December 13, 2017

Among the Reeds by Dr. Tammy BottnerI attended a talk this morning by Dr. Tammy Bottner about the struggle of her grandparents and family in surviving the Holocaust. Dr. Bottner, a pediatrician from Newburyport, discussed her grandparent’s horrific ordeal of escaping the Nazi regime in Belgium during World War II. 

Dr. Bottner also highlighted the after effects of such horrendous trauma on her grandparents, their children (including Dr. Bottner’s father) and even their grandchildren (including herself). It is interesting how trauma is extended through generations either by gene expression (epigenetic) or environmental effects, or likely both in combination. I recommend highly her recently published book Among the Reeds accounting this story of one family’s survival of the Holocaust. It is a compelling story, available at amazon.com.

I was struck in hearing this talk of the contemporary parallels in our country of atrocities to certain peoples that are ostracized and expelled just because they are different. Our government is, of course, doing such a similar process to Latino immigrants and to Moslems, or in New Hampshire to Christians who escaped persecution in Indonesia by coming to the US many years ago.  Around the world examples of xenophobia, of killing and expulsion, are even more alarming in Syria, Yemen and Myanmar.

Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. We saw such hatred of the “other” on vivid display in Charlottesville in August, with white supremacist marchers shouting the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil” and the horrific “Jews will not replace us.” Unfortunately, hatred and rejection of the “other” is on an upward trajectory in our land with that march in Charlottesville just one example of this frightening resurgence.

Dr. Bottner’s father and parents had to hide from Gestapo and immigrants in our country have to hide from ICE agents. The parallels between the traumas then from the Nazis to the resurgence of hatred of others now in our country are appalling. We are, of course, a country of immigrants (even Native Americans came from Asia!), but we are in danger of forgetting our story. (Full disclosure: my grandparents emigrated from Poland and Russia early in the twentieth century.) I hope we can rescue our country from bigotry and hatred before it is too late.      

Leonard Korn, MD