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17. December 2020 - Interview

Transgenerational trauma: “We have buried so much within us.”

In order to bring an end to the silence surrounding her traumatic family history, film director Katja Duregger from Cologne has recently spoken out publicly on the taboo topic of wartime rape. Her grandmother was raped in 1938 by soldiers from the occupying Italian forces in a mountain village in South Tirol. Her father was born out of this rape.

There is still a prevailing refusal to speak about the taboo topic of the masses of rapes carried out on women before, during and after World War II. In spite of the fact that the inter-generational consequences can still be felt today.

When did you first become aware that your grandmother’s biography had an effect on your life?

Katja Duregger: “It was not until a few years ago that I really became aware of this – when a long-term relationship was coming to an end. That crisis in my life led me to start seriously trying to ‘tidy up’ my inner world and deal with myself and my emotional shadows. That’s not something we can do alone: we need other people who understand what we are going through – people who see us as we are and support us. It can be a long, painful process, but it is worth it.”

How did your grandmother’s story shape your life? What do its effects look like?

Katja Duregger: “At some point I noticed that the way I conducted my relationships was unhealthy. I was not really able to open up to my partner or let people come close to me. There was always a diffuse feeling of shame or guilt: something dark and heavy. For a long time I wasn’t aware of this, so it held me captive.”

How did you approach this trauma?

Katja Duregger: “The most important thing is to get help and to talk about your own personal history. This is not easy. It’s a bit like learning to walk again for someone like me, who had hidden themselves for so long and never really showed themselves. So I needed someone to watch out and support me when I stumbled. I chose to do this within a bodywork therapy and I think this was a good choice. We have buried so much within us. We need to carefully and slowly bring it back to the surface. That takes time.”

What prompted you to then go public with your family history?

Katja Duregger: “In the past I had found it very helpful when I heard other people speaking openly about their traumatic family histories. It helped me to accept I wasn’t alone. Today I know my story is not the exception, but unfortunately the rule. But I didn’t realise that for a long time. I hope this changes and I would like to be able to help make these stories visible.”

What would you like society to change in the way it deals with this topic?

Katja Duregger: “I would like to see more openness and honesty. Unfortunately, in our society there is still inadequate awareness of the dramatic consequences of this inter-generational trauma. Remaining silent and treating the topic as taboo prevent this awareness from developing. The pain then remains in the families and cannot be resolved. I read the following quote about this. It applies to the consequences of sexualised violence, and to much more, too: “Pain wanders through families until someone is ready to feel it.” So, trust each other and dare to talk about it!”


Related topics

World War II: Millions of rapes on women and girls

Second World War Commemorations: Remembering the suffering of the "comfort women"