As our nation struggles with a policy which separates parents from young children as a way to stem immigration, many of us become aware of times in our childhood which bring up for us the basic survival fear of separation from parents.
In my case, we were a family of four: mother, aunt, older sister and me. We were refugees in war-torn Germany, escaping from the takeover of our country. In this memory, we were at a large and busy rail station, the hub of the region. I was about five or six years old. I was sitting on our suitcase, watching my mother and aunt at the train ticket booth. My attention was so focused on my mother and aunt that I didn’t pay attention to my sister until later, although she was there also.
My mother and aunt left to find the train we needed to take to get to our next destination. There was chaos all around, people going every which way. I continued sitting on that suitcase, waiting. My sister, in her early teens, was with me. By nighttime, they still had not returned. The wartime curfew went into effect. No one was allowed to be outside during the curfew. My sister and I did not know that. All we knew was that we were on our own.
The anxiety of not knowing where my mother and aunt were, when they would return, or what we should do next was great. My sister actually was now in charge, and it was up to her to make the decision that would affect all of us. She decided we would stay in place, continuing to wait for my mother and aunt. She thought if she asked strangers for help and went with them, we might never again be able to find my mother and aunt.
As it was, my mother and aunt returned to find us the next morning, as soon as the curfew was lifted for the day. They had, indeed, not been allowed to return to us the night before.
Our story had a happy ending. We were reunited, and after seeking refuge in the American zone of Germany, then divided into American, French, British and Russian zones of occupation, and after living in a refugee camp, we eventually came by ship to Boston Harbor and on to New York City. I had a happy and fortunate life here with all my basic needs met, family, friends and a “fine education,” as one friend always says.
I am an immigrant who was granted U.S. citizenship at the age of 18 years. I was fortunate that European immigrants were allowed into the U.S. at the time. I have empathy for the families now who are escaping dire situations in their country of origin, who are taking great risks to come to America for safety and in hopes of a better future for themselves and their family.
As an adult, I eventually found my church, CDM Spiritual Center. I learned spiritual techniques which I use today, reminders to be in the present, to rise above fear, to focus on balance, to best help others by healing myself, and to see my life as a spiritual journey of lessons to learn.
By Lembi Kongas