Anne-Christine Witzgall wanted to share her powerful story of abuse in the hopes that it might help others learn how to break their own cycle of intergenerational trauma.
My memoir, Freeing Rapunzel: Finding Peace After Trauma in a Divided Homeland, is the story of abuse within a household that echoed what my home nation, Germany, had inflicted on a continent—indeed, the world – during WWII. I was born in the summer of 1966 in West-Berlin, five years after the wall had been erected. My parents raised me in the National Socialistic tradition, where discipline and obedience were key, and women were submissive to men. Racist doctrine was taught at the dinner table, and I knew nothing of the Holocaust and had no real understanding of World War II.
As I became older, I began to see glimmers into the truth of the past and gain knowledge of the role Germany had played in global atrocities. I saw hints of my father’s involvement in the war, and I could see how the consequences of the war had impacted my environment. The situation at home became more unbearable as I grew in maturity. I never truly knew where I stood, and the threat of danger, violence, and emotional abuse was constant. I realized that to be whole, I must escape; and after almost giving up on myself, I decided to free myself, even if that meant stepping into the unknown. I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 with my husband and two sons, where I became a teacher and a life coach, and started to work through my trauma.
The idea for writing my story arrived in 2017 when my sister showed me my father’s two war medals that she had found in the attic of my parents’ house after my father’s death. It was like a call given the political atmosphere in the US at that time, which held chilling reminders for me of Germanys’ difficult and horrific past as the far right rose to power. I felt the need to stop being a bystander.
The hardest part of writing my story was having to relive particularly difficult episodes from my past. I also struggled to identify a clear structure for my narrative. I began by writing down all my memories, before pinpointing the key messages I wanted to bring across to my readers. English is not my native language, so that was another obstacle I had to overcome. However, writing the most traumatic parts of my story in German would, I believe, have made it too emotional for the reader, and harder to read. I found that writing it in the English language helped me to write my story with more distance. Some days it felt that I was more creative and the writing felt so natural. During these periods, I could sit there for hours and write. The story just poured out of me, which was incredibly rewarding.
Writing my memoir allowed me to accept the effect transgenerational war trauma and national socialism had on me and my generation. I was born in the postwar era, 20 years after WWII, but the war was always nearby, not only in our family but also in our country. There was the ever-present wall, and the threat of Russia on the other side, who could have invaded our little island at any time.
My parents never really talked about how they felt about the Third Reich and the war. My father defended Hitler and always said that “they” didn’t know what had happened to the Jews. My parents talked about what other people had done, but in not accepting their own feelings of grief and sadness, they transferred these feelings and moods unconsciously on to me. When I learned about the Holocaust and how it was made possible, I took on the collective guilt.
It was always a secret to me what my father had done during the Third Reich and the war where he was deployed as a troop doctor. My father, born in 1915, was part of the generation who were not allowed to show emotions, especially fear or sadness. I never saw my father cry. Germans, when we lost the war, were never allowed to mourn their own losses and it took a long time before people felt they could talk about what had happened.
Writing my memoir allowed me to create a space for the grief I had stored within me for a long time. My main aim in publishing my story was to share the effect trans-generational trauma (where the intense suffering of one generation can have a deep psychological, emotional and physical impact on the next) with others and encourage those who suffer from trauma to open up. I hope that reading my book will help to create a more peaceful world, that avoids all sorts of political extremism.
(c) Anne-Christine Witzgall
About Freeing Rapunzel: Finding Peace After Trauma in a Divided Homeland
It is summer 1966 in West-Berlin, five years after the wall had been erected, when Anne is born. Her parents raise her in the National Socialistic tradition, where discipline and obedience are key and women are submissive to men. The poisonous atmosphere at home urges her into a fantasy world. When she gets older, Anne begins to see glimmers into the truth of the past and gains in knowledge about the second world war, sees hints of her father’s involvement in it and gets a better understanding of the war’s consequences in her environment. The situation at home becomes more unbearable as Anne gains maturity. She knows that to be whole, she must escape; and after almost giving up on herself, decides to free herself, even if that means stepping into the unknown.
This book reveals the consequences family secrets have on each family member. It becomes clear that by hiding past experiences, trauma is transferred to the next generation. But the story also explores the deeper issues women of all ages and cultures face: affirming their self-worth, purpose and becoming resilient.
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