LYNN — Jack Trompetter’s most traumatic moments happened at an age where he can barely remember them.
“I just have images in my mind,” he said. “I can’t even remember the faces (of the people who took care of me for three years).”
But the damage was done.
“A year after I was reunited with my parents, I was in the hospital with my first nervous breakdown,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of a nervous breakdown you can have when you’re 4 years old, but I had one.”
One can only imagine. Trompetter was born in Amsterdam in 1942, as the Nazis were systematically going through The Netherlands rounding up Jews and arresting them.
“What the Germans would do was raise all the drawbridges in the ‘up’ position so nobody could leave, and then arrest all the Jews,” he said, “My father had wounds on his body all his life from being kicked in the back.”
He was separated from his parents in the rush to flee Amsterdam and hide from the Nazis. He ended up in a Quaker orphanage. His parents ended up with a young couple in the north of the country, and the people with whom they were staying found Trompetter and relocated him to a farm in a small village in the south.
They all survived the war, and were reunited within a year of its conclusion, but Trompetter was not sure he wanted to leave the only life he’d known and he feels the separation anxiety is what caused his early trauma.
Trompetter’s speech was part of an assembly put on Monday, one day after the official Holocaust Remembrance Day, by the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace. It is the fourth year the presentation has been held at Classical, where it is coordinated by Zach Johnson, chairman of the Social Studies department. This year freshmen and sophomores — none of whom were born before 9/11 — were the target audience.
By the time the death camps were liberated, six million Jews were put to death. The campaign to eradicate the Jews from Germany and its occupied countries came to be known as the Holocaust, or the Shoah in Hebrew.
Though the objective was to teach the next generation of children about the tragedy of the Holocaust in hopes they won’t repeat it, the truth is people much older could do with a refresher course. As Trompetter alluded in his speech, we’re perhaps not remembering it as well as we should.
“It was an awful time,” Trompetter said, pointing out the obvious. “The people who had power were the worst people you could imagine. The law was not on your side.
“My parents and I were among the lucky people who survived.”
Not everyone in Trompetter’s family was so fortunate.
“My parents and aunts and uncles made a pact that whichever among them survived, they would take care of the remaining children.”
He found out that the person who lived with him, who he thought was his brother, was really a cousin whose parents had not survived the Nazi purge.
His father survived the purge in which he was arrested because his captors thought he had a contagious disease (“they were petrified of diseases,” he said).
“They picked him up and threw him onto the street,” Trompetter said. “A bit of stupidity that had positive results.”
Trompetter said such trauma, especially at an early age, “is never resolved. It takes decades to work through.”
Lynn state Rep. Dan Cahill spoke of the way democracy failed the Jews.
“There was a fundamental failure of democracy,” he said. “Jews had to pick up and leave, fleeing what was going on, for their very lives, and they were turned away. Here, too.
“Some of you (students) who are here today probably come from countries that sound like what was going on in Germany in the 1930s and ’40s. You are here today to contribute to making sure something like this never happens again.”
Dulce Gonzalez, the project coordinator of the event, stressed that a genocide attempt that kills six million people doesn’t happen overnight.
“Little by little, their rights were taken away,” she said. “Finally it got to the point where they were taken to concentration camps and annihilated.
“We cannot forget this past,” she said.
Trompetter said that the experience has left him with a mission to talk about it, to do his part to prevent it from happening again.
“I see myself as a canary in a miner’s helmet,” he said. “It makes me sensitive to what is happening politically.
“Right now, there is definitely a racist message being spewed forth in this country, and it is not good.”