How can you not help, if a child asks? Someone who does not know the difference between good and evil is worth nothing. In fact, such a person belongs in a mental institution.
—Mieczysław Kasprzyk, a Polish farmer who risked his life to hide Amalia, an 11-year-old Jewish girl, on his family’s farm
In many parts of the world, people of many races and backgrounds are struggling. People have been driven from their homes by civil war, hatred, and unnatural “natural disasters” such as the flooding in Louisiana and earthquakes in Italy.
A few days ago I saw a video of a tiny, 5-year-old boy who was discovered in the rubble of a bombed-out building in Syria. He was bleeding, in shock, and covered in dust from the explosion, and yet he said nothing.
He did not cry or latch onto his rescuers in panic–he simply regarded the world around him, filled with death and destruction, with a frozen look described by the cameraman who captured the child, later identified as Omran Daqneesh, in this moment.
He did not say a thing. He was traumatized from the shock. He did not scream, he did not call anyone, he had an odd stare . . . With his innocence, how he wiped the blood off with his hand. He was used to all this — the airstrikes, the blood — this is his daily life.
—Mustafa al-Sarut, the 23-year-old Syrian cameraman for the Aleppo News Network
Omran and the other children caught in Syria’s Civil War–as well as those in the flood waters of Louisiana, and the earthquakes in Italy and Myanma–are changed by what they have seen, what they have experienced, what they have lost: homes, brothers and sisters, parents, and families. But they have lost something perhaps deeper, their belief that grown ups have an answer and a healing response for all the pain and suffering that happens in their world. Trauma at a young age does indeed scar a child for life.
Historically children and women have been the collateral damage of war–and peace, for that matter. Neither cirstumstance has been terribly kind to women and children who are not always safe in their own homes.
During World War II, the children of Europe–whether they were Polish, gypsies, Jewish, handicapped or the children of people who simply tried to help their neighbors during the organized murder that became Germany’s Third Reich–were pawns trapped in a maelstrom of terror. So many hunted, hungry, and orphaned children.
One Polish farmer, Mieczysław Kasprzyk, who lived with his family near Krakow was approached by Amalia Gelband, an 11-year-old Jewish girl whose entire family had been killed by the Germans. Kaspryzyk knew Amalia’s family, was appalled by the inhumane actions unleashed in Poland, and when she asked for help, he hid her in the attic of his farmhouse. After the war she reinvented herself as a Catholic girl named Helena Kowalska, was placed in an orphanage, and eventually escaped post-war Poland for a life in Brazil.
As for my father, when he was four months old his mother died from insanity (according to her death certificate) caused by an extreme form of nutritional deficiency called pellagra psychosis.
We do not know if she was suffering with this mental illness while she carried Daddy, or whether bringing the pregnancy to term took the last bit of her body’s resources and she succombed to the disease.
In 1935 she died in the poorhouse here in Knoxville which was called the George Maloney Home. Actually it was more of a workhouse according to the archival sources we researched. The inmates there were the poor of the surrounding area who were forced to work in the fields as slave labor. It was not clear exactly how people were consigned to this fate, and it is equally unclear why Daddy’s mother, whose death certificate said she was mentally ill, died in such a place when her husband lived in a rented house in South Knoxville.
My father could have been raised by his mother’s Mormon relatives in Kingsport, Tennessee, but his father would not hear of it. Instead he was raised by his hellion of a grandmother who lived together with her two sons: Daddy’s father Hodge and his alcoholic brother.
When Daddy was five, his grandmother died, and he was raised in the chaotic home of his illiterate father, who worked as a butcher at a packing company, and his brother who may or may not have been a bootlegger.
Children are the loose change in the pockets of the adults around them who make devastatingly poor decisions.
And heartbreakingly I know so many women who were sexually abused as children: two by their grandfather, one by her brother, and as for me, I was told that we were playing doctor when an older neighbor boy decided to take violate me with a stick in our next door neighbor’s basement. I was only 5 years old and had been taught never to make anyone uncomfortable, so I went along and ended up feeling confused, hurt, ashamed, and guilty. Because as children whatever happens to us, we feel it is our fault. I have never lost the shame, but was far luckier than the girls who were abused by family members or clergy which promises another whole layer of grief and betrayal.
What can we do? My answer was to rear two sons and teach them that no person—whatever his or her gender, sexual orientation, color, background, nationality, religion, or level of povert—is disposable.
Racism is a form of death–and not just for the person who is denigrated, but also for the soul of the person who allows hate to control their heart–or for the people who allow hate to define their government.
~ Anna 8/28/2016