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  • The Jewish and German Roots of Psychoanalysis and the Impact of the Holocaust
  • Martin S. Bergmann

Introductory Remarks

The Holocaust is an event in world history, an important event in the twentieth century, a terrible century that is just coming to a close. But it is also an event in German history that has to be faced and an event in Jewish history that has to be mastered. I and a group of colleagues spent ten years studying the effect of the Holocaust on its victims and their children. One of the painful events we had to face was that the Holocaust is transmitted by the survivors to their children and even to the third generation. In that book we also included a chapter on the children of Nazis and we made the discovery that came as a surprise to all of us, that children of Nazis who knew about the participation of their parents in the Holocaust often identified themselves with the Jews and feared that they would be annihilated by their parents should they show signs of any weakness.

Beyond the Jewish tragedy we all were forced to recognize that given certain social circumstances such as a national humiliation, unemployment, and loss of religious and humanistic scruples, a democratic society did the equivalent of suicide by allowing an evil genius embodying the frustrations of many socially powerless people to gain power. Once in absolute control, he and his associates plunged the world into a devastating war. Were it not for the grace of God and the fact that so many European atomic scientists found refuge on these shores, the atomic bomb could have been discovered in Germany with results none of us dare imagine.

We psychoanalysts have learned to differentiate between at least three attitudes toward trauma: (1) The trauma has never been mastered, the Holocaust remains for its victim the only psychologically real event. One remains Hitler’s victim for [End Page 243] the rest of one’s life. For such people, the Holocaust is forever in danger of returning. They think of a refuge somewhere in middle America and keep flight tickets ready just in case. These are admittedly extreme examples, but we have encountered them. (2) Under ordinary circumstances, the Holocaust has been successfully relegated to the past, but the past has not been mastered. It threatens to return. An example would be as follows: A refugee woman driving beyond the speed limit is followed by an officer. Without awareness, the officer becomes a Nazi. She steps on the gas to escape for her life and thus transforms a simple punishment into a much more severe one. (3) The Holocaust is denied. It never happened. We hear continuously of books appearing and denying the unbearable historical events. Denial, however, as the psychoanalyst Robert Walder (1951) has found, is a weak defense and it has to be buttressed by a stable but dangerous paranoid defense. If the Holocaust cannot be denied it is because Jews and communists are perpetrating the lie that it did take place.

By comparison with these major issues, our symposium and exhibit is only a small event, but it reminds us that the Holocaust is also a part of psychoanalytic history. And we psychoanalysts must make sure that we have recorded it correctly without distortions or false idealizations, for any distortion of the past is conducive to recreation of the myth and is dangerous to our reality testing.

The Jewish Roots of Psychoanalysis

It is an historical fact that the creator of psychoanalysis was an Austrian Jew and the first circle of Freud’s disciples were Jews. The first gentile “converts” to psychoanalysis were psychiatrists in Bergholzi, a mental hospital in Zurich under the leadership of Bleuler and Jung. Freud was elated about this conquest of psychoanalysis. In his correspondence with Karl Abraham in 1908 we read:

Please be tolerant and do not forget that it is easier for you than it is for Jung to follow my ideas, for in the first [End Page 244] place you are completely independent, and then you are closer to my intellectual constitution because of racial kinship, while he, as a Christian and a pastor...

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pp. 243-259
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