In my last post, I mentioned that I am learning things about my family’s past that I didn’t know before. I am aware that there may be stories that might be uncomfortable or painful to re-tell. Some might say that there is no point knowing as that is all in the past and most of the people are dead. They may be right, or maybe not. Anyway it has got me thinking – I have a lot of free time on my hands at the moment.
In the British film Secrets and Lies a web of secrets has been woven around one particular family. People are misjudged and issues and dynamics are created based on hiding events from the past. When the truth comes to light, instead of breaking up the family, it eventually brings them together. In this case, the truth was shocking, but it was nothing so sinister that would destroy these people. In this case, the truth had set them free.
Online at Global Post, I came across an article entitled Torn Between Identities in Argentina. It is about the genetic testing being carried out on children that were removed from their families during the rule of the military junta. Many children whose parents were killed ended up being raised by people who supported the dictatorship instead of being given back to remaining family. The grandmothers never gave up looking for their grandchildren. Now that DNA testing is available, many suspected adopted children are refusing to take the test as they have feelings for the families that raised them. Some people feel that the law is unconstitutional because if one is suspected of being a kidnapped child, they can be forced to take the test. If the parents are found guilty, they can go to jail. In some ways this is a Catch 22 situation; where does one’s loyalty lie, to the one that raised you or to your biological family? This was a terrible time in Argentina’s past and many people have gone unpunished for crimes that were committed. But what about the children? Most of them will be adults by now. They will have lived a whole life under a lie. How will the truth affect their mental state? Will knowing the truth create more suffering? Or will it create understanding and compassion? As is usual in situations as this, politics have some bearing in this situation. Politics aside, I believe that this is a moral issue based on atrocities of the past. How can we allow atrocities to go unpunished when so many still suffer and when there is a way to learn the truth? The truth can indeed hurt, but with time and care one can overcome these things. The children that were given to families were innocent. However, as adults, they know the difference between right and wrong. If they learn who they really are, then punishing those involved might guarantee that this type of thing wouldn’t happen again because of the consequences, no matter how long it took. As the saying goes, “you can run, but you can never hide” (especially from yourself).
This year, a book entitled The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather’s Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation by Martin Davidson was published. I haven’t read it yet. It is about a young man’s discovery about his family’s Nazi past. It must have been very shocking for Mr. Davidson to find out the truth about his grandfather. However, without having read the book, I am making the assumption that he now has a better understanding of the man.
The whole idea of this book resonates with me. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are secrets in my own family. Some more open than others. I mentioned that no one liked my grandfathers. There was good reason, which I really won’t go into here. There are things that I know that are quite despicable and I used to ask myself ‘why?’ Delving into the past has answered some of those questions. I have better understanding. Understanding events of the past doesn’t make the things that I despise any less despicable. Cycles of events and family dynamics are very difficult to break or change. It can take generations. There were things about my family that I didn’t know until I was in my 30’s. It was distressing information. It was distressing for the people telling me and I was distressed to hear it. I eventually got over it and I was able to have empathy for all those involved. I was able to move beyond the restrictions of my upbringing. Better late than never. Some people never know their parents or how they got to be the people they are. I don’t think it is necessary to share everything, but I do think communication is essential. It can make all the difference in having an ah-ha moment. Ah, my mom is like this because of this thing that happened when she was little. Ah, dad is like this because my grandfather used to do such and such. If I talk to my children about my upbringing, then they can understand why I do the things I do. Maybe they will make better decisions in their lives than I did.
If learning from History is so important, then why do so many people hide the past? Why do we care so much about what other people think? If someone does something so terrible, it is understandable why one would want to hide it. But instead of hiding this terrible thing, why not accept responsibility? Because of self-preservation. We all want to live. Lying can become easier than telling the truth. When I was young, I would lie to avoid getting smacked. Sometimes I got away with it. The outcome was the same for telling the truth or found caught lying. Living in fear of the outcome meant that it was easier to risk lying.
I know what it is like to have lived with someone who hid the truth and who has lied about their past. The sad thing is, the truth didn’t come out until it was too late. I had been sucked into the web of lies by the time everything started to fall apart. The really sad thing is, none of the lies were really necessary. The truth was never really that bad, only in the liar’s mind. Lies are manipulations to control outcomes and people. We all do it on occasion. The people who do it all the time are considered sociopathic. I learned all about the lies and why someone would do it. Having understanding didn’t make the situation right, but at least I had information that allowed me to move on with my life without bitterness. The lies were destructive to my relationship, but not my life. Although I went through a terrible situation, I came through it a better person because I had more information.
I don’t really know what life was like for my grandparents and my great-grandparents. I don’t know anything about their upbringing. I do know the effect it had on my parents and Aunts and Uncles and how it trickled down to me and my siblings and my cousins. I would like to know more about what life was like for my grandfather’s generation. What was it like to leave their country and what hardships had they suffered? How did they feel about building a new life in America and was it really any better or worse than they thought it would be? What frustrations and humiliations had they endured? I may never know.