Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's California, Dude--Child Psychiatry and the Holocaust.

I made a call on my cell phone a couple of days ago and the young person who told me I had dialed a wrong number called me dude. Really!
Somehow the title seems appropriate here in San Diego, although I haven't made it to the beach yet. I'm in the right coffee house though. It is an internet cafe (free wireless!) by the name of Lestat. No vampires yet but a few vegetarian-eating, chain-smoking, tattooed women, and a bearded man who is drinking bottled water and talking to himself loudly. I just bought Day of the Dead skull earrings (for Halloween) but hope I don't scare any of my young patients. I also bought a couple of 1906 postcards with pictures of my Chicago neighborhood. Figures I would find them in California.
I am playing hooky from my conference. The only meeting over the lunch hour was pretty dull and not germane to my clinical practice.
This morning's meeting (8AM which is torture for me) was one of the most moving conferences I have ever been to. I actually cried. We saw a documentary movie about an Englishman who was responsible for saving 669 Czech children during the Holocaust. The English gentleman who rescued them was so unimpressed with his feat that he did not tell anyone until some 50 years later his scrapbook of documents pertaining to the kids he rescued was discovered in an attic.
Then we heard from a panel consisting of 3 of the children (now each 70 or so) who were saved, one of their daughters, and her high schoo-age daughter. It was hard not to cry when hearing testimony of children whose parents opted to put them on a train to a foreign country. The kids were mostly bewildered but the parents knew they might never see their children again and most of them indeed perished. I think everyone in the room must have been trying to imagine the pain of a mother or father deciding to ship their children to safety and then saying good-bye to the kids in a train station. We child psychiatrists deal with children in foster care all the time, but this was hard to hear.
The final speaker was an American university professor who had also escaped as a child from Vienna and then Prague, but via Russia and then Shanghai. In the United States he was recently reunited with his childhood friend who was one of the transported children who also spoke. He spoke eloquently about his own experiences and the people who had helped him escape. He even managed recently to thank the 90 year old Japanese man who had helped rescue his family.
In spite of the Holocaust theme the message was hopeful. The professor talked about making the acquaintance of both absolute evil but also of good. The four survivors who spoke all mentioned their gratitude that they were alive and the movie referred to not just individuals saved but also to the subsequent generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And the man who rescued these kids? Still alive and well. In the movie he seems very modest despite a recent knighthood. It seemed the thing to do at the time, we are told.
In a room full of people dedicated to helping children, I imagine that nearly every one of us felt somehow inspired to do a little more by the magnitude of what this one man did on his own. I wasn't the only one who cried either. The conference moderator was so choked up he couldn't make his concluding remarks. The professor sang Beethoven's Ode to Joy in German to us instead. Really, dude, he did.

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