Special Interests and Empathy

by Bruce

The Holocaust has been an extremely strong pull in my life — a major interest. I have been drawn to many testimonies of survivors, and non-survivors whose writings survived, as well as interviews of survivors (Elie Wiesel, Etty Hillesum, Victor Frankl, Anne Frank, Simone Weil, Corrie ten Boom, and several others). Their many books seemed to come into my life as if drawn by a magnet.

I am not really interested in statistics, such as how many people were rounded up in Poland verses Holland (although I recognize the historical value). What has caught my attention has been first-hand accounts, stories by or about individuals or families. They reveal so much courage and caring in the midst of tragedy.

I went to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Museum a few years ago. I took the train to Montreal and a taxi to the Memorial because I did not have the energy to drive (ME/CFS). Back then, the website said to allow about one or one-and-a-half hours to view the exhibits. I spent three-and-a-half hours in the Memorial. I looked at every video testimony, read every card identifying each exhibit, and studied each exhibit. I had almost finished when I had to leave in order to catch a train home. I had already missed the train home for which I had a ticket. I was very drained.

There was so much horror and tragedy (and I have to say triumph, too), but one image in particular caught my attention and broke my heart, perhaps more than any other. Burned into my memory is one black-and-white photograph that was mounted down low. I remember squatting down to look at it. There was an extremely emaciated young woman lying on a sidewalk with her back to a store window. She was propped up on one elbow. Her loose dress hung on her body, which had been reduced to skin and bones. How I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and bring her home to feed her. But I would have been only five months old at the most, and probably not even born, at the time of the photograph. What made matters worse was a chubby female leg entering the picture from the right. It was on a direct path to take the healthy woman past the starving woman without coming near her. The whole scene was devastating, and the image has stuck in my mind all these years.

My mind simply cannot process the Holocaust. It freezes whenever I try to think about it. But my heart breaks and aches and wants to hold all the people who suffered in it.

I will stop here. I think this post illustrates the depth of ”special interests” that Aspies are alleged to have. I hope it also shows a bit of the “empathy” that some claim we don’t have.

About the Author: Bruce is a 66-year-old man who recently discovered that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. This piece first appeared on his blog, Born 2b me, and is reprinted here by permission.

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4 thoughts on “Special Interests and Empathy

  1. Fiona says:

    That was beautiful….Bruce your compassion shines through your words. You sound like a wonderful man and I agree….it’s complete bollocks that aspies don’t have empathy!!!

  2. Nikki says:

    This is a hauntingly beautiful piece and brought tears to my eyes. I find anything to do with unspeakable horrors such as wars, the Holocaust, extreme human (and animal) suffering so unbearable I usually avoid it because I cannot cope with the overwhelm of sadness I feel, but now I feel differently, all those people that suffered so terribly deserve to be remembered and have their voices heard.

    • Bruce says:

      Yes, their stories need to be told, and hopefully, humanity as a whole will learn from hearing their voices.

      I find I have to shield myself from depictions of suffering because they can haunt me for ages afterwards. But after reading several books about the Holocaust, I seemed to have a need to make a pilgrimage to the Memorial to learn, and to show respect and solidarity.

      I notice that I tend to identify with, and empathize with, the “victims,” be they a baby elephant attacked by lions, or people who are the target of genocide. The “overwhelm of sadness” can take a long time to resolve.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nikki.

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