- Death of a ‘Jewish Science’: Psychoanalysis in the Third Reich
Psychologists James and Eileen Goggin argue that psychoanalysis was destroyed in Nazi Germany. Such destruction by the Nazis of what they condemned as just another “Jewish science” might seem self-evident. Freud’s books, after all, were among those burned by brownshirts in 1933, and the universal humanist values inherent in psycho analytic theory and practice were of course anathema to Hitler’s regime. But the Goggins, to their credit, are aware that the story is more complicated than the sudden termination of all psychoanalytic thought and praxis in 1933. To cite the (horribly naive) words spoken by Paul Henreid in the 1943 film Casablanca: “Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.” Psychoanalysis was well established in Germany, its first institute and clinic having been founded in Berlin in 1920. And it was the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute that in 1936 formed the physical basis for the new German Institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy under the direction of Matthias Heinrich Göring, a cousin of Nazi bigwig Hermann Göring. While Jewish practitioners and patients were banished in 1938, psychoanalysis was one of the three “schools” of psychotherapy, along with the Adlerians and Jungians, that were represented in the membership of the new institute. This institute was generously funded by agencies of [End Page 128] the Nazi party, the Reich government, private industry, and the military until its destruction during the battle for Berlin in 1945.
So the theory and practice of psychoanalysis actually survived under official protection and even promotion during the Third Reich. The Goggins maintain, however, that the history of psychoanalysis—for a history, it turns out, there was—represents a severe discontinuity in the history of the discipline. For the Goggins, the totalitarian nature of the Nazi regime meant that the values inherent in psychoanalysis could not survive, that the moral integrity of its practitioners was destroyed by the exclusion, among others, of Jewish colleagues and patients, that the practice of psychoanalysis was rendered impossible by the Nazi erasure of the conditions of trust necessary between analyst and analysand, and that the autonomy of psychoanalysis as an especially rigorous means of self-examination was compromised through its association with other, lesser, forms of psychotherapy which were ostensibly being forged by the so- called “Göring Insitute” into a “new German psychotherapy” in line with Nazi racial ideals.
While the Goggins are surely correct that the independent psychoanalytic movement in Germany—and, later, in Europe—suffered a catastrophe from which it has only relatively recently begun to recover, they ignore important historical contexts that make the story of psychoanalysis in Nazi Germany even more complicated than they allow. For in the context of the professional development of psychotherapy both inside and outside of the medical profession to and through the Second World War, the history of psychoanalysis in Germany between 1933 and 1945 also displays some significant continuities. First of all, psychoanalysis continued to be taught and practiced inside the relatively protective walls of the Göring Institute, even by Marxist psychoanalysts like John Rittmeister, Käthe Dräger, and Dietfried Müller-Hegemann. Indeed, the classic “training analysis” pioneered by psychoanalysis was required of all students at the institute during the Third Reich. This is a demonstration of the fact that the Nazi totali tarian order contained significant imperfections, particularly when it came to the lucky accident for psychotherapists in having a relative of a powerful Nazi leader as one of their number. It also shows that Freud’s science was simply too important for even the Nazis to discard entirely, since the Göring Institute, in its desire to promote psycho therapy as a profession distinct from a hostile German psychiatric establishment, pro vided many services for the regime’s mobilization of the German people for rearmament, expansion, and extermination.
The implications of the activities of psychoanalysts and psychotherapists in the Third Reich are weighty insofar as they exemplify a fateful mix...