My father was a holocaust survivor. His PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was very understandable. His family lost their house to the Nazis. He never wanted to leave his house in Sydney and never allowed any tradesmen to enter his house for fear of being evicted. During WWII he was incarcerated in Labour camps, hid in kind people’s places. His father died in the ghetto at age 54, having starved to death. When my father turned 54, he was convinced that he will also die in that year. My father’s mum was shot by the Germans in a hospital so my dad would never go to hospital. If we ever took him to hospital, eg. after he fractured his hip, when we went back to visit, he had already discharged himself.
When the Germans were rounding up Jews from the Krakow Ghetto, his brother was selected. He asked my father to go and get him a cardigan. When my dad came back, the group was gone. His brother knew what was about to happen and spared my father the goodbyes. His whole, large extended family were murdered in the concentration camps, gased or burnt. So my father lost his whole family.
Later when I was a girl, my father was totally frantic if he didn’t know where any member of our family was; my sister and myself. He was very unpredictable and would come home very angry. Once he came home and threw my cat down from the first floor. Once I was late coming home after a walk with an older neighbour. My father hit me in the street, beating me over and over.
Was it the war, so scared to lose everyone? One day he came home and broke all the furniture. Not sure why. My poor mum, always trying to have everything done before he came home, homework finished, piano exercised but he would still get upset and irrational.
During the war for 5½ long years, there was no food. My dad was totally obsessed with food and lots of It. He bought tens of margarine containers, so he had to buy another fridge. He bought anything on special. In Poland you couldn’t find a lot of food, even after queueing for hours, before you got to the front of the queue there was nothing left to buy.
PTSD affected his whole life.
Some common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Re-living a traumatic event – like the war; starving, losing family.
- Being overly alert or wound up – This was my dad to a ‘T’.
- Avoiding reminders of the event – not wanting to go to hospitals.
- Feeling emotionally numb – I don’t know if he felt this because he rarely verbally expressed emotion.
- People can have physical responses if reminded of the trauma – lash out anger like breaking the furniture or hurting us.
- Negative beliefs, blame, insecurity, guilt and shame – only by my father’s actions can I see that these must have affected him.
- Difficulty sleeping – my father would need to go on his exercise bike for hours before being able to sleep and then only slept for 2-3 hours.
There are other symptoms that can be warning signs, for more information go to beyondblue.org.au (where the above points were sourced) or seek professional help.
What are your PTSD symptoms or triggers?