For many years I helped others come to terms with trauma and build new lives. In Banishing the Boogieman I unpack my own and find and celebrate the resilience I have so often admire in others.
In essence this book is a tale of how Nazism curtailed my parents’ life opportunities and of how the trauma of the Holocaust impacted my parents, my brother and myself. Was Peter’s illness inevitable or the result of my parents’ loss and dislocation as European Jews? Was there anything I did – as a child or a young adult – that contributed to my younger brother’s acute mental illness or impeded his life-long, unsuccessful bid for wellness?
In Banishing the Boogieman I begin with early childhood and trace my family life to date. My quest – to see what I can take from Peter’s, my parent’s and my own experience to further my insights into trauma, face my own separate and personal childhood trauma and to resolve my sadness at what was and can never be.
A simple story highlights the impact of Nazism and Apartheid on my life and foreshadows my quest to help others affected by violence, mental illness and the asylum seeker issues now prevalent in Australia.
My final conclusion, politics is personal.
Some Photographs of my family, home and the paintings of Hhans Katz and four letters I wrote to myself as part of the healing process.
I must explain about the photo album.
From the time I retired I went to my study each morning and bathed in the warmth of your and Peter’s smiles, and the memories of you running into my arms. For that half hour I was happy. Without visual connection, my path to those moments of peace was gone and I was bereft.
Those few years of your early childhood were the only time in my life that I could love. You and your Peter Boo were mine; you were both perfect and wanted nothing but to be with me without expectation.
You were so full of laughter and Peter so full of promise. A ‘wunderkind.’ He was all that I wished for. In those early days he was a shining light, a special gift from my unfortunate union with his mother.
But now, I want to turn my face away. I want to say I have no fault. I want to believe that Peter’s illness was a result of Else’s genetics, of trauma, just a trick of fate but I can’t. I know I have played some part in it. It is too late to say ‘if only’ so I wait and watch his rantings. There is no excuse, no escape and no resolution.
Peter is who he is. An alienated suffering wreck of a man and nothing but death will change this.
If only I could have told you how I missed that album and of my joy and pride instead of cutting you off with my ill conceived words. I cherished you and still do.
I am sure you blame me for Peter’s illness and the trauma this caused you.
Add this to all the other accusations. I was too wild, not a good enough daughter, not a good enough Jew. Or perhaps all women are blamed for not being good enough as lover, wife, mother or friend.
It is true that I had a short temper but I defend myself with a question.
How would you have born the eternal waiting?
Hitler denied me a place at university because I was a Jew. I took an apprenticeship to become a silversmith but my German mentor stole my masterpiece and claimed it as his own.
After fleeing to South Africa, Hans and I began a new life. This was interrupted when Hans joined the air force and I waited for his return from war. As we began to build our lives again the Apartheid government came to power and I was confronted with fascism stealing my prospects yet again.
And worst of all, my beautiful talented son, so good and generous and gifted. When he played the guitar, even when ill, it was as if my heart would break. All of him was stolen. He was born into the Holocaust that was still my life.
You must understand racism plunders everyone’s humanity. I was its victim.
No wonder I kept exploding.
Born into the horror and chaos of the Great War and its aftermath shaped who I am.
I was schooled both formally and informally that there was no space for the personal. For the Jewish nation to survive Hitler and Fascism we had to dedicate ourselves to the greater cause.
I wanted with all my heart to be a teacher but set aside my ambition and through the Kameraden learned about the modern world so I could further the fight for the freedom and integrity of all ‘from each according to their ability and to each according to their need.’
I set aside my belief in the Jewish God and became an agnostic and lived by a simple set of principles. I respected man’s right to live peaceably within his environment no matter his colour or creed and tested all against this dictum.
We committed ourselves to fighting fascism in whatever form it took, and I for my part put this work first.
My only higher education came from teachers such as Hanns Katz. The instruction was to resist oppression, the ultimate enemy of enlightenment, wherever it happened.
I wish you could have shared the joy of our New South Africa. It was wonderful to see all colours of the rainbow line up to vote together and to share the jubilation of a new free South Africa.
However, I am one of those who believe that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission got it wrong. There is always a need for reparation where criminal acts have occurred.
For me this is crucial.
If people get away with just saying sorry for the criminal acts of devastation, violence and death that go with unjust government then the consequences of these crimes are not taken seriously.
I think that the corruption of today’s South African government is closely related to that lack of accountability. If people had seen justice done by those who took over from the apartheid regime, the government and bureaucracy of today would take more responsibility for the way they act.
Jill, thank your God that you have the capacity to feel. Thank Him that you are able to cry out your pain and call on Him. Thank Him that you believe in forgiveness and in reparation.