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A plea for inner peace, peace, and world peace

This is a photo that shows my brother  Jens in a hospital in Ludwigsburg over Christmas, when he had to be hospitalized for a Status Epilepticus. My brother Jens died in February 2003 of the consequences of his medical treatment of epilepsy. The years of medication, and his condition - the inability of the epilepsy experts who treated him to find a treatment to stop the seizures had taken a toll on his body.   When one considers the unsettling fact that some of these Nazi doctors were still alive and underwent court trials without facing punishment, publicly referring to children like him as "Vollidioten," it deeply weighs on my heart.  What a great injustice!
MY BROTHER JENS IN THE HOSPITAL

 

That is a scribble my brother Jens did. My brother Jens was intellectually disabled and suffered from an incurable type of epilepsy. He was born in 1970 in Marbach, Germany. It shows my mother’s handwriting, saying that this is a painting made by Jens. I found it during my last visit. He made it probably in the 1980s.

 

The recent commemoration of my brother’s 21st death anniversary has spurred profound reflection on his struggles and those shared by children grappling with disabilities, specifically intellectual disabilities and an incurable form of epilepsy. Recollecting the day he was transported via a bus driven by conscientious objectors to a preschool for children with disabilities brought to light the stark reality of segregation and systematic exclusion. It was a poignant moment for me as a child, when I realized that society did not fully embrace what belonged to me, my little brother.

These memories drew a connection to the past, reminiscent of the grey buses during the Nazi regime that tragically pushed children like my brother to an undeserved fate – left on their own and led into gas chambers against their will. Some of them were aware of what would happen to them, and begged the nurses to keep them where they were, but no. No mercy! It is painful to acknowledge that those who should have safeguarded lives were involved in crimes against humanity, echoing a painful chapter in history.

Furthermore, the lack of accountability for those who participated in systematic mass killings or crimes against humanity after World War II compounds the profound injustice experienced by the victims. Understanding this level of injustice enables me to empathize with others facing similar situations.

Learning about the atrocities against the Jewish people during the Holocaust at a young age was a life-altering experience. The horrors were so appalling and brutal that they reinforced a commitment within me to never support such cruelty. Yet, little did we learn about the other victims of the Nazi regime. And here I was sitting at home, with my brother next to me, helping my mother to take care of him and defending him against those who made cruel remarks, made fun of him, or stared at him. I didn’t use violence though. The principle that every human life matters, as articulated in Article 1 of the Grundgesetz in my home country Germany, resonates deeply with my core beliefs, extending to all human beings. Human dignity is inviolable, and all state authorities must respect and protect it. The commitment to follow the rules of the Declaration of Human Rights – UN Basic Human Rights is equally crucial.

Taking another person’s life is an unquestionable act of murder, deserving a fair trial and legal representation. Yet, shooting a man without evidence that he committed the crime or participated in it, especially in a situation without an immediate threat, in my opinion, is questionable. It is crucial to emphasize individual accountability in the pursuit of justice.

I keep seeing the media making incorrect comparisons of one atrocity and another, such as the Holocaust, and one extreme leader to another, such as Hitler. I find this to be wrong. Let them be understood in detail and in their uniqueness.

I believe this comparison is being made repeatedly due to the simplified version of the Nazi era portrayed in the Hollywood industry. In Hollywood, there is usually one group – the perpetrators, thus the Nazis, and the other group, the victims thus the Jewish people. Yet, just as a reminder, when Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, six months later the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (July 14, 1933) came out that targeted individuals with hereditary diseases, disabilities, and perceived genetic disorders. This law did not specifically target Jews; it reflected the eugenic and discriminatory ideologies of the Nazi regime. The first systematic murders of disabled people as part of the Nazi regime’s euthanasia program, known as Action T4, began in 1939, thus before the systematic killing of Jewish people. The killing centers in Germany were used as a model for the extermination camps in Poland, and many of the staff, including doctors and nurses, who worked in these facilities were then sent to the extermination camps.

And this systematic killing was marked by a meticulously orchestrated and deceptive bureaucratic process. For example, it involved the registration and documentation of individuals, encompassing personal details, medical conditions, and perceived economic burdens to the state. Families were deceived through false assurances that their relatives were being transferred to specialized care facilities, concealing the true purpose of these institutions as killing centers equipped with gas chambers. The euthanasia procedures themselves were shrouded in secrecy, with falsified causes of death entered into official documents to perpetuate the illusion of compassionate care. The bodies were discreetly disposed of, often through cremation, and the ashes were sometimes scattered in unmarked graves.

So, from this perspective, the atrocities carried out at the Nova Music Festival were motivated by completely different reasons, procedures, and methods. And so is President Netanyahu’s response to the killings of innocent people at the Nova music festival. So they are two different things and shouldn’t be in the same pot. I think this just confuses people.

Then, Jews were one of four groups racially targeted for persecution. The Nazis also targeted Roma (Gypsies), viewed as “work-shy” and “asocial,” resulting in mass murders and deportations. Poles Slavic people and people with Asiatic features were deemed racially inferior, facing subjugation and forced labor, with intellectuals and political leaders subjected to mass murder. The Nazis also targeted political opponents, clergy, artists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, prostitutes, women who didn’t fit in, and Germans who were considered asocial. Here is more information about who the victims of the Nazi regime were:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/mosaic-of-victims-in-depth

The Arolsen Archive https://arolsen-archives.org/en/about-us/statements/stigmatized-their-whole-lives-long/

Historical events should guide us to promote understanding and avoid conflating different conflicts. Now, I’m not an expert on the Gaza situation, I didn’t study this, nor am I a political journalist, I usually write about art but I studied psychology and am also the granddaughter of displaced people and World War II survivors and have lived and worked in four different countries, and one summer in London, so whatever I’m going to say now comes only from my understanding of psychology and from watching this situation from afar, trusting that the Hamas-run health ministry is giving us the right data. Having said this, I’m aware that many journalists can only report from Jerusalem. And from that, I can see that this has been handled in a way that I totally disagree with.

Children, regardless of their background, are always innocent and should never bear the brunt of adult wrongdoings. This goes for all children, whether they are Jewish, or Palestinian children, and children with disabilities or other challenges, no matter where they live and no matter their background.

Thus, President Netanyahu, as much as I understand your great pain and fear of further terrorist attacks (and yes, the attack on the music festival goers was a human rights violation so was the taking of hostages. No matter what happened and caused this revenge by the people who carried out this crime, and no matter how much the Palestinians have been wronged, just remember people with epilepsy have been gassed, overdosed, starved to death, their ashes have been mixed with others, their brains have been used for scientific research by highly regarded scientific institutions for decades, and have been wronged from ancient times up to now, it doesn’t give me the right to kill people randomly), I urge you not to proceed with the ground offense in Rafah!

Why? I believe the World Court needs to hear out both parties first, have lawyers defend both sides and then decide what to do next. I also feel the priority should be the hostages. The more aggressive you act, I’m afraid the more aggressive the captors of the hostages act towards them. And every life matters. Their lives are as valuable as any Jewish life inside and outside of Israel. As we know such a decision could also negatively impact the Jewish people living in China for example.

I can’t get Noa Argamani out of my mind, and how she desperately reached out for her boyfriend to help her when an unidentified group took her away, and there is her mother having brain cancer wishing to see her daughter in real before she dies. Every day is crucial. Every day is causing tremendous emotional stress on her. Imagine battling brain cancer with those kinds of stressors on top of it.

It is my deep wish to see Mrs. Argamani hold her daughter in her arms before she dies and for Noa to hold her mother before she dies. These things are important in life.

Aggression creates more aggression. With the bombing, you’re also creating a tremendous amount of suffering among hostages, their families, but also Palestinian civilians, the Muslim community worldwide, and everyone who watches the images of destruction and violence in the media. Look at the streets in Europe and the US; people are marching on the streets standing up just for one group, instead of standing up for all discriminated groups. It stirs more anger, more unrest. It is in moments when we disregard the suffering of others, that we add to the wound.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I heard several explosions in my neighborhood, two cars were on fire and suddenly there was a huge flame. My mind immediately went to, now people are taking out their anger on us. I felt very uncomfortable taking the metro on that day, knowing that I with my blue eyes and light hair stand out from the crowd and I’m a woman. There have been incidents in recent years where women have been thrown on rail tracks in metro stations. Tension increases.

So, I feel the two-state solution is the better solution and to start thinking more again about the root cause of radicalization.

Thus, be the inspiration for others to fight violence through non-violent solutions.

And this goes for President Zelensky as well. We’ve already learned that “violence begets violence,” and several fields of study, including psychology, sociology, and criminology, have contributed to our understanding of this phenomenon. I think the constant showing of violence in the media causes more aggression worldwide, and the methods become crueler and crueler.

We all had just come out of a pandemic that mostly impacted impoverished communities. Both wars have increased the cost of living and added more mental stress to people who had not even overcome the mental stress from the pandemic. Then, people who survived World War II as children, and did not receive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder suffer by having to re-experience the displacement and mistreatment of refugees through watching it carried out on others.

Also, I feel there are other non-violent heroic ways to fight authoritarian regimes and systems we disagree with to end the cycle of violence. Look at the French writer Victor Hugo, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, or the German writer Thomas Mann; they chose to live in exile to stand up against authoritarian regimes. And sooner or later President Putin, age 71, will be gone anyway, and other political leaders who are close to retirement age will be gone sooner or later too.

I know it must sound all very naive, yet, I’m asking you is it mature and wise to take the lives of innocent people and to reduce life quality globally?

Then, look at the city of Nice. For nearly 300 years, it went back and forth between France and Italy until it finally belonged to France with no major wars fought for its control. Or look at the city of Berlin. My father left Berlin before the wall was built; his brother who had the choice to leave decided to stay. The eastern part of Berlin fell under Soviet influence. The western part was under the control of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a peaceful and transformative process. No war with lethal weapons was used.

What I see from afar is that some of the current political leaders lack a set of diplomatic skills, and I feel that all politicians need those. We know from psychology that there are other types of violence than physical violence and I’m afraid that those were used before the situation in Gaza and Ukraine escalated.

And I’d like to list them as a reminder: Verbal Violence, psychological violence, symbolic violence, cyber violence, discrimination and prejudice, provocations, and microaggression.

As it is with all types of abuse, the physical ones are more visible than the others. So, we as human beings have a tendency to make them count more. Yet, emotional or psychological abuse can have great, great impact on our personal growth and hence our success in society and then in the competitive world we find ourselves in. They are blockers. And we first need to remove the block before we can thrive. It’s like running a marathon and on your line sits a huge rock, and so you either have to run around it or above it and can’t go like the other marathon runners.

In my opinion, political leaders should, from now on, have to go through intensive training first before being elected and swear an oath to refrain from this type of violence, then be trained on how to react to various conflicts with simulated scenarios and make them train how to respond in non-violent ways, preserving innocent lives being lost.

No surgeon can conduct surgery without having studied medicine. No astronaut can venture into space without extensive training, no lawyer can become a lawyer without studying law and passing the bar exam. And yes, even then, a doctor might have lost a patient, a space shuttle blew up like the Challenger and people have been given the death sentence and later they were found to be innocent of a crime. So, human errors no matter how good we’re prepared for happen. Yet, earning by doing might work for people like me who work in the humanities, but not when it comes to handling situations that concern the lives of others.

Then, I invite you to take another look at the Nuremberg Trials and study who received which type of punishment. You will find that some people received a death sentence, others life imprisonment. Yet, not everyone was punished the same; yet, by bombing a place, you’re taking the law into your hands and may punish some too severely. And this is against my ethical understanding of justice.

Then, please remember that women’s suffrage came at different times. As far as I know, New Zealand was the first one at the end of the 19th and Saudi Arabia was the last one in 2015. Thus, in a country where women didn’t even have the right to vote until a few years ago, there might be many who have never voted. Thus, women should never be punished as harshly as men, and children should have never lost their lives or been raped or displaced and made homeless over this. This goes for both parties involved in the Gaza conflict.

Furthermore, highly regarded and esteemed individuals, including the linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, have consistently warned us about the escalating possibility of a nuclear war, asserting that the threat has never been as high as it is now. This ominous reality, whether it materializes or remains a mere bluff, contributes to a constant state of worry that diminishes our quality of life. It causes anxiety.

Let us not forget the harrowing events of August 6 and August 9, 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when nuclear bombs were deployed. Subsequent nuclear incidents, such as the Goldsboro B-52 Crash (1961) in North Carolina and the Palomares B-52 Crash (1966) in Spain, serve as stark reminders of the potential dangers associated with these weapons.

As everything seems to come back, like right-wing parties regaining more influence and global conflicts intensify, the specter of nuclear wars looms larger than ever, with consequences too severe to ignore. So, if your political leaders in power and the media keep ignoring our voices, the ones who are against these violent ways of resolving conflict, you’re putting all of our lives in danger. This is not democratic at all and it’s not fair.

I urge you to think outside of the box. If you keep doing things the way things were always handled, nothing will progress, nothing will ever improve and nothing will ever become better.

This reflection is a tribute to the innocent children who have suffered due to race, war, ideological or regional conflicts, or political turmoil. It is a call to provide them with the support they need to express themselves and heal. The scribble, created by my brother Jens, serves as a heartfelt reminder of the vulnerability of people who don’t have the power to speak and write in ways we’re used to and the importance of empathy and understanding.

Their lives matter as much as ours.

Or do you believe that people with lower intelligence, less creative abilities, and other talents are lesser human beings? If you think so, I’m telling you, you haven’t learned the lessons of the Holocaust. They should have taught you that one human life is as valuable as another and to have respect for all human beings. And I feel offended by making my brother appear less important than others. My brother may not have contributed economically to society, but looking back at his life, he turned everyone through his vulnerability and his ability for joy for the little things in life, into a better human being. Sometimes the value of a person lies in other things than economic gain.

As Charlie Chaplin said in his movie The Great Dictator, more than machinery, we need humanity, more than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.

Or as Hemingway said, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”

Thus, I urge you to reconsider the two-state solution for a peaceful co-existence and to think with the international leaders about a plan to get the murderers responsible for the October 7, 2023 attack, in less destructive ways that prevents the loss of lives of civilians and displacement and then establish a court trial similar to the Nuremberg trials with a hearing and a sentence.

In conclusion, I wanted to share that I was teaching English to biculatural students in a suburb of Paris last week (their mother and grandparents being from China and their father from France), as proof that the joy of creating can bring us together while acquiring a new language, may it be sign language, or Hebrew or Arabic or Chinese, or the language of the intellectually disabled. And I feel this is what all children should be doing right now: enjoying their time off school, sleeping in comfortable beds, being in safe and pretty neighborhoods in buildings with soundproof walls in nice neighborhoods with parks, going on family outings, eating healthy food, wearing fresh clothes, and spending their free time playing on a playground or creating art with their caregivers, friends, and teachers for which one needs art materials – colored pencils, paper, paint, scissors, glue, etc. If language fails, and ears can’t hear, colorful little images will show the child that one cares, and if there is no sight, there is still the lanauge for the heart and bring perhaps a moment of relief. In other words, vacations are there to give children a break from school and the demands of school, yet displacing children, turning them homeless, and killing their mothers and family members is doing the opposite. Providing the children in Gaza with instruments and helping them to have music lessons could enable them to join something like the Arab-Israeli orchestra. Showing them how to draw or use color like Chagall could make their works be presented in a Parisian museum or gallery in New York or Los Angeles . Then, they would feel more like equals. There are so many possibilities to make this world a better place for all.

Thank you for your attention!

This is a photo of my brother Jens and me running across the fields in Ludwigsburg, Germany. During that time, he could still run and ride his bicycle with training wheels. At this age, his intellectual disability wasn’t as apparent as it would become later.
This is a letter signed by various intellectuals, including Joseph Beuys and German journalist Ulrich Wickert, expressing their dismay over the court’s decision that Dr. Kurt Borm was not found guilty of killing thousands of innocent children. The reasoning behind the decision was that he was a convinced Nazi, and in those days, this wasn’t against the law. This I find to be a great injustice. Imagine raising someone in a climate like this. This added significant stress to families with children like my brother and a sense of powerlessness and injustice.

Sincerely, Simone Kussatz

About the Author
Simone Suzanne Kussatz was born in Germany, lived in the US for 25 years, spent a year in China, and currently resides in France. Educated at Santa Monica College, UCLA, and the Free University of Berlin, she interned at the American Academy in Berlin. Holding a Master's in American Studies, journalism, and psychology, she worked as a freelance art critic in Los Angeles. World War II history fascinates her, influenced by her displaced grandparents and her father's childhood in Berlin during the war, and his escape from East Berlin in 1955. Her brother's intellectual disabilities and epilepsy added a unique perspective to her life.
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