AUSCHWITZ - CHRISTMAS 2008
A flashback far more severe than in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
December 26, 2008
Fr. Marty Kurylowicz
Dear Fr. Geoff Farrow,
I have been so saddened by Pope Benedict XVI's cruel words to LGBTQ people around the world, to their parents, families and friends, most ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN. After reading the accounts of this human travesty, I did not know where to find comfort or hope. And then I thought about your blog. And just like receiving a wonderful Christmas present, sure enough I found the hope and comfort I needed to hear. Photo
I am a priest and a clinical psychologist (MS). And for one of my research projects I chose to do a qualitative research project of the recorded verbal accounts of survivors of the Holocaust, 50 years after the event. It was a difficult research project, because I could not make sense of one of the accounts of the survivors.
For example, one survivor was describing what it was like riding the train to AUSCHWITZ, but he was describing how he was trying to make conversation with a girl on the train. I listened and wrote out this one account almost 30 times but I just was not getting it. I could not understand how this man could be talking about wanting to make conversation with this girl on the same train to AUSCHWITZ!?!
Because I had taught high school religion classes for nearly 20 years, it hit me hard, like a flash of lightning. Instantly, all the pieces came together, so fast. Though this survivor was in his late 60’s when he gave his account of his story on audiotape, he was remembering the events that took place, but naturally they were recounted through the mind of a teenager, the age he was on the train to AUSCHWITZ. That is why the dialogue wasn’t making any sense. I was thinking of him as an old man because the voice on the audiotape was the voice of a 68-year-old. As shocking as a bomb going off, all the different aspects of the psychological developmental stages of a teenager kicked in. I realized only too fully that he was just a young normal teenager on that train!!! And so was the girl he was trying to make conversation, and their moms and dads were there with them!!! There was no way to pretend I did not realize what I discovered. It kept hitting me: this is not some script from a movie or TV miniseries on the Holocaust. No; as much as I wished it were. The reality of this horror hit me all at once, on so many different levels of consciousness: what an unbelievable horror it was!!! How could we treat human beings like this! I remember when the realization of the magnitude of this horror first hit me, like an instant reflex. I threw down the transcript I was holding as if it were a blazing hot poker. It kept hitting me over and over again that this is not a movie script or some kind of play – this really happened! It really happened! Oh, my God, how could this have happened!?!!!
My supervisor told me at the time that I was traumatized by the oral content. Qualitative research is an attempt to understand the complexity of emotions, the kinds of emotions, and the degree of intensity involved. Our emotions are what allow us to connect with other human beings. We identify with the non-verbal quality of emotions more immediately and strongly than with the words used to express them. The non-verbal qualities include tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression, body posture, and gestures, all of which express emotions. Emotions are why we can connect with people through time, across cultures, and individually. It is the expression of human emotions in the arts that makes some works of art timeless, because they continually speak to all people through the ages.
And when I heard what Pope Benedict XVI said about homosexuals and transgendered human beings at Christmas 2008, I felt that same trauma all over again. Because in some way, somehow, he was conveying in a non-verbal manner the horror of the Holocaust, in what appears to be a traumatized, trance-like, accepted social norm from that period of time dictating that some people just don’t count, aren’t important, and can be easily disposed of. And if you rock the boat, you could be next to be disposed of.
I truly have to believe that a person in his position would not be doing this consciously or intentionally. The horror of the Holocaust is like an atomic bomb with fallout so extensive that it spreads over a radius of more than 150 miles. The horror of the Holocaust began in 1933 and ended in 1945. The psychological fallout would have been far more extensive and more deadly, especially when it is not identified as such.
It hit me the way it did when I realized that the research I was doing about a Holocaust survivor, a man 68 years old telling his story, who was remembering what it was like to be on the train to AUSCHWITZ, from the perspective of a young teenage boy who just wanted to talk to a girl. It seemed like the same kind of horror, a tacit assumption that some people don't count and can be disposed of without remorse. Could it be that Benedict XVI is unconsciously repeating Hitler's crime against humanity by taking on a long-accepted social attitude from that period of time?
The question I asked myself was: what would it have been like for someone growing up gay during the Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933 -1945?
What would be the severity of the psychological effects on a boy who grew up to be gay in Germany during the time of Hitler’s NAZI PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS 1933 -1945? During the Nazi regime, homosexuals were publicly defamed and falsely accused for the major social problems of that time, which was done to incite massive public hatred and hostility directed against homosexuals. Homosexuals were used for medical experiments, physically mutilated, brutally tortured and exterminated.
Would this child, as an adult, in a severe dissociated state of mind from his own homosexual feelings (Harry Stack Sullivan MD, Dissociative Processes, Clinical Studies on Psychiatry (1956)), unconsciously perpetuate the terrifying horror of the insensitivity he had experienced growing up? If he found himself in a position of authority would he recreate the same social and political environment of violence and terror for homosexuals that he experienced, as a child who grew up to be gay, during the NAZI PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS?
I think in truth on a much deeper level I was frightened, really frightened, to hear Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas remarks against homosexuals and transgendered human beings and even more frightened by the silence from the larger global community of human beings. What is so frightening is, even if there is agreement that one person does not matter or is not important, in truth then no one matters. Therefore, when I thought about your blog and what you did on October 5, 2008, I felt more reassured, I felt hope, and I felt comforted. NOW, isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?
God Bless you,
Fr. Marty Kurylowicz
. . . .Written by Martin S. Kurylowicz, M.Div., M.S.
Edited by Madeline Wright, Ph.D., M.S. . . . .
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM
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Sexual orientation is about love,
being one with another human being.
Fr. Marty Kurylowicz