pina, from there with an Arab bus to Chalsa an Arab village (today Kirjat Schmona) and from there with a horse and cart to the Kibbutz. By that time I had a temperature of 40. The baby was taken to the children’s house, and I was left on my own in a freezing cold room at the other end of the Kibbutz. The toilet was up the hill a hole in the ground.
I did not understand that there was nobody around to take care of me, to hold my hand, to comfort me. Where was my mother, to hold me in her arms, who had always found the right words to say to me and to explain things to me.
Every four hours by the clock I went to the children’s house to breastfeed. As soon as I finished I had to leave. Those were the rules. The nurse took care of all the babies. My breasts were often hard and painful.
Quoting Erikson: Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.
I did not know what to do about that. Where was my mother? Around that time I found out that her last address was Auschwitz. But I did not know what Auschwitz was. There was nobody to tell me. I needed her more than ever before. I was so involved in the fight for my daughters and my own survival that I had little energy left for anything else.
Kibbutz Kfar Blum, in the beginning of April 1946 and the sun is shining. All the babies are put out for a sunbath, except my daughter. There was only room for 24 babies in the special fashioned cribs with wire netting against mosquitoes. Whom should they leave behind inn the house, certainly not a child of the old timers, so it had to be my daughter who was the 25th child.
When I cried, they called me a crybaby. At lunchtime they took a tin bath and put her in the sun. At the next feed she was all flushed and did not want to suck. The nurse on duty ignored me completely. A kind soul crushed some aspirin and dripped it into her mouth to reduce the fever. A couple of days later I picked up my daughter under one arm and a small bundle of nappies under the other and left the kibbutz. I drove all day long in several busses until I came to a cousin of my mothers in Beth Yizchak. They found an empty orange box to put my daughter in. But their three- year old son would not have that and tipped the box over. They had to put me up in a neighbor’s barn. But I could not stay there for long.
Meanwhile my husband had to look for an alternative Kibbutz. In Seraim, next to Gideon’s spring in the Emek, he knew a few people from the time he was on Hachshara with them in Germany. I made my way there and we met at the main road from where we had quite a long walk to the gate of the Kibbutz. But it was closed. Cows foot and mouth disease had made them cautious and did not allow any one in. We set in the trench under a tree and pleaded with them for the baby’s sake to let us in. By the late afternoon they brought us clothes to change into, leaving our own in a bundle to be laundered, they finally allowed us in, but only on probation for a year.
I somewhat settled in and was well received. But I could not face my husband any more. I moved out of the room and slept in a tent, which when stormy collapsed over my head. Any thing seemed better than to be with him. At the end of the year he was not accepted to become a member and we were made to leave together. In those days the Kibbutz did not keep divorced people.
March 1948 we moved to a furnished room and soon moved to a converted garage near the agricultural school in Pardes Hana that he found employment with. Although he was a young and strong man he delayed his joining the army until the end of the school year, an act I could never understand.
When finally he was called up, I had great difficulty to exist, to feed my two- year-old baby and myself. I had no profession, there was no chance for me to find work and earn a living. I looked in the neighborhood for foster parents for my daughter. With luck I found a very loving caring family with two daughters of their own who took children into pension. They were religious, a little house with garden with fruit trees, a few chicken and a goat, so I knew my daughter would never go hungry while she lived with them. The child money from the army would pay for her stay.
I volunteered and joined the Palmach, something I had always longed for.
I was homeless. I had nowhere to go to on my days of. I longed for my mother to guide me along.
As often as I could I visited my daughter. I moved to the Givati Brigade until my release sometime in 1949. I applied to the Rabbinate for divorce. After several attempts he finally granted me the “Get”. From some acquaintance of his, my soon to be ex husband brought a statement to the effect that I was incapable of looking after my daughter. He demanded lone custody of our daughter, for me only visiting rights and refused to pay me alimony. Only under his conditions would he give me the Get. Once that was settled, I was free, homeless, lonely and lost.
What to do next? How can I earn my living? As an ex-soldier girl I was entitled to receive some training. But I had only seven years of schooling, not enough for a teacher’s seminar or a nursing school.
Wizo Tel-Aviv offered a crash course in baby nurse training. I gladly accepted. The first night I spend on a bench in the park until I found some accommodation. The allowance that I got I spend on rent, with little left over for food.
While I was still in training I met David a young man from England, a “Machalnik” as volunteers from abroad were called. We went out together, in February 1950 visited my daughter on her fourth birthday while she was still with her foster parents and then he proposed to me. He went back to England on home leave for a couple of month, while I was send to work in the Maabera in Rosh Haayin with the newly arrived Yemenite immigrants.
On his return we decided to get married on the 8th of August 1950. He could not find work in Tel-Aviv and we moved to a furnished room in Haifa in the hope that he would find some employment before long.
I sewed a dress for myself, while he went to buy some new trousers. But the shops were all closed. The minister Dov Josef had just announced “Zenna” - austerity rationing. I made a few sandwiches for the 15 invited guests and we were married in a dingy little courtyard next to a grubby looking “Schul” by the Chief Rabbi of Haifa. No mother to take me under the Chupa. No parents to wish me well. I drifted in and out of depressive moods but had no time to deal with it.
We needed somewhere to live. Both of us ex-soldier, but had left the army more then six month ago and were no longer entitled to a subsidy for housing.
Being Anglo-Sachsens we managed to join such a group that was put up in Shikun Memshalti , a government- housing- scheme in Akko, all of 19 qm, no running water, no electricity. That is were my two sons were born.
Where was mother? Oh, how much I longed to present my sons to my mother. She would have been proud of her grandchildren. She would have carried a picture of them around with her and shown them off as grandmothers do. But that just remained wishful thinking. At night I cried, and during the day was overwhelmed by just coping to exist.
Two days after the Brith of the second son November 1952 we moved from Akko to an Amidar Shikun in Nahariya. It seemed like a palace. 30 qm, running water, after several month also electricity. No doors to the rooms, but a place to be.
My children grew up without grandparents, and that pained me, and I was without my mother. I suffered from migraine and had bouts of depression, took pills, which did not really help much.
I so wanted to please my parents. Although I took good care of my children, but there certainly was a lack joy of life (Simchat Haim), which I had lost for myself and therefore could not provide as I would have liked to do.
My daughter visited us regularly during school holydays. She lived with that loving kind and caring family for six years, until her father remarried and took her to live with him and his new wife in Nathanya.
At some stage he tried to deny me my visiting rights, not letting my daughter come to visit me during the school holidays as had been agreed upon. She was not allowed to admit in public that I am her mother, as her stepbrother had not been told the truth. But I was not having that and whether he wanted to or not I insisted that he stick to our agreement. There always was a very good sibling relationship between her and my sons. She did not understanding the complications, as a result is resentful towards me till this day, for having left her father.
She never phones me on principle. She build a wall for herself which she is not willing to pull down, not even willing to open a little window.
Not having had a decent schooling myself, I was concerned that my children should not suffer likewise. We took loans from the place of work and from banks, a total of 12 000 of the needed 15 000 Lirot to find a flat in Haifa, so that I could send my boys to the best school available, the Reali School in Haifa. We sat on orange boxes and fashioned a desk from planks. An iron bedstead from the Sochnut was the couch. It took us years and years until we paid of our depts. I tried to earn some extra money by working as a maid, taking children into pension, doing dressmaking.
I also badly needed to further my education. Surely that is what my mother would have wanted me to do.
There was a two- year course for Youth Leadership that I joined, but in the end did not get my certificate, as I did not have matriculation papers.
Next I took a tourist guide course in 1960, passed the examination and worked as often as I could get a day’s work or sometimes a tour for a whole week.
In 1970 I heard of an opportunity to join an advanced Youth Leadership course at the University in Tel-Aviv. I applied and at first was told by them that I was a bit old for that, but after I pleaded with them was accepted. I graduated with a diploma, the best in the class.
My ardent wish by now was to go to university. My husband kept telling me that I was stupid and would never make it. But I knew that my mother had always told me that if I set my heart at something I could do it. Was she the only person who believed in me? Or could I do it?
With that in mind I applied and was rejected because I did not have my matriculation. Again I pleaded and was accepted under the condition that I would have an average of over 80, which I did.
I was already a grandmother. Finally in 1975 I got my B.A. in sociology and educational counseling. Nobody came to my graduation. My boys were in the army by then and my husband did not care.
But I know how proud my mother would have been. Perhaps I did it for her sake? Or was it for my own sake? I do not know.
I carried on with my studies for a M.A. in cross-cultural counseling, but could no longer afford to write my dissertation. Anyway my husband did not want me to do that.
His feeling of superiority of having married a little stupid refugee girl came through very strongly. We met in 1950 as two lonely people. Although his family had never met me they disproved of our marriage and saw to it to let me feel it at any and every opportunity. I struggled to keep up my own end, but missed my family especially my mother who would have backed me up. As I furthered myself he became more and more aggressive. He cheated and betrayed me. It was not a happy marriage. He knew that I had nobody to back me up, while his whole family in England was against me.
Nearing my 60th birthday I was to old to be able to find a permanent employment, but took every job that I could find. For a while as a counselor in a school, counseling soldier girls who worked with the “Raful Boys”, teaching in domestic science in school, replacing the social worker in an old age home.
My first invitations to talk in schools in Germany I got in 1988, every year to a different place. I got a lot of positive feedback from that. Even now I still get invitations.
“Lapid”, an organization founded by Arje Barnea, teaching the Shoa and its consequences, asked me to join them. 1988 I started to tell the story of my family in schools and army camps. In 1989 as a group they planed a trip to Poland. I contemplated to go along. Others brought their partners, children or grandchildren along. My husband was not interested. In the last minute my son realized that it was not fair to let me go on my own and he came along. That saved the day for me. I badly needed support to face the place that my mother had walked on her own to her death, alone and abandoned and I was not there to comfort her. The seven days we were there felt to me like sitting “Shiva”.
Three years later while giving talks in schools in Dresden my host, a Lutheran Pastor took me to Theresienstadt. There I stood all on my own with my thoughts. It was hard for me to focus on what it must have been like for my parents, for my mother to see her husband die and not being able to bury him. The loneliness of my mother, alone and abandoned is hard to fathom. She had sent her mother away and all three of her children so that we should live. There was nobody to comfort her.
I had never had the privilege of being a grown up daughter to my mother, not when I needed her as a role model and not for me to take care of her as I had seen her take care of her mother. For many years I feared that my sons grew up without them seeing how one takes care of growing old parents. I talked a lot about my mother, how she had taken care of her own mother while taking care of her three children, how my mother had taught me all she could, expected me to get on in life, use every opportunity to learn something.
It was only after my studies that I had matured sufficiently to reread my mother’s letters. My husband had hidden them from me year after year. I found them, and looked for somebody to transcribe them. Not finding anybody who could read the handwriting and know how to use a computer, I was left with no other choice but to do so by myself. That was not easy. I cried a lot but was fascinated by the loving and caring letters that my mother wrote to me, her growing up daughter. I added some notes and had a manuscript, found a publisher in Germany and my book “Auf Wiedersehen in unserem Land” (1995) (See you again in our Homeland) was published in at the Frankfurt book fair. It was a memorial for my mother. I am very proud of her and I know she would have been proud of me. As Kestenberg (1996) mentions in her book, this might be seen as Object Imagery. That and the Portrait that I painted provide me to some extend with the feeling of my mother still being with me.
My husband fell ill and I nursed him. For better or for worth we stayed together until he died in 1995. During 40 years he had worked at 10 different places of work. Over the years he had used up all his severance pay. He left me without a penny, without a pension.
Quoting Erikson: Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.
By now the mixture of failure and success had became so confusing that I have difficulty to sort it out. The struggle against all odds had taken its toll. There was a bitter undercurrent to feeling of a sense of failure, lack of fulfillment. I had failed at an earlier stage to form intimate, loving relationships with other people.
Now at the age of 83, after 12 years of widowhood I often asked myself, what would have been different had I grown up normally within the fold of my family. If I could have had a motherly role model to measure up against, would it have been easier for me to grow old the way I could had seen my mother grow old?
Perhaps I should count my lucky stars that I have a son who takes care of me. He has become the most significant person in my life. He shows greater understanding for my longings for my mother than anybody else, more so than many of the professional caretakers.
Quoting Erikson: Maturity (65 to death)
Reflection on Life - Ego Integrity vs. Despair.
In other words, how do I fare in old - age. There is no clear dividing line between ego integrity and a feeling of despair. The two keep coming up in pairs. Reflections on life in old age, whether I like it or not keep going back to earlier periods in life.
In addition I would like to relate to a talk given by Dr. Nathan Durst at “Amcha” Jerusalem on 18th of December 2003.
He mentioned that even in normal old age there are losses, changes, weaknesses and a certain amount of loneliness.
But for a survivor there are many losses, mostly not worked over, traumatic experiences and loneliness.
During the Shoa and in its aftermath, weakness meant death. When one looks around in old age there is little or no more forward movement. So one looks at memories. Most survivors did not see their own parents aging.
Survivors had to learn to be strong, as weakness was dangerous. Changing of roles is problematic, looking for balance between dependence and independence. It is difficult to be alone. Loneliness creeps up. Looking at external function we pretend, that everything is fine. But internal functions soon show up with lack of self-confidence, suspicious, one is easily wounded and very sensitive.
Just recently I attended the wedding of a young acquaintance. When the two mothers, proudly walked the bride to the Chupa. I panicked and with tears in my eyes immediately left. Whenever any of my granddaughters reach the age that I was when I left home, or when my sons reach the age of 52, the age my father was turned down from being accepted to Aliyah B , I get gooseflesh.
Way back in our middle years, when the second generation grew up, in the 50th and 60th we were told to look forward. It is best to forget. But in reality that was just like living it over and over again. For how can I forget? At the time of being traumatized I felt helpless, loss of control, afraid and lonely.
My normal physical, metal and emotional developments were abruptly interrupted and it took years and hard work to overcome. I doubt whether I really ever made up for the lost time in my development.
As Arje Barnea once said about me :
“ Ester is 100%, 100% the 15 year old gir, while being 100% the grandmother.” The two are intertwined but don’t meet.
We carry that burden over into old age. With each new loss, being widowed, death of friends, death of grandchildren, each one of these losses and with advancing age there are many of them, previous and old losses come to mind.
I felt that especially hard when on the morning of Yom Hashoa 2002 my grandson was one of the 13 soldiers who fell in action in J’enin.
Instead of the workshop I was supposed to give in Yad Vashem, on “How best to remember those days” I went to my grandson’s funeral.
What can be done for us?
Growing old we are in need of support, in need for Compassionate listening, none judgmental listening.
Acknowledging our loss, just lend us a compassionate ear. Allow us to admit that we are sad. We have good reasons for that.
Even we children about whom it is said that nothing happened to us, lost most of our close and extended family, but it was especially hard to grow up as motherless daughters. Share that emptiness with us, and may be we can see the half full glass with clearer eyes.
Reflecting on 60 years of trials and tribulations, in spite of it all, coming from a Zionist background from early childhood, I found fulfillment in contributing towards building up of the country (Golan 2000) as well as in my ongoing efforts to build a better world for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Durst Nathan Die Einsamkeit im Alter, Sonderdruck aus Ererbte Traumata herausgegeben von Louis M. Tas und Joerg Wiese Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Goettingen Zuerich
Erikson EH : Identity and the Life Cycle . International University Press 1959
Golan Ester Auf Wiedersehn in unserem Land Econ 1995
Golan Ester A Tribute in Song and Picture Self published 2001
Golan Ester Pleased to meet you, Stages on the way: From Glogau to Jerusalem An Autobiography Jerusalem 2000 Unpublished Manuscript
Kestenberg Judith S., M.D. Brenner Ira, M.D. The Child Survivor of the Holocaust American Psychiatric Press Washington, DC 1996
Dr. Rastogi Mudita, Dr. Eriksen Karen in: Ideas for Strengthening the Mother-Daughter Bond http//www.pioneerthinking.com/ara-motherdaughter.html 1999-2007
Suedfeld et all (University of British Columbia) “Erikson’s components of healthy personality” among Holocaust survivors immediately and 40 years after the war, in Int’lJ. Aging and human development, Vol. 60(3) 229-248 2005
http://papervixen.net/daughters/viewtopic.ph?t=270&sid=41d December 2004
EstherGolan is a Sociologist, Educational Counselor, Author, Artist, volonteer Lecturer at Yad Vashem School of Shoa Studies. She has presented papers at various International conferences.
home page: http://sites.google.com/site/golanes
This article is re-printed here with the permission of the author.
Copyright Judy Cohen, 2009.