“White Ribbon” – Education and Nazism 2
Fern Schumer Chapman
Given all I’ve told you about my own legacy, I absolutely subscribe to the idea that this childrearing tradition is fertile ground for a totalitarian and racist ideology. A child raised in that kind of fearful, traumatic environment never develops empathy for another individual.
Consider the effects of abuse upon children:
First, they feel guilty, violated, out of control. They live in fear that they did something wrong, that it could happen again, that all relationships are abusive. This… at a time when a child should be exploring the world, nurturing his or her creativity and developing a sense of self. If the abuse continues, there are many serious physiological consequences to abuse. What’s often overlooked is the stress violence and trauma places on the victim and how that victim’s autonomic and endocrine system becomes permanently hyper-aroused as a result of the abuse. These changes cause the individual to overreact to stimuli and become emotionally numb (PTSD).
Now, imagine if an entire country overreacts to stimuli and is emotionally numb. It can become a Petri dish for bullies and, in a way, I see Nazism as institutionalized bullying.
I don’t have an answer for you as to why it happened in Germany and didn’t occur in other countries that practiced the same child-rearing methods, although it could be argued that there were pockets of this kind of behavior in other countries, including America. I suspect the childrearing tradition was more concentrated in Germany.
Interestingly, the survivors and refugees also were raised and formed by this kind of parenting and by the abuse of Nazism. In 1996, the movie Shine was released. Based upon the life story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, the movie portrays the relationship between the musical prodigy and his volatile father, who never realized his own musical dreams. The father nurtures and eventually destroys his son’s talent by brutalizing him physically and emotionally. Ultimately, the son becomes profoundly mentally ill. The film raises the question of whether the father’s sick love for the son is rooted in a history of family violence and abuse or the losses the family suffered in the Holocaust.
It’s impossible to know. But what emerges from the ambiguity is that the German culture branded children through both brutal childrearing and the Holocaust.
I often wonder about how my mother was parented before she came to America at the age of 12. I imagine that the stresses on the family between 1933 and 1938 were enormous. I would think that her mother and father didn’t have much time or inclination to reflect upon their parenting techniques; they were simply trying to figure out how to save themselves or survive the frightening and confusing circumstances in Stockstadt am Rhein. I can’t imagine how devastating the persecution was for them, one of two Jewish families in a town of 2000. The Westerfelds had helped settle the town in 1721 and they had lived in the town for over 200 years; they saw themselves as Germans, not Jews; yet, in the 1930s, neighbor after neighbor turned against them. Here again is another reason the survivors and escapees struggle with issues of trust.