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Living with Ghosts
(and other reflections)

Collapse Trauma (Part 1): “Untergliechness"


Chapter 13, Zwillingsflamme, Blind Love During the Madness © 2017 Jacqueline for D + S | RPPC from the D + S Archive

For nearly two weeks, the world has shuddered at the tragic events that took place at Champlain Towers South. Captured on CCTV in the early morning hours of a strawberry marginal supermoon–the Surfside condo collapse jolted many of us into an all-too-familiar past. For those of us who witnessed the World Trade Center collapse of 9/11, the flashback to the horrifying terrorist attack reawakened a surge of anxiety. At least it did for me.


But as I took in the brevity of the Surfside collapse, the 9/11 flashback was only the surface of a more insidious and incomprehensible event.


Reliving my past life in Germany, more specifically, returning to the moment just before my life was extinguished in the most dramatic way is difficult to disclose let alone process. The Surfside collapse, like the Lockerbie Bombing, like the Oklahoma City Bombing, like the World Trade Center collapse, reopened a wound that never seems to heal. I've been carrying this wound–this collapse trauma–since World War 2.


Trauma from Another Reality

Up until my mid-30s, I had no idea that trauma could be multidimensional, meaning, for instance, a distressing experience that occurred in a previous life and has now reawakened either as a result of a direct or indirect traumatic event unfolding in the current life.[1] For those of you who find this concept preposterous–the idea of past life trauma becoming a catalyst for one's current anxieties–I don't blame you. I too used to think it was absurd even while experiencing bizarre anxieties that could not be buttressed in this reality.


Throughout my life, I have had several intense and inexplicable experiences that began to alert me of my past life trauma in Germany—and when I became aware that these experiences were rooted in another time and place, I was not only more productive in processing the trauma, but I was finally able to understand the origin of these unusual anxieties. Regardless, processing trauma can be very challenging, and this time around, I was shaken to the core.


Life as a German Civilian During World War 2

Decimated Hamburg, July 1943, Eilbek District. Photo by J. Dowd | Digitally manipulated by Jacqueline for D + S
A space that only moments ago contained the personal trinkets of my history now lie in a heap of burning rubble.

Like most cities and towns during World War 2, my city in Germany was equipped with air raid sirens that alerted its residents of an imminent bombing raid. Normally, when these sirens were engaged, I would head down to the bomb shelter. But on that fateful day, and for whatever reason, I was in my flat.


What held me up? Why hadn’t I been able to head down to the bomb shelter?


Whatever the reason, I was now stuck in the upper floors of my building hearing the Flying Fortresses overhead—bombs whistling through the air, flattening random pockets of my neighborhood, meine nachbarschaft, melting under the sameness.” My building shook from the bombs. I froze, standing near my kitchen, observing my spartan décor, aware that I was on the brink of annihilation. Another bomb whistled toward the ground, and I darted underneath the kitchen table as it crashed through the building, causing the floor joists to break away from their seemingly indestructible brick façade. A space that only moments ago contained the personal trinkets of my history now lie in a heap of burning rubble. Or so I imagine.


I don’t remember the actual details of my death.


Was I crushed, blown to smithereens, burned to ashes? Did I die in the Hamburg Firestorm?


I don’t know, and for reasons unknown to me at this time, Hans won't divulge.


What I do know is that the macabre details of how I died are not as important as the act of waiting to die.


“Untergliechness”: Under the Sameness

The YouTube Video above is a recitation of a poem I wrote about recalling my past life in Germany.


In 1984, my family and I were on a summer holiday in Sarasota, Florida when I spontaneously experienced my second past life recall.[2] The memories came through when I constructed a seemingly innocuous word while playing with my friends in the pool.


Camouflaged in a thick layer of dust that had once been their dreams, we sift through the piles of debris in search of our loved ones.

Years later, as I attempted to learn German, I came to understand that the word I had constructed, Untergliechness, is an amalgamation of German and English. Unter in German means under. Gliech in German means the same. My word essentially means “under the same-ness.”


This word is a double entendre referring to the unsettling similarity of collapsed buildings, particularly during the bombing campaigns of WWII. The rubble takes on a chalky uniformity—this is why search and rescue/recovery is so challenging and grueling. Camouflaged in a thick layer of dust that had once been their dreams, we sift through the piles of debris in search of our loved ones.


Hitler Youth in Battle | Original photos part of the D + S Archive
Indoctrination began early through compulsory attendance of the Hitler Youth, misleading Hans’s generation into a war of attrition.

Untergliechness also refers to the pernicious veil of sameness that resulted from the unrelenting racism and fascist ideologies of Nazi Germany. Being a German civilian during that time was complicated and frightening. Those who begrudgingly drank the fascist Kool-Aid innately understood that defying Nazism meant imprisonment and/or death. Fascism foments a culture of fear. No one, not even the most self-proclaimed Nazi was safe in Nazi Germany. It was the younger generation that would ultimately prove their undying fanaticism. Indoctrination began early through compulsory attendance of the Hitler Youth, misleading Hans’s generation into a war of attrition.


Stretching Time in the Hour of Death