The ladies, the rest home and the bombs

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Listen to Brenda tell the story

Beverly hadn’t seen her elderly neighbor, Regina, for several weeks. Not since she had moved into a rest home. At 92, that wasn’t a surprising turn of events. She is still very spry and a pleasant companion, despite her years. But she was now experiencing some minor health problems.

At first, Regina thought nothing of her digestive upset. She told the doctor about it, who didn’t seem particularly alarmed. Yet over the next few days, many other residents of the rest home also fell ill. It was starting to look more and more like an institutional problem. If all the residents were having intestinal concerns, it pointed to a potential issue in the food.

An investigation was launched to determine whether there had been food poisoning. Over the course of several days, health inspectors descended upon the kitchen to check out the food preparation, looking for aberrations in procedures or hidden sources of impurities that might have caused people to become sick.

Despite careful scrutiny, they found nothing. After several days, they ended their search. The food was fine. But the illnesses continued.

Could there be another cause? Maybe it was psychosomatic.

The manager of the rest home called in a psychologist. Perhaps she could get to the bottom of the mysterious illness affecting so many people.

The first thing she discovered was that it was only the very oldest residents that were affected by the mysterious digestive ailment, people in their mid-eighties and older. What did these people have in common?

As it turns out, they were all survivors of World War II. More specifically, these people had endured the trauma of being bombed during the last world war. This distress sat very deep in their psyche. It was the outbreak of the recent war and the sight of the bombings in Ukraine that triggered these memories. It all came rushing back once again: the air raid sirens, running for shelter, and the whistling sound of the bombs falling, all the time wondering if one would hit precisely the spot where you were hiding. So intense and disturbing were these memories that they were causing these people to get sick. The horror of war lived on in their recollection over 75 years after it ended.

Regina had experienced many close calls with bombings. Her family had owned a house in central Munich located near a major hotel that had a secure basement where they would routinely hide. There is more than a little irony in the fact that their bomb shelter was located in none other than the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. Today, this hotel serves as the venue of the Munich Security Conference whose chief purpose is to serve as a meeting place for country leaders to talk instead of going to war.

Vladimir Putin was also a regular visitor to this Conference.

As the war raged on, the fighting intensified everywhere, including Munich. The Allies stepped up their bombing, and one day Regina and her family emerged from the bomb shelter to discover that their house had suffered a direct hit. It was completely destroyed, leaving only a gaping hole in its place.

Like so many other families in Munich, they headed to the mountains where they had a small cottage. Because there were no major cities in the mountains and no industry to speak of, they were usually spared from the bombs. But Regina was determined to keep attending school, located in Schwabing, in the center of Munich. Fortunately for her, the streetcar tracks along that route had not yet been bombed so she was able to take the streetcar to get there.

Then one day, just as she reached the center of Munich, an air raid siren went off. Regina jumped off the streetcar and hurried to a nearby department store. It also had a bomb shelter so she would be safe there. Once again, she listened to the whistling of the falling bombs. When the danger had passed, she emerged from the bomb shelter and continued on her way to school.

But her school was gone. It, too, had now suffered a direct hit and was completely destroyed. She was unable to attend school for the rest of the year.

Now, at age 92, these memories have come rushing back. Never forgotten, they were just below the surface, etched deep into her memory, as vivid as ever, despite the years. Regina’s fellow residents all have similar stories to tell.

The war in Ukraine rages on, unabated. Who can say how much trauma, pain and suffering will be remembered by those enduring it now in the decades to come?

It is tragic and hard to grasp that although this is all happening quite literally before our eyes on social media, delivered from every corner of Ukraine, we seem powerless to take action against it. We are witnessing it all closer and in greater grisly detail than ever before possible, and yet, there seems to be no way to stop it.

Thousands upon thousands of traumas in the making, all unfolding right before our eyes.

Brenda Arnold

Photo by Ahmet  Cantürk from Pexels

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