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Human Rights Quarterly 24.4 (2002) 1076-1079
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An Intuitive Approach to Treating War Trauma
Splintered Innocence: An Intuitive Approach to Treating War Trauma, by Peter Heinl (2000).
In reading Peter Heinl's Splintered Innocence: An Intuitive Approach to Treating War Trauma, I stepped into a world that had vanished so completely, the only traces left were the marks on body and soul of the afflicted in Heinl's book. Nearly sixty years ago I was a part of this world, when millions of ethnic Germans from all countries of Eastern Europe, and German nationals from the Eastern provinces of Germany, were expelled from their homes, dispossessed, raped, murdered, and enslaved. In a massive wave of human dislocation millions of people escaped on foot, in treks of horse-drawn wagons, loaded with bundles, pulled carts, carried children, and clogged all roads going West. An estimated twelve million people were involved. Three million perished. This ethnic cleansing of massive proportions remains shrouded in silence and lack of knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic.
I often wondered what had happened to the people on the treks. At long last, some of them appear in Heinl's portraits drawn from his psychiatric practice and his seminars in London and Germany. They are adults now, in their fifties and sixties, but with childhood experiences etched in body and soul. What do their petrified experiences tell us about that time nearly sixty years ago and of the ravages of war on the human spirit? How does Heinl approach this taboo history and personal suffering left untreated by mental health workers for decades?
In the first portrait we meet a young woman admitted to a London hospital for suicide attempts. Her mother, of German-Czech descent, had suffered persecution under the Germans prior to 1945 and under the Czechs afterward when her family was forced into camps. Her father perished, and a sister went mad; the past lived on in the mother's continued agony and the daughter's suicide attempts.
In Heinl's seminar, a woman with a guitar couldn't talk about what had happened to her. Intense film images filled her mind with a terror beyond words. Over the course of several seminars spanning a number of years, fragments of language emerged: she was raped at age four by soldiers of the advancing Soviet Army in East Prussia, her grandfather was shot before her eyes, and his dying body collapsed over her. She suffered illness, the death of a sister, separation from her mother, the death of her brother on a train, and his body thrown out the window. Half a year later she reunited with her mother who had become mentally ill; her father was killed in the war.
During one of his intuitive "object sculpts" in which Heinl hung objects from a chair and then knocked his construction over, a woman with no memory of her early childhood became aware of her early encounter with war. At age three she was among a group of fleeing refugees who were attacked by fighter planes. She and her mother threw themselves into a ditch and survived, only to find the road afterward covered with corpses and dead horses.
A man, who suffered from an unexplained spell of dizziness, had a head that was slightly too large for his body, Heinl noted. He also noted the date of his client's birth in the autumn of 1945 and recalled the scarcity of food during that time. Heinl felt the urge to feed the dizzy man, as though he were a hungry [End Page 1076] baby, and conveyed his impression to the client. The man with the dizzy spell said that he had always felt a sense of emptiness, as though he had never really been sated. Heinl inquired about childhood malnutrition as a clue to the size of the client's head. In old photographs the client and Heinl saw the big head, sad eyes, and thin body of the client as a malnourished child.