- The Intergenerational Taboo of Nazism: A Response and Elaboration of Volker Friedrich’s Paper, “Internalization of Nazism and its Effects on German Psychoanalysts and their Patients”
I’m very glad to participate in this important exchange with German colleagues and to comment and add to the ideas in the valuable, provocative, and evocative paper by Dr. Volker Friedrich. His paper is important to the history of German psychoanalysis and to the theoretical and technical issues imposed by the Holocaust.
It is historically appropriate that this Goethe House Symposium was held at the New School which gathered so many refugee intellectuals and provided a forum for psychoanalysts as a “university in exile” during the Nazi era. The title of the Symposium: “Psychoanalysis and Power” was indicative of the fateful consequences for psychoanalysis in Germany through accommodation to Nazi authority and assimilation of Nazi ideology. The influence of external and internal authoritarian or dictatorial power on psychoanalytic organizations, training, and treatment is a subject of vast importance, but the organizational involvement with Nazism elicited formidable resistance to psychoanalytic investigation.
The taboo of Nazism was to have an influence on clinical work with survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust and their progeny, and on psychoanalytic education and the development of psychoanalysis in Germany and in Austria. These exchanges may be understood as part of an analytic process of working through of unconscious conflicts and identifications, which far transcends the ability to mourn and to remember. One of the greatest problems analysts face has been with a disowned and disavowed horrifying past with which they are identified. Analytic confrontation with previously unimaginable [End Page 281] Nazi atrocities led to massive defensive structures and “The Taboo of Nazism” which Dr. Friedrich has so well and so movingly described. The lifting of this taboo was a developmental “return of the repressed.” It led to very painful confrontation with the conformity and collaboration of psychoanalysts, however motivated and rationalized, with Nazi aims and goals.
Dr. Friedrich’s paper begins with a fascinating clinical vignette. One and one-half years after completing a supervised analysis of a young woman, he had a chance meeting with a patient. As many patients have the “fantasy of doing,” she returned to the place where she had come for analysis for more than two and one-half years with strong feelings about her analytic experience. In this post-analytic encounter and “follow-up interview,” she tells her analyst the equivalent of an affectless nightmare. The analyst is a guard at a gas chamber in a concentration camp, and her analyst is about to shut the door of the chamber tightly behind her. Of course, knowing the analyst’s whereabouts and having an idea of his schedule, she may have hoped and expected to have encountered him so that the ostensibly chance meeting was actually psychologically arranged. The patient apparently experienced termination as expulsion and execution; but we do not know why she manifestly places herself as dying victim and her analyst as perpetrator of Nazi murder. We do know that it had a most powerful effect on Dr. Friedrich; he had a violent, physical reaction to it, and his throat infection seemed to psychologically mirror her inability to speak about it.
His training analyst and Dr. Friedrich agreed that they had been overwhelmed with the destructive rage of the concentration camp. But could the inquiry be carried past the closed door of the gas chamber and that supervisory session? There was apparently an implicit group censorship concerning Nazi atrocities. It had been a taboo to discuss the crimes of the Nazi era in psychoanalytic training and clinical work. If the issues could not be entirely evaded, one could only give lip service or participate in superficial discussion, so that the Nazi period and its atrocities remained a cordoned off taboo territory.
This widespread conspiracy of silence was particularly true [End Page 282] in Germany, but also pervaded much of the analytic world. It took the passage of time to the generation of the grandchildren of the Nazis before there could be adequate self-scrutiny and exploration of the Nazi era and its crimes. The crimes were of a hitherto...