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E.P. Franke: Dignity of Women in the Final Stage of Our Life

Presentation at a conference of the Women's Federation for World Peace
"Concluding the United Nations Decade on a Culture of Peace," Paris, France, June 5-7, 2009

"Days should speak and multitude of years should teach wisdom.
The understanding of the elder becomes unwavering with age." - Job 32:7

The older we become, the more our actions should be guided by asking ourselves: what do we want to leave behind? Which traces will we leave when there is no more future but only the past of us?

Growing old and being aged implements a commission we are obliged to pass on to the younger generation setting forth on their way. This contribution we give, we the elder generation, is the most important part of our dignity. It is the immanent character of this last phase of our life. It is the experience of our life.

Why do we separate society into young and old, knowing that the definition 'old' doesn’t relate to “Dignity of old age”? Why don´t we differentiate according to the accomplishment of our life? Why don´t we say “person with less or more experience in life?” This would give those in the last phase of their life the dignity they are entitled to, the dignity they have acquired and earned.

This would help to positively change the opinion in society regarding the elderly. In a society addicted to the mania for youth, the media spread the illusion of eternal youth; advertisements present models making each wife appear unattractive for the husband.

Word combinations as "old and ugly," "old and grey" correlate to “young and beautiful," “young and dynamic” and deepen the chasm between the phases of life. Each woman seems to have the dubious task to look younger. Being old almost seems to be indecent.

Absurd flatteries are meant to help: “You look younger every time we meet” or “you didn´t change at all.” Each woman has to listen to such lies.

Why do we disavow that each age has its special charm, especially since our dignity in the last phase of life has as immanent characteristics those attributes which we could develop:

·         The deepening love of children and grandchildren
·         The growing circle of friends and acquaintances
·         The lasting recognition through occupational, societal and honorary activity

All of this, being the self created social center of life, in the familiar environment. An advanced age is of advantage because only a life overarching several time epochs has these experiences to pass on.

“Ask us, we are the last!” is what we say to our young people who didn´t experience either war nor the persecution of the Jewish people. The young generation didn´t take responsibility in both of the German dictatorships. Some even weren’t born yet. Those were times that only we elderly experienced. Therefore, our commission is to get involved when free democracy is ignored and thoughtlessly adolescent speeches display a new anti-Semitism.

This is where we have to show our dignity as contemporary witness of a bitter life experience, to resist the beginnings which ended in total chaos for Europe in 1945.

Our generation, those who are 60 to 100 years of age, experienced two world wars, bombing, expulsion and bereavement of family and existence.

I became a citizen of the most different states without ever having left my birth town Dresden. I was born in the Germany of Hitler, then it was Saxonia in the Soviet occupation zone, then I became citizen of the German Democratic Republic, and finally a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I experienced military invasions, revolutions, violently strikes, and peaceful revolutions. I lived among Nazis and Communists, and as Jewish woman I always was a foreigner in my own country. I learned that the history of our Jewish people, our religion and traditions are the foundation for our survival, passed on by the grandparents to the young generation. I understood why Hitler first killed the eldest Jews in the occupied areas.

Also Stalin managed to have generations of Jews grow up without knowledge about their own Jewish background. A people forgetting its history doesn´t have a future. Our Jewish Women's Association in Dresden is contact point for the Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The association was founded ten years ago with the intention to assist and provide advice and to close the knowledge gap caused by the godless communist government.

As a pedagogue, having lived a long life in Jewish tradition, I can pass on part of my life experience. I have the time of retirement at my disposal to help meet the accumulated needs in the newly-formed Jewish Centers. Jewish women always experienced double discrimination. Therefore, our association places high emphasis on the importance of a Jewish woman, wife, mother, and  grandmother in the family.

This implementation of our responsibility for our families and ultimately for world peace is an immanent feminine characteristic which forms our dignity and is based on our stronger emotional approach.

  • No society can afford to waste this human potential.
  • But the experiences of our life too often lie bare.
  • The dignity of women is very precious.

If we use this human potential according to its commission, then our society will be spiritually enriched. However, we aged people many times feel ignored in modern society. Our dignity and especially the dignity of women only rarely is taken seriously and many times quickly dismissed as antiquated. Because we have the advantage of having passed through all situations of life we can give better advice than those who are just entering life. When they are part of extended families, the aged take a dignified position and when based on their life experience the right decisions are made, the survival of the generations is assured.

Associations have councils of elders whereof both benefit. The association saves wages and the aged, freed from the pressure of competition with the youth, don't need to take their accumulated wisdom to the grave. As a pensioner I use this chance to be active. To pass on the  experiences, often times cited, is to have a feeling of dignity and responsibility.

Finally, aging also includes drawing nearer to the Kingdom of God. The longer the last phase of our life continues, the closer we stand to the gate to eternal life. Therefore, we can differentiate among people according to how much they advanced on the "Way." Death is not the end but reaching a higher step, and we, who have attained a dignified age, have progressed the farthest.

To profit from the experiences in the last phase of life means to give us elderly our dignity when we call out to you: We are old and therefore precious.