HEIFETZ: Felicia, before we go forward, I wanted to ask how you felt about the last interview when I left.
GRABER: Good. I really felt good. I had a feeling almost like I got things off my chest. I expected to feel bad, I expected to feel depressed maybe, or whatever you want to call it. But I didn’t. I really had a good, almost like a feeling of relief, I want to call it, and I’m surprised with myself.
HEIFETZ: I asked because you had mentioned you were so reluctant and I really thought about you and wanted to know.
GRABER: Yes, I know, I really did. I really was glad that I went through with it and it made me feel better instead of worse, so it worked out fine.
HEIFETZ: When we stopped, we were talking about you were, personally you were going to a Holocaust reunion here – a Holocaust meeting and the experience you had with the Star put around your neck.
GRABER: Well, actually, they didn’t put it on me. I refused to put it on, but it was just the idea of seeing that, seeing it that really triggered a tremendous response in me that I did not fully understand. And I fully still don’t understand. I mean, I understand it logically, I understand it intellectually.
HEIFETZ: What is that you understand?
GRABER: Well, knowing a little bit about psychology, it must – you know – it’s not difficult to realize that it must at one time, somehow I must – you know, I saw it around me and somehow I connected that with something negative and seeing, maybe also seeing, you know, the pictures in movies with people wearing the stars. Although I never, when I see it in pictures or in the movies, it never really bothered me. I mean, I knew it was there but I never really had an emotional response. I mean, I understand intellectually that this was connected in some way but somehow subconsciously I connect this to some negative experience. What that experience is and what this, what it, what it, what it, why it means – why I had such a violent response to it. Such a, the negative response in me really. What I was really shocked was the violent response because I usually am not, at least I think, you know – it’s hard to assess yourself (LAUGHTER) but I don’t see myself as a person that gets into these violent emotional states. Of course it depends on who you talk to – they might disagree with me. (LAUGHTER) I – I realized it’s one of the few times when I had no control over myself. Now, not that I was screaming and yelling but I was just shaking, I was – I don’t know if I was actually crying, on the verge of tears or holding my tears back. I was just shaken and I just wanted to get away.
HEIFETZ: Did it make you angry?
GRABER: I don’t think it made me angry. What made me angry were the people – yes, I got angry with the people for doing this. I felt it was very poor taste. I was – I get angry at that. I don’t know if I felt angry right then or felt angry later on when I thought about it. I thought it was in very poor taste, and like I told you, I did not go back to Holocaust Yom Hashoah celebration. In fact, to this day, I haven’t – maybe I’ve been to one since then because I was just afraid to – I was afraid that something will happen to get that emotional reaction. I didn’t want – I did not want to be subjugated to this kind of – of, well I mean, I don’t know how to explain, but people sometimes – educators do that a lot. They want to be cute. I don’t know if “cute” is the right word. They want to be innovative, creative, sometimes in the wrong way and they play with emotions without really realizing what they’re doing. Like, I have seen all kinds of games on the Holocaust. I have heard of people doing Holocaust activities with children and when I read about it, I thought, “Oh my God, how can you do that to a child?” About putting kids in, in, in, in garbs of prisoners and putting kids behind bars. I mean, all kinds of weird esoteric things. The purpose of it is probably – the ration…I understand the rationale to make them feel, but there are certain things that you cannot feel. You might not even want them to make, to have them feel. Why subjugate a child to this trauma that is not necessary. And you don’t know how the child is going to react. I mean, I have taught classes on Holocaust to high school kids and to adults. I would, I would never, never dare to start some – or even never dare to start something I cannot control, that I might unleash some kind of emotions which I cannot remedy, and this is the case, also not only with the Holocaust with kids but with other teaching. But, especially with the Holocaust – when you deal – you don’t know some of these kids might have, might be children of survivors. They might be grandchildren of survivors. They might have heard stories. To put them in this kind of a situation, unless you are a trained psychologist who knows how to get them back, so to say, I think is – well, criminal may be too hard, but it’s almost criminal.
HEIFETZ: Can you describe the Star that they gave you?
GRABER: Oh, it looked just like – it was yellow. It looked just like a Star of David that you see on any pictures and was made out of paper. I mean, it was, (OVERTALK) it said Jude on it. Either Jude or Zyd or something. I’m not really sure, I tell you the truth – something. It was very bland looking little thing.
HEIFETZ: Was it a necklace?
GRABER: No, no, no. They pinned it with – they had pins, they pinned it on and, I don’t know – maybe I make too much of it but I, I just had a very odd reaction to it.
HEIFETZ: No, I don’t think you make too much of it. The only reason I was wondering was because there are two different things that happened to you in that experience with a symbol. One is being persecuted for being Jewish. The other is being forced to wear a symbol saying that you were Christian…
HEIFETZ: …where it was forced on you. So a symbol has really both, both meanings for you because you did mention the necklace.
GRABER: Um-hum. But I don’t think – I mean, I mean, you might have a point there. Now, as far as I know from what my parents tell me, I don’t think that I ever wore a Jewish Star because I was too young, cause only children of a certain age – now I don’t know what their age was – I think it was about two and I was just under two. So I don’t know if I, myself, ever wore it. But, I mean, I know my parents did.
HEIFETZ: Wore a Jewish Star?
HEIFETZ: The yellow Star?
GRABER: Right, when they were in the ghetto they did. I mean, I don’t remember it, I don’t remember seeing it but I know that everybody else did, so and you know…
HEIFETZ: You must have seen it.
HEIFETZ: You know it’s a really traumatic thing to see them having to wear it or to witness perhaps their reaction to it.
GRABER: Right. I would say probably the reaction as a child, because if you, you just show – I mean, you can show a star like that to a child and you say, “Oh, it’s something good,” and the child will accept it as something good. And I, myself, never had to wear it’s just that I didn’t want to when I was made to wear it. It must have been the environment and the people around me that looked at it as a negative thing for me to look upon it as such. I assume – this is all assumption…
HEIFETZ: It certainly triggered on – must have triggered a very old reaction in you that was probably something that you felt at the time from, as you say, not just from your parents, but from everyone’s reaction must have been. How horribly dehumanizing – the experience to put that on especially for people who are so proud of their religion. And you can see that this doesn’t, isn’t something you can replay that you would want to go back to.
GRABER: Right. I really felt, the more I thought about it later, in that particular case, I really felt it was just in very poor taste. Again, I understood, I understood what they were trying to achieve. They didn’t mean to – they did it out of good motives – they meant to – as a remembrance, and I don’t think they realized what it could mean to somebody. I don’t know, you know, how -–if anybody reacted the same way I did. I never talked to anybody about it. I mean, I told my husband about it but, of course, he has no feelings attached to it. And I did not talk to anybody else – any survivor, you know, how they felt about it or what. All I know is they never did it again so maybe there were other people, maybe. I never did complain. I never did say anything about it but maybe other people told them they were aware that it was not appropriate.
HEIFETZ: Felicia, after I left last time, did you think about other things that you might have wanted to have talked about – back, before we go forward?
GRABER: Oh – well there was one thing but that is, that sort of keeps coming to my mind – a lot. Very often on occasion that I have nothing to do with the Holocaust and in a way it’s – well I guess it’s very personal and I guess it comes back to my mind because it really touches a – a (CRYING) here I go again. At the very, very core of my being, I knew – I ‘ve known for a long time already – that my mother was pregnant with me. Well, I was born in March. The war started in September, so I don’t know how many months she was pregnant. But after Germany invaded Poland, my mother wanted to have an abortion and there was a lot of talk back and forth. You know, she didn’t have a child. Logically it makes all sense, but when you are involved it gets a little bit…you know what’s coming, you know. All you need is a baby at this particular time, and I really am not exactly sure the reason – because I’ve heard different versions and, you know, time sometimes has a way of warping what actually happened. The reason why she did not. I know my grandparents were very much against it, they were very religious people and they were very much against it. One story I heard is that she was too far gone and the doctor thought it was too dangerous. Then by the time, another story, she decided to have it, the doctor said he couldn’t do it because it was, they were being – bombs flying and the lights, the electricity could go off at any time and it was just too dangerous. He wasn’t going to take the chance, that it was just too dangerous a procedure in these circumstances. And I, I’ve known this for a long time and I guess more or less accepted the fact. You know, it’s just one of those things that you cannot really take it seriously. What really shook me up was when I was listening to a tape of my parents, at one point, my father says that a lot of young people went to Russia when Hitler came, you know, and Germany forbid it. I don’t know why I’m crying, really. And he said they couldn’t because my mother was pregnant (CRYING) and my first thing was that if they had not been pregnant, if my mother had not been pregnant with me, they would have gone to Russia and not have to go through all this. And that really shook me up (STILL CRYING) more than the idea of not being born. (EXCUSES HERSELF) I’ll be right back…
And, I had not known about this. I knew that my uncle, my mother’s brother, went to Russia and a lot of young – other young people, especially single people – men – went to Russia to join the Russian Army and I mean, they had a rough time but they were not really persecuted, and when I heard that on the tape it really, really made me feel rotten. It made me feel almost like I was guilty – although I know, I know I’m not, and I know I’m not, you know, logically I’m intellectual – I know that I have no guilt. But in a way I felt that because of me all these things happened to my parents. If I weren’t around, it might not have happened. Of course my husband, when I told that to my husband because he walked in when I was – after I had just listened to it and I was really dissolved in tears. And so, he wanted to know what was going on and I told him. Of course he, you know, he, he intellectualized it and said there was just no way I could think that way because you don’t know if they had gone to Russia, you don’t know what would have happened to them. Maybe they wouldn’t have survived in Russia. A lot of people did not survive in Russia. Life was very, very difficult even though you were not persecuted as a Jew, but there were other things, and you know, he…
HEIFETZ: That really doesn’t take away the feeling of being responsible for their suffering.
GRABER: Right. You know, and I, I think about it. I think since – ever since I heard that tape. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m also afraid to listen to the rest of the tapes because I say, “What else am I going to uncover?” You know, I thought I sort of knew, more or less. I just wanted to get a clear picture of exactly the – you know, because a lot of things are mumbled up in my head and after hearing this, I really am afraid almost. I, it’s like I want to and I don’t want to because I said, “Well what else am I gonna hear that I’m – that, that this is really gonna shake me up.”
HEIFETZ: Felicia, the feeling that you were responsible in this way, is that something that you remember feeling when you were a child? I don’t mean that you connected it with anything, but just that feeling?
GRABER: Well, I don’t know, now that you asked me that. I never, I don’t know if I feel responsible. I’ve always in a way felt – well, I thought it was – I never connected the two. But I always had like a way of feeling that I was responsible, make sure that – especially my mother was okay. Like, if I was at – when I was a teenager and I would go out and I – if she was home by herself, I always felt guilty if I went out and left her home by herself. I don’t know if you – I don’t know if this is connected or not, I really don’t know, because, as I said, I did not know about this recent thing. I do have often – you know, I feel responsible very – you know, I haven’t thought about this until you asked me that question. I do very often feel responsible for, or maybe take on responsibility for things that I should say, “Well, I did the best I could,” you know, that’s it. I never thought about it in any other connection but just almost as part of my makeup. That’s the way I was. But it gets me in trouble a lot of times (LAUGHTER) because I always – not always – but very often feel that I have to do. Somebody complains to me about something and I always feel that I have to do something about it, with my family especially, and I am trying and I took assertiveness training years ago and she always tried to remember to say, “Well that is not my problem, I cannot do anything about it.”
HEIFETZ: Can you give me an example?
GRABER: Oh, I can give you hundreds. One thing in particular that got me in a lot of trouble. There was a family squabble where my mother complained to me about my brother, about something he had said or done and she was quite upset about it and I wanted to make her feel good. So, knowing very well my brother did not mean it – so I called him and said, “Mom feels very bad about this. I know you don’t mean it that way, but I just wanted to let you know how she feels.” ‘Cause I wanted mom to feel good. She was visiting and I, I felt upset that she was upset. Well, my brother, meaning very well, calls my mother and says, “Well, I didn’t realize that you were upset about this.” She turned and hangs up the phone, gets on me and says, “Why’d you call him?” You know, first of all, she tells him, “No, I’m not upset, no everything’s okay.” Then, when she hangs up, gets on my back saying, “Why did you tell him – you shouldn’t have told him anything. I just told you I was upset, I didn’t want him to know.” And this is when I learned, I said, “From now on, I’m keeping my mouth shut.” No, but I get myself into these situations. I’m just giving this as an example because I have a tendency of getting myself into these situations, of trying to make everybody happy and getting myself caught up in this impossible entanglement, always being in the middle somehow. I have that – it’s an art almost, I’ve developed into…(LAUGHTER) Real talent to get myself into these situations and I’m trying hard not to but sometimes I’m not doing too well. Now I don’t know again, you know, I just brought it up because you asked me and…
HEIFETZ: Well, certainly.
GRABER: …whether this has anything to do with what we were talking or not, I don’t know – you know, how can you tell what shapes your personality? You know, I never even thought about it in that connection until you mentioned it now.
HEIFETZ: There’s not one single thing but you can understand how, under the circumstances, you may have picked up a feeling of responsibility for problems and this being an old way of looking at your task and your burden.
GRABER: Um-hum. It could be, I mean, now that you mention it…
HEIFETZ: Certainly in that extremely loaded situation which you’ve been in.
GRABER: You might have a point, that maybe as a child subconsciously somehow, my parents felt, “If we didn’t have that child…” I mean not – and you know very often I have heard, even to this day I hear from my parents in a positive way. “We want you…” or if I don’t feel well or something is wrong, they sometimes say, “You were taken out of Hitler’s hands. You were literally grabbed out of Hitler’s hands.” They don’t mean negatively, they mean very positively. They always talk about it in terms of, “You should not have to work so hard because you were saved. You deserve everything,” you know, “You deserve the best because you were grabbed from under death’s jaws” or whatever, “Out of Hitler’s clutches.” I don’t know in what connection I was talking about. Oh, yes, so I don’t know, maybe, maybe that part gave me a feeling that I owe somebody something, I don’t know. I never thought about it this way. But I heard that – I mean, I mean, even to this day I, very often when something comes up, my parents – either my mother or my father – will bring it up just as almost as a way of expression. Not, not just saying, you know, like I said, my mother especially is very concerned about my health, sometimes to the point – which is also I figure which what I read is survivor’s guilt type of thing and not believe that everything is okay. Any little thing, she thinks something’s definitely wrong with me. Any little problem I have – even as a child – every little problem I had, she took me to several doctors just to make sure because she – I mean, I read that this is a symptom of many survivors. They just cannot believe that they survived and everything’s going to be okay, they expect something bad will happen and too if there’s something, you know, wrong with me, my mother right away thinks that I have cancer or I have this or this – always the worst. And I talk to her on the phone every other week or so. She keeps track when I go to the doctor and “When did you go?” I say, “I don’t remember the last time I went.” “Well, it’s time for you to go back,” and it’s almost a paranoia type thing that she just cannot believe that I am in good health. Not that she wishes that I were not, but it’s just the fear that something bad is going to happen and I have that too sometimes with my children, not in terms of their health, but I have it – again I don’t know how much, I’m sure there are certain degrees every mother when they drive a car or when they go some place or – for the longest time when they left home and I didn’t hear from them for a week or two. I never thought I would be able to survive that not knowing what they were doing, where they are, you know, even when they were home I wasn’t with them 24 hours a day, obviously. But I know where they were approximately, what time they come home, you know, like a normal life. And when they left home, at first I knew something terrible was going to happen to them because I would not know what time they are coming home and where they are and what they are doing. And, sometimes, sometimes I have it to this day when they come home and they fly. I have these flashes – “I shouldn’t have asked them to fly,” you know, and things like that. But, you know, again, I don’t know how much of it is normal, fear that everybody has, how much of it is somehow connected to the, to the, my experiences.
HEIFETZ: But you were aware that separations – a feeling of being cut off was frightening.
GRABER: It was. It is not so I got used to it. My children left home very early and they both left at the same time which was traumatic because our son went to Chicago to high school. In fact the same day we put our daughter – she had graduated high school and went to Israel for a year – we drove her to the airport and put her on the plane to Israel and rolled up the car and took my son to Chicago to school. So it, it was a little traumatic and I have a hard time. And again, I have a way of – my emotions run very funny. I always delayed. My emotional response was delayed for some reason or other. I was feeling perfectly okay the first few weeks or so. In fact, my brother kept calling and saying, “Are you okay?” you know, “Are you all right?” And I was fine. And then things started – things started happening – two weeks later. I would get depressed for no reason or cry for no reason and when everybody thought, you know, “Oh, she’s doing fine, she’s doing beautifully, her children are gone and she’s doing fine.” This is when my reactions came and I do that a lot. I mean…