Book Review: The Things They've SeenNov 03, 2021
I recently discovered an account on Instagram @iwitnesshistory.This account is run by a man named Daniel Burghard, who recently published a book called The Things They've Seen. Reflections on WWII and the Cold War by German Eyewitnesses.
This book interested me because I am seeking resources on how Europeans did or did not process the war and the trauma they endured. Observing how the world has behaved since March 2020, it has become very clear to me where countries , cultures, or individuals, are holding on to trauma and are unable to see through what is happening. To be able to more clearly see what is happening in our world, we need to do our inner healing work. Layer by layer release the trauma we hold and that which we have inherited from our parents, grandparents, and ancestral lineage.
This book opened me up to history I did not know. My study of World War II ends with the end of the war. I never studied the Cold War beyond what I might have learned in school. My primary focus for the last 11 years has mostly been researching and telling the stories of American service members. In that I am an expert. In what each country did or did not do to rebuild, process and heal in Europe after the war, my knowledge is lacking. However, many books and resources and people are showing up to help me fill in those gaps.
Why is this book important?
The book begins addressing some of the history of World War II and the Cold War. What I greatly appreciated seeing was that Daniel addressed the fact that everyone likely had PTSD. These two wars were a collective trauma that still impacts us today. This paragraph really drives it home....
The horrors and struggles of WWII, followed by the tension and destruction of the Cold War, left permanent marks on those living through it all. It impacted their decisions. Their hopes and ambitions. Many lost homes, went hungry, watched family members pass away or disappear without a trace. The scars left were carried for decades, often in a culture that frowned upon or even prohibited, discussion or acknowledgement of the pain felt, instead expecting people to "get on with it."
Having lived in Europe/Chicago back and forth since 2016, I have witnessed this cultural "get on with it do not talk about it". I've spoken to children of those who survived the war and they often say their parents, barely, or would not, talk about the experiences. However, as an empath and medium, many of those parents would show up to make sure I understood their pain, especially when their children were closed off and in denial of it.
When we look at European countries after the war, the propaganda was basically be quiet, do not talk about it, hide your pain, and rebuild. We see the same in America but here we did not suffer as greatly as the rest of the world. Our country was not divided by a wall and not destroyed (yes there was Pearl Harbor) during the war. We did not have to rebuild in the same way. Isn't it time we each look at our ancestral traumas, especially as they relate to war and tell our stories? Look at our pain and begin to heal?
Daniel interviewed eight people and their stories are in this book. He spent time with them witnessing their lives, pain, trauma, and healing. Many of these people lived in East Germany when the Wall was built. Ask yourself, especially if you are an American - what was life like in Communist countries after WWII? Ask yourself if you still had family that lived in those countries. Ask yourself if you have ever bothered to learn more about that part of your family's history. Even if you do not know the people there, we are all connected. Their history still affects us.
I learned things I did not know and quite frankly, could have lived without knowing. However, I am not here to ignore the past, I am here to face it and help heal it. Case in point, the "Wolf Children". Fatherless German children who banded together to survive when the Russians moved in and pillaged, raped and killed their mothers. I can't even begin to imagine what that life was like or how those children grew up to have healthy lives and relationship after all the trauma they endured. This book may open you up to new areas of study.
The book talks of families destroyed during both wars. Families separated by a Wall. Those living in East Germany were under so much control that their lives were really not their own. I could see similar things happening today as what happened during WWII and the Cold War. Freedoms slowly taken away. Propaganda and psychological manipulation and control until you don't even realize who you are anymore or what you believe in.
One story that impacted me was about a woman who participated in the propaganda and politics of East Germany. She believed in the cause - until one day she woke up and realized she was being controlled and had few choices. Then she realized she contributed to this level of population and mind control.
What does one do with this knowledge that you contributed to something that harmed so many? Whether you are a civilian politician or a soldier "following orders". How do you reconcile that and release it so you can heal yourself and contribute in better ways, kinder ways to society? Sadly we know from all wars that most people involved, soldier or civilian, remained silent until they were older. Their hidden war was passed down to their children, grandchildren, and so on. We call it inherited trauma.
This book is rich and deep on so many levels. Each story I read I marked up, wrote comments in the margins and tabbed pages. It will make you question your own history and likely dig into your ancestors' history in a new way. As someone who did not grow up in a Communist Country, I count my blessings my grandparents, parents, and I did not have to endure what the citizens of those countries did. Had my ancestors not immigrated from Bohemia/Czechoslovakia before World War II, who knows what kind of lives they would have had.
I invite you to read The Things They've Seen and witness these extraordinary people who survived incredible experiences. You might be surprised at how they all feel about the experience today. I left the book feeling they had each found some peace and healing, even after enduring so much.
Bonus invite: Go interview your family members and ask about World War II or any topic. Capture those stories before they are lost.
If you would like to explore your stories, sign up for my course, Exploring Family Patterns and Stories. It might just change how you look at yourself and your family.
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