Germany's retirement homes and assisted living facilities are overwhelmed with people in their seventies and eighties reliving the trauma of war they experienced as young children, according to this interesting piece in Die Welt:
Die meisten der heute etwa 70- bis 85-jährigen Menschen trügen vom Krieg in sich, schreiben die Altersexperten. Doch im Alter würden die Erinnerungen bei vielen von ihnen immer drängender. Bei manchen kehrten gar Kriegstraumata zurück. Bombennächte, Vertreibung, Verfolgung, Vergewaltigungen und Kampfhandlungen: Je nach Altersgruppe erlitten bis zu 60 Prozent kriegsbedingte Traumata, schreibt die Psychotherapeutin Heide Glaesmer vom Universitätsklinikum Leipzig in einer Studie.
(Most of the people who are between 70 and 85 years old have for decades been carrying around within them of war, according to experts on aging. But in old age these memories tend to surface for many people. Some relive the trauma of war. Nights of bombing, persecution, rape, combat: depending on their age up to 60% experienced war-related trauma, wites the psychotherapist Heied Glaesmer of the University clinic in Leipzig in a study.)
We like to think that these children benefited from the "Gnade der späten Geburt" ("the blessing of being born too late,") since they were too young to be conscripted into the war apparatus. We like to think that children are resilient and can recover from the worst experiences. But the horrors of war did not spare anyone because of their age. The terror they experienced and bottled up for most of their lives eventually finds release:
Der Münchner Psychologieprofessor Michael Ermann, der die wohl aufwändigste Studie über die Leiden der Kriegskinder durchführte, konstatiert: "Im Alter erinnern wir uns plötzlich wieder an Erlebnisse, die lange verschüttet waren. Zum anderen ist das Alter eine Lebensphase, in der viele Menschen vereinsamen, in der alles, was jahrzehntelang Halt gegeben hat, die Familie, der Beruf, langsam wegbricht. Damit bricht dann auch die mentale Abwehr zusammen."
(Michael Ermann, a professor of psychology in Munich, has written the most comprehensive study on the sufferings of children in war. He writes<" In old age we suddently recall experiences that had long since been buried. Furthermore old age is a phase of life in which many peole become isolated, in which everything that had once been there - family, career, - slowly breaks away. At the same time our mental defense break down.)
My friend Gunter Nitsch had to flee East Prussia as an eight-year-old and lived through unimaginable horror of losing loved ones and nearly starving to death on a collective farm in the Soviet-occupied zone. He wrote about his story of survival in his memoir Weeds Like Us (deutsche Version: Eine Lange Flucht aus Ostpreussen). Even though writing the memoir was a cathartic experience that helped Gunter process what he lived through, he sometimes still breaks down when giving public readings of his work. So powerful are the memories of war.