The Holocaust created a legacy of trauma in its impact on the families of survivors. My family was no exception.
Erich Levi, my grandfather, was a well-known amateur boxer who openly fought against the rising Nazi party before leaving Germany. Secretly married to Ilse Kahn because of the ban on Jewish marriages, my grandparents left Germany on Kristallnacht, along with Ilse’s family, to seek refuge in Belgium.
Erich’s family had already emigrated to Belgium where my father and his sister were born and raised amongst German Jews trying to escape the Nazi regime. When Germany occupied Belgium, Erich and other family members were arrested and sent to an internment camp in France. Ilse, in an amazing act of bravery and cunning, disguised herself as a Red Cross nurse and had the men released.
This began the harrowing journey that led to the Levis’ escape to America in 1941.
My father has no conscious memories of his life in Europe or the journey that led to their escape. He was 4 ½. His family changed their surname, and they did not practice Judaism upon reaching the United States.
My father’s childhood memories consisted of being harassed as a foreigner in school, losing his father at a young age and the financial struggles of being raised by a single mom. Whether the trauma of his early childhood impacted his later behavior remains a question, however, the effect of his behavior has long-reaching consequences on his progeny.
My father was driven – he wanted to be the best at whatever he did and he wanted to be recognized for it. He sought attention wherever he found it and it was often not at home. I do not think my mother had any idea how to manage the demons from my father’s past.