Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

«No peace» or: Heirs of a German war.

I hated Christmas for a long time. Playing the happy-family-game with my parents and half-siblings felt like taking part in a cynical play. Singing songs under the Christmas tree, exchanging gifts and warm wishes, being grateful to each other — it’s hard to celebrate love while standing on the carpet so much trauma and addiction, cheating and deception, emotional abuse, lies and suicide attempts have been swept under.

Having moved to another country, hundreds of kilometers away from my old home, being a dad myself today, I can avoid the jolly, cinnamon-scented awkwardness back in my childhood home. I’d rather be able to enjoy visiting my parents and spend Christmas with them though.

Many wrongs but who to blame?

To this day I pity our dysfunctional relationship. I desperately tried to repair it for most of my life. I wanted a healthy, happy family. I wanted to fill the gaps. In the end I had to give up in order to save myself from going down.

To this day I feel sorry for my parents – not only around Christmas when they spend their evenings without their kids. I pity them for never having been able to understand what has driven our lives apart. It was their fault — but it wasn’t.

Born as Germans in 1938 and 1943 right into WWII, my parents had internalized war before they learned to read and write. Death, starvation, bombings and fire storms were their playmates. History had no safe place reserved for them. There was no room to think about themselves. Nobody taught them how to reflect their situation. Their childhood and upbringing was a speechless mess.

Dealing with horrors they did not create.

After the war had ended, their parents and relatives and friends were dead, missing, jailed or traumatized for live. They were alone with all their pain and angst, but the world of course didn’t spend much time on caring about the happiness of perpetrator’s children. They had to bear alone the suffering that was not of their doing.

Their childhood and chances of recovery drowned in a sea of guilt their ancestors created. No questions allowed. No pity and no pain accepted. And no time to cry openly. It must have been horrible.

76.5 years after WWII ended their trauma still sticks with them. None of us, not my older half-siblings, not myself, know what they really went through. We asked and got some answers — but also we never really asked and never really got any answers. Their unprocessed guilt and shame and sadness and anger was passed on to us, their children.

No chance to recover.

To this day I feel bad about feeling bad about it. About wishing my parents would have had a chance to recover from their devastated childhood. Because we’re Germans, the perpetrators — with what right could we ask for any help or pity or relief?

They were little children though, 2 and 7 years old, when the horrible war and slaughtering their countrymen had incited came to an end. They hadn’t done anything wrong. They were no nazis, no murderers, no racists, no jew-hating monsters. They were little Maria and little Heiko whose personalities never really stood a chance to flourish due to the horrors of war which left its indelible imprints in their minds.

They were kids who had to grow up without dads who, if they didn’t die physically, returned to their families dead inside from the trenches of war. Kids whose mothers had lived in constant fear and agony. Kids who got guns pointed and bombs thrown at them by strangers. Kids who lost friends to duds they played with. Kids who learned about killings, rape, torture and starvation instead of dinosaurs. Kids who found disfigured bodies while playing hide and seek in the forest.

Nodding isn’t understanding.

Their crippled emotions, their starved souls, their psychological damage have rubbed off on us, their children. And looking at the role Germans played in the 20th century, from a historical perspective one could say: fair enough. Why should they whose relatives brought all this suffering and death into the world have it any better?

But they also were kids back then. Kids who today, almost 80 years later, spend Christmas alone at home because they involuntarily ruined their children’s lives. I tried to talk to them so many times. Again and again I tried to explain to them what I thought had gone wrong in our lives. They listened, sometimes they even nodded, but they never really understood.

We gave up on each other. We still talk and visit each other from time to time. But the emotional part of our family ties has dissolved into the nothingness of unresolved childhood trauma. I don’t know if they could have done better. I don’t know if I could have done better. I tried until it almost killed me and then decided to move on without them. I fear it’s over. For them. For us. We will live on in our mutual truce.

Real peace we could not find.



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Christian Hansen

Christian Hansen

Ex playwright now entrepreneur. Ex German now Swiss. Ex wreck now fine. I write about mental health, future cities, climate change and resilience.