transcript of survivor’s story
[15:40] I’m not sure what age—I’m gonna guess around 48, 49, 50, something like that. I went to give a speech to a group of people at a school in Arizona, a university…. I went and gave this speech at this university. And partly I occasionally I refer to the sexual [abuse] because I’m telling a life story—it’s part of reality. I also want to be helpful. You know, I’m a board member of a number of rape crisis counsel clinics etcetera. And it’s just one of the issues that touches me because it was part of my life.
So I mentioned it that night, sort of in passing, and I was invited out with a group of academics from the university, and they chose a particularly poor acoustics restaurant—just loud, clanking of glasses, you couldn’t hear anything, and we were ten people around a round table. You could barely hear the person next to you much less if you were sitting across.
So I was sat, placed next to an elderly woman. And so we just kinda’ got into it. Because she was older, I leaned in so I could hear her and she could hear me closer, and she reached to get her water glass at one point, and her sleeve pulled back, and I saw the numbers etched in her wrist, and I said, “oh, you’re a survivor.”
And she said, “I am.”
And I said, “this is probably insane, in this restaurant, so loud, but do you feel like telling me the story?”
She starts in. “I was three. My sister was six. We were in Krakow, Poland. My father said, ‘the roundup had already started. If they come to our house, I’m not goin’. They can shoot me. Well, they came to our house, my father said he’s not goin’, and they shot him.’
So, now, they give us fifteen minutes to pack a few belongings. We get on a train, it’s winter, it’s [unintelligable], we have to pee on the floor. We’re in there for a coupla’ days. The doors open at Dachau, and my mother and the six-year-old were taken off to the right and I never saw them again.”
I’m in this restaurant, John, you know, having just given a, kind of a motivational speech, and everybody’s comin’ up to me, ‘hey, that was a great story, bu…,’ and I’m listening to this woman, like, [18:17] you could hear a pin drop for the two of us.
I started to well up with tears, and she said, “no, no, no, you have no idea. It gets worse. That day, aged three, I became the S.S. officers’ little concubine, and for the 2 1/2 years before the Allies rescued us [18:35] at Dachau, I performed every sexual act known to humankind with the adult male SS officers. I was three and then four and then five.”
Now I really started to cry. She took my hands. We went into the little, sort of alleyway where the waiters are bustling in and out to bring things out to the restaurant, and she said, “don’t cry. I heard your story tonight on stage.”
I said, “but I feel so ashamed—my story is so, so little.”
And she said, “don’t ever compare. It’s your life. You can’t live my life. You have your pain, and it’s up to you to get over it.”
But I said, “How did you? How did you ever?”
And at this point, John, I’ve sat in a lot of psychologists’ chairs, I’ve told this story over and over, and I’ve heard, “it’s not your fault, you were young, you trusted the coach.” And I, you know, but that’s part of the syndrome: you think it’s all your fault.
And this woman says to me, “you know how I became a person with light in my eyes, and I’ve lived a life. [19:30] I had a wonderful husband. We’ve got three kids. I became a professor at this university.
You know why? I was adopted by a French family. And that woman took me into her garden the day I arrived there, and she said, “I think it’s best you tell me the whole story. I think it’s good for you. Just get it out.” And she told her the whole story. She had no idea what she was about to hear. [Hysteron proteron again] And the woman said, [19:56] “I can’t replace your mother. I won’t even try. But we are going to help you make a joyful, meaningful life in this home, and I think what we need to do first is take that story of yours—you’ll never forget it — put it into a corner of your soul and don’t live it on your skin. Because you know what? People are good. You can’t believe it: most people are good. And you’re gonna start tomorrow and go out and embrace the sunrise every day with hope.
And so I left there, John, that was a brink. It was a brink of midnight. [20:26] I left there with a, you know, no longer just talking on a cerebellum level about the abuse. I went down deep into this woman, and I decided that day to get that story, my coach’s abuse story, off my skin.
[Update, 25 Sep 2023: The Brink of Midnight podcast has all but disappeared from the internet. You can find hints of it here and there, but no audio feeds, as far as I can tell. I rely on audio I downloaded when I first learned of the Nyad episode.]