Standing in her university classroom, Leila Levinson called on a student with a raised hand.
“Can veterans’ war trauma be passed onto their families?”
That question would inspire five years of research, countless interviews with war vets and their families, and eventually, Levinson’s current book: Gated Grief: The Daughter of a GI Concentration Camp Liberator Discovers a Legacy of Trauma (Cable Publishing, January 31, 2011).
The daughter of a Nazi concentration camp liberator and army surgeon, Levinson was a close observer of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), though science hadn’t yet defined it when her father came home, and he never even hinted at his awful experiences. Photographs Levinson found after his death revealed her father’s trauma.
It wasn’t until she heard her student’s question that she wondered: How did her father’s buried trauma affect her family members? After all, her mother – absent since Levinson was 5 – suffered mental illness. And Levinson herself struggled with adult depression. So in 2005, she applied for a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, and when she received it, set out for answers.
Today, Levinson is an expert on trans-generational trauma. Her five-year research project spanned the National Archives in Washington, D.C., studying photos and taped interviews with veterans, to Holocaust museums the world over, to the homes of seventy veterans themselves, where she received first-hand accounts from Nazi camp liberators and their families.
The result is GATED GRIEF, a multigenerational perspective of PTSD, revealing how unhealed trauma reverberates through a family. But readers also gain a more pressing lesson: That facing trauma enables enormous healing.
From 2002 – 2008, Levinson taught a Holocaust literature course at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. A freelance commentator on cultural issues, her work has appeared in The Austin American Statesman, The Texas Observer, WWII Quarterly, and War, Literature, and Art. In 2006, the Writers League of Texas named her manuscript of Gated Grief the “Best Narrative Nonfiction Manuscript.”
Levinson is also the founder of veteranschildren.com, a website where veterans and their children are invited to share their stories. She lives with her husband and two sons in Austin, Texas.