Shame, Truth, and Reconciliation

“The schools would fail through their silence, the Church through its forgiveness, and the home through the denial and silence of the parents. The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.”  ― Simon Wiesenthal



I worked for many years with batterers—men who were adjudicated into a program for domestic violence prevention, men who had beaten, hit, punched, and sometimes killed their wives. They sat and stared at me, denying with the most innocent of eyes the very crimes I had laid out in photos in front of me.

She ran into my fist.

I grabbed her arm and then she ran in circles around me, and that is how she broke her own arm.

She had a soft head, and that is why she died when her head hit the iron railing.

People ask if the men ever changed and my answer remains the same: only if they are able to face their crimes and cruelty. Denial, and the shame these men felt (whether shame at being caught, shame at hurting people they should have loved, or shame at their hidden crimes being brought into the bright sunlight), blocked their change. How do you change if you can’t admit what happened?

Questions of shame and guilt spill to the next generation in families where domestic violence occurs. Are children of abusers doomed to abuse or be abused? Can they inherit a denial of familial guilt, which prevents them from comfort in their own skin and belief in their memories?

Does awareness that your people were killed in vast numbers (for being Jewish, which you are) leave one forever frightened?

What does it do to the frightened, to have that past denied?

What does it do to the children of perpetrators of violence? How does one put together love for a parent even in light of feeling revulsion for the deeds they did or the beliefs they carried?

Should there be a scale of pain and justice here, for these generations now and future? Or should we accept that everyone is the star of their own show, that pain is always relative?

For me, it’s all in the truth. I take no comfort in lies, half-truths, and fairy tales.

Posted on May 17, 2013

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