The Limitations of Circumstance

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Childhood Dreams:  Magic Hallucinatory Omnipotence


Shirley Temple was the young girl’s heroine.  She could laugh, dance, and sing, all at the same time.  Everyone loved her.  They danced with her.  It looked so grand, so wonderful.  She had a smile that brightened the area wherever she stood.  Her curls were more admirable than anyone had seen and her eyes shone from a distance like two bright stars.  Everyone loved her. Rosalyn, the little girl in Nazi Germany was determined to be the second Shirley Temple.  She saw a Shirley Temple toy that that performed gestures when touched at certain spots.  Rosalyn knew she could do this too and played with her toy with delight most of the day.  She just knew that someday she would be a second Shirley, whose legs would move like magic, and all of her little friends would be astounded and would want to be near her.

She loved her parents and wanted to reward them by being a “good” child, who would listen to what her parents asked her to do.  She assured her doting mother of her gratitude for being the angelic and protective human being that she was by assuring her of her eternal love and caring and devotion: “Liebe Mama glaub es mir wenn ich gross bin helf ich dir.  Dann kannst du im Sessel ruhen und ich wer die Arbeit tun” (Dear Mom, believe me when I grow up I will help you.  Then you can rest in the easy chair and I will do the work”).  Her father was a hero to the little girl.  He was tall and strong, could lift her up, play with her, protect her from any evil that might occur.  With him always near her she would be safe from aggressive children or adults who might not like her.  With Papa around her she would be protected.

Mama was her role model.  She made sure that her pretty dresses were clean and comfortable, that there was always a fresh baked cookie to enjoy when she drank her milk.  There were stories to hear of all kinds.  The Jewish holidays were celebrated.  Chanukah and Purim were her favorites. They were happy days, full of joy and a special gift or sweets, nuts, draydels, and games that were so much fun.  She learned to memorize a Hebrew prayer before she fell asleep, and was taught to read some Hebrew letters from a large printed prayer book that was in the house.

Life was secure and beautiful until she began school.  The children removed themselves from her.  She was the only Jewish child in her Kindergarten class. The students taunted her by calling her names and sang  nasty songs like “Du Bist ein Jud, du bist ein stinkender Knoblauch Jud”.  (You are a Jew, you are a stinking garlic Jew).  As far as she was aware, Rosalyn had never had eaten garlic and did not know what that vegetable was and what the odor or taste it had.  She did know she was rejected and “made out to be” a rejected, unwanted human being. Her life changed.  She did not want to attend school.  She hid, and did not participate in Kindergarten again.  The child of her age, who lived across the street from her home, who had been her friend and with whom she played, did not deal with her any more. Her religion was considered a plague; she could never be “normal,” whatever that word meant to her.  She was a paraiah, a condemned human being,  an evil creature that, as a nonperson, was an object to be ridiculed, jeered, and used as a whipping board.  Her braids were pulled with force, and there was not one child that attempted to protect her, was willing to intervene, or would help or support her.  She heard her parents whisper to one another and eventually saw that her father left the family by night and fog to escape from the tormentors that were determined to annihilate him.  He left with severe emotional misgivings, fear and pain, and a promise to send for the family if somehow he could. Rosalyn missed her father very much and learned to hide with her mother and two siblings.  Her childhood dreams became nightmares at all hours of the day.

She and her family were the “fortunate” ones.  They were able to escape without food, clothing, or anything from the evil Germans.  With their strong faith, they were able to leave.  America was their future.  None of the five people in this family were unaffected.  Rosalyn knew she had to work and had to help herself to achieve what was essential in her idealism.  She could not rely on anyone but herself and her faith to live an acceptable life.  (Her parents were never the same.  They were ridiculed because of their language, their accents, their poverty, and their status as  foreigners).  

All three children succeeded in their work, their learning, their professions, but their early childhood dreams had been shattered and their lives were changed. The hatred with which they were treated as children never healed.         

As Jews, let us never permit our fellow Americans to besmirch us or criticize us for our beliefs, our Jewishness, our being.  Let us stand together AS ONE AGAINST OUR ENEMIES!!!


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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