Ilse Ends the Silence
All Ilse wanted to do was tell her father what happened. She wanted to share the burden of the terror, the hunger, the grief. She deserved no less. She was only thirteen years old, and she needed someone to listen and to care what had happened to her. But it never happened.
Oh sure, she shared bits and pieces, but usually when she tried to speak of those years, she was cut off.
“Do not live in the past.”
“If you have problems, keep them to yourself.”
“You must forget about it and move on.”
Perhaps the ones she tried to tell were simply not interested. Or perhaps they could not bear to hear the truth, and so they forced Ilse the child, the sibling, the wife, the mother, to bear the truth alone.
So for over sixty years, the whole story lived in her memory, unforgettable and unresolvable. I listened to her story, painful bit by painful bit; she relived moments that paralyzed my sensibilities. I wrote it as she told it, and as she lived it.
Has Ilse suffered emotional trauma from her silence? I think there’s no doubt of it. We were together in a small take-out restaurant near a touch-and-go landing field. The Navy pilots were practicing that day, and a jet sliced the air overhead with a mighty roar. Ilse buried her face in her hands and tears streamed as her body shook. I had never seen anyone experience a flashback, but there was no doubt I was seeing it here. The restaurant owner and I soothed and comforted Ilse until she came back to the safe present.
Has the writing of her story brought Ilse peace of mind? I don’t know if that’s possible after all these years. But at least she no longer suffers the truth alone.