Trauma on the bench


Never underestimate the power of compassion to soothe and relieve trauma.


Berlin, January 2, 2023

I am sitting in the subway waiting for my train. Behind me, an old woman sits on a metal bench and mutters something. At first, I did not listen until her voice became louder and louder and pierced my consciousness. Between the mutterings, I heard the words Sachsenhausen, Potsdam, Holland, and bombing. When I heard the last word, I began to listen even more, because bombing is clearly associated nowadays with Ukraine. But what does the bombing have to do with the old woman on the bench?

Then I began to catch the meaning of her delirium because she was talking exclusively to herself. There are many such people in Berlin. Homeless people or just sick people who were made ill by trauma. The story of an old woman in an orange beanie and a COVID mask was not really very clear, but I understood the following: she survived the horrors of the bombing of Nazi Germany as a child. Her mother, to escape the war, fled to the Netherlands, where they were rescued by a Dutch woman. It seems that they lost their house in Potsdam, and someone from their family, possibly their father, got into Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

The woman was spinning this story back and forth, repeating words and even whole sentences. I was frozen in confusion. The arriving train had woken me up. And although I had to get up and go to my train, I could not move. I quickly recorded her last remarks on a dictaphone and instantly jumped onto my train, leaving on the platform a part of the post-history of the Second World War, which resonates in the generation of children who survived it. It is clear that the trauma of war does not end with the end of the war, but lives in its victims for a long time, and maybe even dies with them.

Our task is to shine light into darkness, wherever possible.

Even the old traumas of the last century’s war have not yet died, and other wars are already raging and producing new ones. What will our Ukrainian children be like in 40–60 years, when traumas will become especially active? Studies have shown that childhood traumas are activated with changes in the body’s hormonal state, especially during midlife crises. It is difficult to predict the consequences.

We only know that we need to work with traumas now. It is necessary to talk about traumas with relatives, friends, and psychologists. Trauma is not just the experience of shock and distress. Trauma is what remains in the memory if it is not processed in a human way. Parents should understand that the stress of war is passed on to their children, even if they do not talk about it. Children cannot run away, and cannot take up arms. The only thing left for them is depersonalization as a defense mechanism of the psyche against madness.

To prevent this from happening, children need a constant sense of security in the person of parents or loved ones. Unspoken trauma will speak decades later, just like the old German woman on the platform of the Berlin subway. She can hardly be helped, but she helps herself by talking about what happened to her 60 years ago. The trauma has no countdown, because it lives its own life, settled at the bottom of the subconscious. Unfortunately, people are arranged in such a way that they are guided by the memory board all their lives and even pass it from generation to generation, if it is not cleaned of debris, not brought to the surface, to the light.

Everything dark is afraid of the light. Therefore, I bring this story here, in the virtual space, to remind you that traumas as parasites are planted in a person when he or his soul is in the most vulnerable state. They inhabit the empty space in a person when it is provided by the soul, which at this time is hiding “in the heels”.

But psychological trauma can be expelled from there if the person is filled again, if the soul is returned to its place, free from fear, which in turn is afraid of love and care of others. I doubt that this did not happen in the case of a traumatized woman on the platform. But what happened, happened. Everyone has their own way. Someday she will be free from the trauma parasite, if not in this life, then in the future journeys of her soul. I only wish the world will get rid of wars that produce traumas.

Olha works as a teacher of a graduate school for a class of Ukrainian students and helps them to address the trauma they have experienced in war. She shares her experience and research on her blog




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