The War that Disrupted the Family

A War that Disrupted the Family
"Krigen, der splittede min familie"

The Danish television broadcasted a documentary film entitled "The war that disrupted my family". Recently I have heard a lecture about the children of survivors, that is, the people who either survived the war in concentration camps, or managed to hide, escape and survive in one way or another. The lecture highlighted not only the problem of those survivors who lost their loved ones, but also the trauma of the second generation. The subject of the film seemed to be related to the lecture, and it was.
Twenty-year-old youngster, Benjamin, finds out that his grandfather, Mogens, has three living siblings, with whom he has not been in contact for decades.
How it could happen? After all, his grandfather, as a little boy, was in Theresienstadt, a German concentration camp, and after the war, he lived with the survived rest of the family.
So what happened? Grandpa does not want to talk about it, so Benjamin contacts the rest of the family who did not even know about his existence. Here is their story in brief:
His grandfather was the youngest child in the family, consisting of a father, mother and six children. The parents were Jews from Eastern Europe who came to Denmark at the beginning of the twentieth century. The eldest daughter, Fanny was born in 1924. Then came Adolf (called for certain reasons for "Anse"), Robert, Salle, and Rebecca. Mogens was born first in 1938 and was 5 years old when this tragedy began.
It was in 1943 that the Germans went after the Danish Jews. When the Germans knocked on the apartment's door, the father fled, jumping from the balcony.
The family was convinced that the Germans would be interested only in the adults, so the father decided to escape to Sweden with only the two oldest children, Fanny and Adolf. Unfortunately, the Germans did not make such demarcations and the mother with the other four children was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Fanny, with her father and brother Adolf, tried to escape to Sweden by a rowboat. Because of the strong wind, the boat had capsized and Fanny's father and her brother had drowned. Fanny was rescued and reached Sweden on her second escape attempt. Fanny corresponded with her mother in Theresienstadt, but she never mentioned the death of her father and brother in her letters.
Mogens with his mother and the siblings have been in Theresienstadt for over a year and a half. The liberation came with the "White Buses" which took them to Sweden. There, they had a four-month quarantine (delousing, examination for infectious diseases, etc.) and the news of the death of their father and brother. The mother took it very badly. And looking for someone to blame for what happened, she accused Fanny of causing this catastrophe. The mother was never able to function normally again. After returning to Denmark, she tried to poison herself and only Robert's quick response prevented this. It was Robert, aged 17 at the time, who, together with Fanny, had to look after his mother and the rest of the siblings, especially the youngest, Mogens, who was suddenly deprived of his parents. Fanny's mothering or Robert's "fathering", with their young age and complete lack of experience, certainly could not replace it. As if that was not enough, Rebecca was epileptic and had some frequent attacks. After being at the epilepsy treatment center, she was sent home and everything seemed to be back to normal because she even got a job. One day, she took a large dose of sleeping pills and was barely rescued in the hospital. Unfortunately, instead of to be for observation in the hospital, she was sent home. The next day Robert found her dead.
How all this did have affected Mogens? Despite the efforts of both Fanny and Robert, Mogens felt left abandon. And Robert's "fathering" was seen as tyrannical imposing of his own will. Mogens felt neither loved nor appreciated. He became married only because his wife wanted it so badly. Only with her, he found out what love and attachment are. He considered his own family very dysfunctional and of no use for him. Was it true? Does it matter? As Robert said to Benjamin: "What is true is what Mogens feels because this is the truth for him".
Mogens decided to cut himself off. He broke the contact with Robert 50 years ago. Then it was Salle's turn. And he has not spoken to Fanny for the last 30 years. Robert and Sally got along with it, but Fanny took it very badly. She was like a mother to him, so why? Her biggest dream was to meet Mogens before she died.
Benjamin told Mogens that Fanny was in the nursing home and was very ill. Mogens decided to visit Fanny. Provided, that his older brothers will not be present. It was his only meeting with her. Fanny died soon after. Neither Mogens nor Robert were at her funeral. Mogens was on holiday, and Robert lives in Israel. Only Sally and Benjamin said goodbye to Fanny on her last way.
And the family feud continues.
As Mogens put it: "There were no feelings in this family. The War and Hitler took them away."

Alex Wieseltier
January 2020