Dr. Leni de Mik

Leni de Mik

One of the marvelous values of being an OLLI member is how it pulls together people from different backgrounds, providing a diversity of perspectives and histories from which the community of lifelong learners benefits. Membership offers tremendous opportunity to appreciate other experiences—like browsing the shelves of a library, except meeting the people who have lived these stories.

For her part, Dr. Leni de Mik is reaching out to find others who share her experiences with growing up in WWII under Nazi occupation. “I am truly curious to know how people who had that experience feel it has impacted their view of life, how they feel it has impacted how they see the world.” Dr. de Mik is a psychologist who works with trauma, and has a particular interest in how the war has affected people’s identity and development. “What impact does an experience like war have on how you live your life? Does it change you somehow? How would you describe that change?”

In an article she is composing on her experiences, “Underlying Dimensions: War and COVID,” she writes: “Winter of 1945, I was four years old when I first saw a dead body on the street. Nazi Germany's occupation of my small village in Holland was all I'd ever known.” Despite the adults behaving as though Leni were too young to understand, talking among themselves as though she weren’t there, she was keenly aware that something was direly wrong. “I learned things no little girl should ever know. The Nazis tortured people I'd known all my life. I learned about medical experiments that were done in the camps. I couldn't help but picture it in my mind.”

This term, Dr. de Mik is leading the OLLI course Looking Back and Understanding the Impact: Living in Europe During WWII. In learning from the experiences of those who have lived through a major event like a world war, we might anticipate how our lives today may be changed in the era of a global pandemic. “Children know when something is not right in the world,” Dr. de Mik observes. “It’s no longer safe to play with their friends, or hug their grandparents. Their young lives have been invaded.”

Dr. de Mik was also featured in a Sept. 2020 Star Tribune interview: Twin Cities therapists emphasize need to prepare purposeful COVID 'bubbles' before winter.