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Holocaust Survivors and Refugees Retraumatized By Horrors in Ukraine


Celina Nadelman MD


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Dr. Celina Nadelman, MD is a board certified cytopathologist, which is a unique kind of pathologist. Her area of expertise is in fine needle aspiration (FNA), which is a biopsy done by a very small needle. Pathologists are not the only doctors who perform fine needle aspiration biopsies. For instance, an ENT, endocrinologist, surgeon or a radiologist could perform the same biopsy. However, these doctors are not trained to read the slide under the microscope, and thus, cannot make the diagnosis.

We watch, glued to the T.V., unable to pull away from the horror as history repeats itself. My husband and I read whatever news we can about the invasion of Ukraine. My husband watches as the city he grew up in becomes unrecognizable. He left Ukraine as a Jewish refugee in the late 80s, glad to be free from the Soviet Union. But now, he, too, cannot sleep these days, as the war in Ukraine upsets his subconscious. He is bringing up trauma that we all thought was forgotten. 


My mother cannot sleep these days. She wakes in the middle of the night, fearing, reliving the old anxieties from childhood. She is almost 88, but the memories are still crystal clear. I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and am of Polish and Ukrainian heritage.


We Ukrainians feel helpless. We cannot change the trajectory that Putin has in his mind. We cannot force the world to pitch in and help.


What can I do? As a doctor, I've tried to get medical aid to a hospital in Odessa. I gave a kitchen table to a recent Ukrainian refugee and her daughter and showed her where she can shop for Russian/ Ukrainian food.


I will keep trying, in little ways, to help as I can with whatever capabilities I have. However, I cannot help the mental effects of watching your country and people being killed and persecuted all over again. 


My mother was only 5 when the world changed, and she had to flee on a horse and buggy from the Nazi invasion of Krakow. She went east, where my grandfather’s family lived. My mother was never morose or seemingly crippled by her experience as a survivor of horrors. She was impacted, nonetheless. 


Food has always been her security blanket. My father told of how he had never seen someone with so much canned food when he met her, a woman in her 20s. Wasting food was a mortal sin growing up. In fact, not being wasteful has become such a part of my DNA that my family calls me the “queen of leftovers,” as I can turn any leftover food into something deliciously new the next day.


Invasion creates scars that will never fully heal. As this war continues, it will reopen the wounds of those who have lived this all before.

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