“It’s always in my mind”: For World War II survivors, war in Ukraine stirs painful childhood memories

CBS Information reporter Michael Roppolo explores the results of armed conflicts on kids in a private essay after interviewing his grandparents about their childhoods throughout WWII.


UN human rights officers say dozens of kids have been killed in Ukraine for the reason that begin of the struggle. Over a million extra have fled as a part of the fastest-growing refugee disaster in Europe since World Struggle II, based on UNICEF.

“The variety of kids on the transfer is staggering, a sign of how determined the scenario for youngsters and households in Ukraine has develop into,” mentioned Afshan Khan, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia. “Kids are leaving all the things they know behind looking for security. That is heart-breaking.”

Because the struggle continues to rage on, it raises the query: How will kids deal with the trauma of struggle and displacement — not solely within the tough days forward, however all through their lives? I started considering of my grandparents, childhood survivors of World Struggle II.

scanned-documents-1-copy.jpg
Angela Federici and Giorgio Bauco pose for his or her engagement photograph in America.

Courtesy of the Bauco household


The third eldest of six kids, my grandfather, Giorgio Bauco, lived within the small Italian city of Ripi. Planes quickly bombed his hometown, and by the top of WWII, there was nothing left in Italy, he typically mentioned.

He would typically recount coming to America — a journey that concerned two ships, a seven-year keep in Brazil, a airplane and a number of engine troubles — however by no means about his childhood in the course of the struggle.

My grandmother’s wartime childhood not often got here up in dialog. The oldest of 5 women, Angela Federici was born within the small Italian city of Sant’Anatolia and immigrated to the US as a teen.

Then got here the Russian invasion of Ukraine — practically 80 years after the top of WWII. In what could be an emotional interview, I started asking them questions on their childhood.

After I requested them what stood out, they spoke of the bombings. Their little cities had been close to Avezzano and Montecassino — bombed as a part of the Allied effort to drive the Germans out of Italy and seize Rome.

“What stood out to me was the working, listening to the airplane coming, the bombing, the working,” my grandmother recalled. “Working on my own. I used to be 6 years previous.”

Pressured to flee in the course of the bombings, she, her mom and her sister ran to the mountains. There had been a small hut coated with leaves with different residents in search of shelter. She remembers her mom — my great-grandmother — pleading for security for her daughters. However they might solely take one for the night time — my grandmother.

“It was wet. It was chilly,” she mentioned as she started crying. “I went inside after which once I get out within the morning, I used to be stuffed with lice — from my head to my toes.”

“I bear in mind when the struggle was completed — after years of that, my father got here house,” she mentioned of my great-grandfather, who had been held prisoner by the Germans. “He got here house with two fingers much less as a result of the bombs did that to him too.”

As I heard her say this, I had a flashback to seeing my great-grandfather once I was a toddler — with fingers lacking on his proper hand. This was the primary time I might recognized what occurred.

My grandfather’s city was simply 32 miles from the Abbey of Montecassino, thought by Allied forces to be a stronghold for the German military. It hadn’t been in 1944 — and greater than 200 males, girls and youngsters in search of shelter contained in the abbey died when it got here below assault.

my-project-1.jpg
Giorgio Bauco’s city was simply 32 miles from the Abbey of Montecassino in Italy, thought by Allied forces to be a stronghold for the German military.

US Nationwide Archives


At 6 years previous, all he knew was working.

“Each night time, the troopers … used to inform us, ‘Get out from the home’ and ‘Go! Run sooner,'” he mentioned.

That have caught with him all through his life.

“And the thoughts — it is all the time in my thoughts,” he mentioned. “I bear in mind all the things — what was occurring at the moment.”

Opposite to the favored saying, it is flawed to imagine kids are resilient, says medical psychologist Ramani Durvasula. Like adults, kids can have a variety of responses to a traumatic occasion.

“Now we have to be very cautious,” she mentioned in a Zoom name. “To type of paint it with this huge brush that each one kids are resilient … that is not the case in any respect.”

Such a blanket assumption, Durvasula warns, runs the chance of not solely doubtlessly under-treating potential psychological well being points, but in addition under-responding to the kid’s trauma. And any trauma a baby experiences will influence their neural improvement.

“It should be fairly vital in kids as a result of their programs are nonetheless creating,” she mentioned.

For any youngster — or grownup, for that matter — how they reply to any traumatic occasion will differ primarily based on a number of elements, together with the severity of the trauma, the length of the trauma and their proximity to the trauma.

“There may be worry,” mentioned Durvasula. “There may be some lapses in reminiscence. There generally is a actual sense of alertness and vigilance.”

For the kids escaping the struggle in Ukraine, consultants stress the significance of remedy sooner somewhat than later to assist them deal with what they’ve skilled. Since kids have much less management over their worlds, the reasons they create are going to influence how they cope — not solely across the time it occurs, however at the same time as they go into maturity.

Kids might really feel that they are guilty for no matter occurred to them or that they did a nasty factor. This may increasingly result in the kid considering that they’ll “by some means attempt to be ‘higher’ and that may make issues higher.”

“The important thing with kids is to allow them to know that they don’t seem to be accountable for traumas that befall them,” Durvasula added in an e-mail.

“Kids’s brains are very neuroplastic,” she mentioned. “So there’s extra alternative, type of, for progress and alter by way of intervention like remedy.”

The struggle in Ukraine, and the disturbing tales and pictures dominating the information, might additionally convey up troubling reminiscences for individuals who have lived by way of related conditions — a phenomenon known as re-experiencing. Households with survivors might wish to verify on their family members.

“For individuals who might have survived that so a few years in the past as kids, seeing this imagery as adults may be very activating,” Durvasula mentioned. “That fixed, ubiquitous presence of those wartime photos can actually, doubtlessly be taking a toll.”

Whereas interviewing my grandparents, I did not know what to anticipate. One factor was clear: The trauma was nonetheless there. Seeing my grandmother cry whereas she recalled her expertise was heartbreaking.

“It’s totally emotional to see these individuals right this moment — to run,” she mentioned of the struggle in Ukraine. “Lots of people assist them. We had been on this small city — no person knew we had been there.”

“I really feel so dangerous for these individuals now,” she mentioned. “Looks like I am going by way of it once more.”

As for my grandfather, the stoic façade slowly melted away.

“No matter goes on right this moment in Ukraine convey again my reminiscence of what I went by way of myself,” he mentioned softly — nearly a whisper. “And it is no good. Struggle isn’t any good for nothing — no, it is not good.”

Sharing Is Caring:

Leave a Comment