The Science of Suppressing Traumatic Memories

I had come to his house, in this sunny spot between Ben Gurion Airport and the Mediterranean coast, for an unlikely reason: not long ago, after decades of unwavering silence, Sigmund Schiller spoke about his Holocaust experience.

“People talk about ‘Sophie’s Choice’ as if it were a rare event,” he said. “It wasn’t. Everybody had to make Sophie’s choice—all of us. My mother left behind a four-year-old with the maid. You don’t think I was beaten and shot at? There are no violins in my story. It is the most common thing that happened.”

Nobody moved in the Schillers’ living room while the film continued. At times, Daniela hid her eyes with her hands, and so did her father. For the most part, they were immobile. On camera, she asked him if he had consciously suppressed this information.

“Yes,” he said. “You must suppress. Without suppression I wouldn’t live.”

Michael Specter, in The New Yorker, on the neuroscience of our own memories.

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