Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wartime Memories

I have seen a number of patients with tattooed numbers on their forearms, engraved during their time spent in concentration camps during World War II. Our community has strong German roots and we also have many people here from Eastern Europe who immigrated following the war. The stories they tell defy imagination and many of them carry emotional scars to this day.
On our psycho-geriatric unit, we have a poor, tormented man of Polish descent who has lost his recent memories following a stroke. Unfortunately, he has retained the memories of his time spent in a work camp in Siberia during the war. All day he calls out, “help me, help me”, and, “I have to go to the bathroom”, or “give me some food”. He thinks the staff members are Nazis. His very supportive family has told us that he was denied food and was not allowed to go to the bathroom for extended periods of time as punishment in the camp. Our physician ordered a urinary catheter for him, in hope that his bladder would not fill and send distress signals to his brain. It did not help. The staff and other patients have felt stressed with his constant calling, but his torment is greater than all ours combined.
The Becka introduced me to the graphic novel, Maus. I later found out that my good friend, who is an English professor at York University, has added the two books to her curriculum. I sat down one evening, very tired, and decided to read only a few pages of the first volume. I could not put it down and finished “My Father Bleeds History’ in one sitting. Art Spiegelman brilliantly tells two stories; one of his father’s war experiences and the other of his relationship with the old, sick, cantankerous man. The families of the survivors live with the psychological fallout from their war experiences through subsequent generations.
I highly recommend reading this two volume set and then taking time to reflect on the peace and freedom we enjoy.


  1. Anonymous9:29 am GMT-4

    Excellent article.

    Your paternal grandfather often reminded his family how fortunate they were to live in Canada ...and he was right.

    To this point in history those born in Canada will never have to relive memories like your patient.

  2. I hope I never take the freedom we have for granted. It is so easy to complain about trivial things and fail to see the suffering others endure in some places in the world.

  3. Although I don't normally go for movies/literature about the Holocaust (however, I believe it IS very important to see/read everything that happened in history), this graphic novel is an exception. It is a book that I can read more than once and still get something out of it.

    ...and even though Spiegelman's drawings appear so simple (to my eye anyway ;))they also tell both stories so well ("My Father Bleeds History", "And Here My Troubles Began")...brilliant!

  4. Thanks for introducing me to them. I am awaiting your first graphic novel!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.