The Reception of Holocaust Research in the World of Psychology

Joanne Wieland-Burston
Zurich, Switzerland and Munich, Germany
Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists


When I chose to present on this subject in Barcelona, I was following up on impressions that I had gained when lecturing to professionals and laymen in different countries: in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, France and in the United States. I was surprised to find varying degrees of interest – from a lack of attendants at a seminar in Zurich – to a marked interest and commitment to it in Germany.

Taboos connected with the subject seem to be the norm. The only exclusively interested public I found was in the United States. Elsewhere, more or less conscious complexes of guilt and shame connected with the Shoah seemed to be prevalent, with an accompanying inaccessibility to reason; thus, the difficulty in raising the topic to consciousness.

At the international Congress in Cambridge in 2001, the panel I had proposed on “The Effects of the Nazi Period on People in Psychotherapy Today” drew a large group and strong emotional reactions. Eva Morris and Martine Sandor-Buthaud presented with me. The space and time allotted to our forum on the topic had been quite limited: too many people turned up for the small room that had been assigned to us; the time slot was insufficient. There was obviously more interest the topic than the. organizing committee had imagined.

These diverse experiences prompted my desire to study the question of the reception of Holocaust research in detail. I wanted to try to find a more objective perspective, based on the way other professionals in the field of psychology dealt with the subject. I decided to poll psychological societies and institutes on an international level and drew up a questionnaire, which I sent to Jungian and Freudian societies and institutes in all parts of the world. My results are far from definitive, first of all, because not all institutes and societies which I addressed have responded. Secondly, because I feel it would also be necessary to poll other schools of psychology.

An impressive amount of material has been published on the subject of the Shoah – scientific papers and studies with historical, sociological and psychological, biographical and autobiographical content; but there are comparatively few publications on the subject by Jungians. The literature that I have read on the subject is primarily Freudian. This gap between the Freudian and Jungian worlds has long impressed and disturbed me. Why this is so is also a question I would like to try to answer.


My paper is divided into four parts: first I shall provide some background information on the topic and my interest in it; then I shall explain the questionnaire and the reactions to it, drawing some preliminary conclusions. The third part is devoted to the question of the usefulness of research on the topic. Here I include observations from my analytical practice. In the fourth part I propose some suggestions for future research.

I. Background information

The term “Holocaust” is widely used these days to designate that event in history in which the National Socialists in Germany during the time of Adolf Hitler did their best to kill all men, women and children of Jewish descent throughout Europe. The term is a misnomer and a euphemism. Elie Wiesel, who first used this Hebrew term meaning “burnt offering”, has himself voiced regret at its usage: he finds it too convenient and too imprecise. I imagine that the idea of a sacrificial offering which is allowed to burn down completely so that only smoke and ashes remain must have impressed Elie Wiesel, himself a survivor of the camps, who lost his family in smoke and ashes there. But in thinking the image through, we have to ask, “Who did this sacrificing? It was obviously not the Jews themselves, but rather a fanaticized Aryan community who was trying to fulfill the promise of the National Socialist worldview. It is, therefore, absolutely cynical to name this mass murder “the Holocaust”. From now on I shall, therefore, refer to it as the Shoah, the Hebrew word for catastrophe

My experience

When I moved to Munich in 1988, after having worked as an analyst in Zurich for ten years, I slowly began to realize that practically all of my clients here were children and grandchildren of survivors, of perpetrators or of what I call “the silent mobilized majority”. I became interested in the question of the effects of the Shoah on these people, the direct descendants of those actors from the past. My interest in the subject was greeted with a lack of understanding by colleagues of various schools: “Oh”, they thought, “They did not have any clients who had been effected by this event”. The fact that anyone whose family had lived here at that time could be affected now was not a topic for discussion. I continued trying to stay aware of this perspective, although, I felt a bit strange and embarrassed and quite hesitant to publicize what I was observing. I then joined a Judith Kestenberg research group on child survivors: psychoanalysts the world over were interviewing people who had survived the Shoah as children.

In 1999 I opened the subject, which I called “the reverberations of the Holocaust in terms of Jungian psychology”, to a larger forum of colleagues as “the AGAP Research Project”. Two colleagues from Israel responded to the announcement of the project in the IAAP Newsletter (2000). I have continued studying the topic intensively and lectured on my findings in different societies. Four years ago I began a supervision group in Munich devoted to this specific question: psychotherapists from various schools have joined. The work is very rewarding. One of my hopes is that similar supervision groups be established in other parts of Germany.

In the year 2000, together with Elke Metzner, Martin Schimkus and Christiane Monshausen, I organized a conference for the German society on the “The Effects of the Nazi Catastrophe on the first to third generations”, held in Nuremberg. Our concept was to hold a primarily experience-oriented meeting with few lectures, little theoretical work and mostly small groups. We wanted to provide a framework in which the participants could get involved in their own personal relationship with the subject. Ultimately, the conference followed a more conventional model. However, an experience-oriented approach seems important to me, as the training analysis of most contemporaries did not generally broach the topic of the Shoah. Later on I shall present an example of the kind of difficulties which can arise when the analyst is not aware of her family background or of her own “Shoah complex”.

II. The questionnaire: content, responses, findings

I asked the institutes the extent to which the topic of the Shoah was treated by their association, to indicate the level of interest in the topic as well as in the wider topics of trauma and collective trauma. Ideally, I believed, societies would be delving into all of these topics in order to study the phenomenon of trauma in families, intergenerational transmission and its effects on the psyche of individuals in therapy and on the society in general.

Now, you may ask, “What do I designate as ‘research’”? I use the term “research” in the sense of the Old High German term: Forschung, from forscon, “to ask”. I mean any work, which is devoted to the topic, any study, which asks questions and tries to answer them. It need not be a statistically significant number of subjects which are examined. There are other types of research, for example, individual case studies on the basis of which one tries to make general theoretical hypotheses. Therefore, any piece of work on the topic is considered a piece of research on the Holocaust. What do I mean by “Holocaust/Shoah research”? It deals with the period in history in which the Jews of Europe were singled out to be murdered. It studies the effects of this period on the individuals who where involved, on their children and grandchildren, and, hence, and quite important, on the society at large. In this population I include the victims, the perpetrators and the members of the silent mobilized majority On this point one may argue that the research should be restricted to the victims. However, as the descendants of the perpetrators have also been affected and they also form the society in which we live, I believe it justifiable and absolutely essential to include also this community in the research.

The responses to the questionnaire

In most of the Jungian societies which I polled, I was able to address the questionnaire to friends and colleagues whom I knew personally. Obviously these people felt more obliged to reply. This advantage I did not have with the Freudian community; therefore, relatively few of these societies responded. Ultimately I received about as many responses from the Jungian societies as from the Freudians, but the latter have a much larger number of societies. My results are, therefore, far from being representative.


Jungian institutes and societies tended in general to devote more work to the topic of individual trauma in general than to collective trauma or to the more specific collective trauma, the Shoah The influence of Donald Kalsched’s book, The Archetypal Defenses of the Self, is inestimable. Many societies mention the book and/or lectures by Kalsched himself. Collective trauma is a matter of burning interest in societies who have been relatively recently exposed to such events.

In both the Jungian and Freudian schools, work on the Shoah seems to center around specific individuals or certain societies who are especially committed to the topic. The main impetus for attention to the Shoah in the Jungian world in the early days (the 1980s) seems to have come through Gustav Dreifuss. Among the Freudians, Judith Kestenberg (who died in 1998) played a dominant role in the diffusion of the topic. The Freudians have, in fact, devoted much more work to the topic of the Holocaust than we have. Our circles have paid the most attention to Jung’s position during the Nazi period.

In his recent article on the IAAP website, “Forty Years as a Jungian Analyst in Israel,” Gustav Dreifuss wrote, “My studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich strengthened my wish to settle in Israel – as a therapist I wanted to help victims of the Holocaust to return to a more or less normal life despite their deep psychic wounds”. He went on to introduce the topic to other societies and to publish several articles on the Shoah in Germany as well as a book on the topic. As of 1999 I myself began to travel from Germany to France, England, Austria, Switzerland, and the United States, to speak on the topic.

Certain societies also have a natural predisposition to dealing with the Shoah: these are Israel and Germany. As Eli Weisstub, former President of the Israeli society, wrote, the Israeli society was especially active on the topic ten or twenty years ago when the main presenters there were Gustav Dreifuss and Dvorah Kuczinski. This was “because of the immediate relevance of the Holocaust to patients who had gone through the Holocaust. There was also attention given to second generation effects”. As he says, this special interest has to do with the fact that the Holocaust is a “living reality” in Israel. The general topics of trauma and collective trauma are still, sadly, also practical realities in Israel and a lot of work is being done on collective trauma, obviously because of the political situation there. Eli Weisstub and his wife Esti (a child therapist) are especially active on this topic.

The German society began to focus on the subject of the Shoah in the 1980s. Anne Springer seems to have been an early animator there. The journal (Zeitschrift für analytische Psychologie) devoted an issue in 1985 exclusively to the Shoah and related subjects, with articles by Gustav Dreifuss, Hans-Joachim Wilke, James Kirsch and Aniela Jaffé. Jacqueline Mendelsohn (the daughter of Max Zeller from the Los Angeles Institute and fifteen years later the author of a doctoral thesis on the American-born grandchildren of people who died in the Shoah) wrote a commentary on Wilke’s article.

One of the early concerns of the German society was, as with most Jungian societies, the question of Jung’s anti-Semitism. They commissioned Arvid Erlenmeyer and Matthias von der Tann to compile a collection of quotations by Jung: the result was a brochure, “Jung and National Socialism”, published in 1991 and again in 1993.

Also the French society – under the impression of Christian Gaillard – has been committed to research in this field. In 1995 they devoted an entire issue of their journal, Cahiers Jungiens de psychanalyse, to “Jung et l’histoire: les années 30” (”Jung and History: the 1930s”). Like the Germans, the French also drew up a list of Jung’s works during this time (done by Juliette Vieljeux). I would like to single out the excellent piece of work which Martine Drahon-Gallard presented at the Berlin conference (1986) on what she calls “the white shadow”: the phenomenon of individuals whose parents as victims of the Shoah do not tell of their experiences, but leave their children with a “white shadow” – a caesura, a lacuna in their history.

Pamela Powers, Director of Training of the Los Angeles Jung Society, writes that, as the founders of the Los Angeles society were Jews who had left Nazi Germany, there has been “ongoing interest in topics related to the Holocaust as well as Jung’s so-called ‘Anti-Semitic’ charges”. This surprised me, as I have not found many works by these analysts on the Shoah. James Kirsch’s article in the German journal on what he calls “Jung’s so-called Anti-Semitism” dates from 1985. Pamela Powers cites a paper by Michael Gellert, “The Eruption of the Shadow in Nazi Germany” (Psychological Perspectives).

In the past few years, American Jungian societies have been devoting more attention to the question, whereby the “Holocaust museums” in the U.S. (of which their are several: in Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania California, Washington, D.C., and even two in Florida) provide the actualized link to the event. Tom Kelly of the Interregional Society of Jungian Analysts mentions that, although the question has not been treated by the IRSJA, the society will be visiting the Houston Holocaust Museum during a meeting next year. The Washington society, although it does not feature “any specific program to deal with the effects of the Holocaust on people in psychotherapy today”, has addressed the question as well as that of trauma.

The presence of a “survivor population” (which identifies itself as such and this is definitely not always the case) incites the societies to work on the Shoah. Jef Dehing (from the Belgian School of Jungian Psychoanalysis) notes that in Belgium there were practically no survivors, but speaks of his own work on trauma (published in the Etudes Psychanalytiques).

Similarly, the President of the Norwegian Society for Psychoanalysis writes: “Very few of the Norwegian Jews survived to return”. Of the two thousand Jews who lived there, a small number managed to escape to Sweden. Sverre Varvin of the Norwegian society wrote a doctoral thesis on massive collective trauma (based on work with war refugees from the Balkans): “Survival Strategies After Extreme Traumatisation”.

South America has a large survivor population, but here only the Freudian Chilean, Peruvian and Uruguayan societies have answered my questionnaire thus far. The Chilean group has devoted work to trauma, but not to the Shoah, although their president writes that some individuals are interested in the topic. As for Peru, there seems to be a lot of activity here as of 1999: conferences and workshops on the Shoah, but no courses offered in the training program. Uruguay mentions a “true interest in the topic, with papers published and activities like workshops and conferences organized”.

Although there is a large survivor population in Canada, there is relatively little interest here. From Toronto, Shirley Ma (formerly of the Ontario society, but trained in Zurich) is committed to the topic. She reports on her own work on trauma (Freudian training on the subject) and her invitation to Don Kalsched to speak to the Ontario group.

In Poland, whose Jewish population was one of the most brutally decimated, Agnieszka Makowiecka of the Polish Psychoanalytic Society, has published papers on the subject, which she presented to the Polish Society for the Development of Psychoanalysis in 1997 and 1998. She has worked in collaboration with an American psychoanalyst, Vera Muller-Paisner.

Whereas the effects of genocide on the survivors is a relativerly obvious question, its effects of the rest of the population are, I believe, just as important! This is an integral aspect of my interest in the question. The fact that the entire wartime population was affected by the Shoah, not perhaps as victims but as perpetrators or as witnesses, is even more neglected.


It seems to be easier for the Jungian community at large to address the more general topic of trauma, especially since the publication of Don Kalsched’s book. In Portland, Oregon, as well as in many other societies (Toronto, Washington, D.C., South Africa) if trauma has been studied of late, it seems to be prompted by Don Kalsched’s work. The interest has often not been extended to further aspects, to the collective level, to genocide or to the Shoah. Genevieve Geer, former president of the New York society, has spoken on evil at the Georgia society, as well as Don Kalsched himself.

Collective Trauma

Societies in which collective trauma is a relatively but not too recent concern tend to deal with this topic. As in all psychological research, the personal concern determines the interest and provides the energy for the work, be it abandonment, spirituality or traumatic events. So we have South Africa, Uruguay, Israel and Germany, countries obviously living very much under the impression of collective trauma, who devote time and energy to the study of collective trauma. Astrid Berg, President of the South African Jung Society notes, “We have had many lectures on the more general topic of trauma, as it is something that was so relevant in our country’s past”. She speaks of lectures by Gustav Dreifuss and, more recently, Avi Baumann (both of whom live and work in Israel). She recalls significant interest shown in their work and points out a book, South Africa in Search of a Soul, (1990, ed. Graham Saayman) which deals with trauma and its effects on the collective psyche.

The President of the Freudian Psychoanalytical Society in Uruguay wrote: “As you know, our country had a ten-year dictatorship and as a result, different persons and institutions have been devoted to the topics of trauma, collective memory and identity, related to missing persons, torture and effects of State terrorism”. This kind of attention to a matter which is actualized by the political situation of the moment is quite typical.

At first I was surprised to find that a group like the Chilean Psychoanalytic Society has done little work on the Shoah, or on collective trauma, despite the fact of their dictatorship and the traumatic effect it had on its population. In 2003 they held their first scientific meeting on “thirty years after the military coup: psychological effects on the victims of political oppression”. A relatively small number of colleagues attended (twenty-two) in comparison to the workshops on the more conventional and theoretical subject of trauma according to Winnicott (forty-five colleagues attended here). This lack can be understood by the fact that the Chilean dictatorship is of more recent date, and it takes time for people to find the necessary distance to be able to deal with painful problems. The Peruvian Society is in a different position (see above), but their dictatorship lasted a much shorter time and came to an end decades ago (in 1973). A marked hesitancy to deal with too recent collective trauma is likely true of other countries, also; their answers to the questionnaire will be informative.


The societies who answered that they have not dealt with the topic are, among the Freudians, France, Spain, India., and upstate New York (whereby the President there states that this is a tiny group). The President of the French society, André Beetschen, writes that the Shoah is often cited in relation to the subjects of trauma, denial and destructiveness, and that French psychoanalysts regularly refer to Claude Lanzmann’s film, Shoah.

In Jungian circles, the Italian societies seems not to have dealt with the topic of the Shoah, according to the affirmations of the presidents of their societies. Switzerland is an interesting example. In Basle, where many Germans attend the events, there was a large attendance at my lecture, while in Zurich, the show of interest was extremely limited. In Switzerland the taboos surrounding the fate of the Jews are still very much alive. I know in my personal life as well as through my practice numerous Swiss families who have a Jewish grandparent or parent of whom they are seldom aware.

And what about the Jungians?

Why the relative dearth in the Jungian world? There are, I believe two main reasons: the classically Jungian preference for an archetypal rather than a personal approach and, more importantly, the confusion and embarrassment – sometimes even shame and guilt – among Jungians because of the Jungian stigma: Jung’s anti-Semitic comments. The Jungian approach is traditionally a non-historical one. Personal history, the entire developmental approach, was long not a matter of import for Jungians whose perspective was more clearly impersonal and archetypal. The developmental approach to the psyche did not become an alternative in the Jungian world until relatively recently.

Although Jung held that there were various layers in the complexes, he showed a definite preference for the eternal, universal layer. Work on other layers – racial, religious – had gotten him into trouble: his sweeping generalizations on “the Jewish archetype” and Jewish culture are those instances where the suspicions of his anti-Judaism are the least unequivocal.

Trauma, memory, the past were not Jung’s focus. The view into the universal past or the prophetic future was the special, new perspective that was to distinguish him from father Sigmund. Times have changed and many Jungians today consider personal history and a developmental approach of import. Besides, as Mary Ann Mattoon so well stated in her introduction to the Congress volume on The Archetype of the Shadow in a Split World (1986),

Many Jungians see the world as a totality, not divided into inner and outer, personal and archetypal. With such a view they feel impelled to take some responsibility for alleviating the collective conditions that produce pathology in themselves and in other people, Their psychological knowledge and strengths make their active participation in the world community both possible and imperative. (p. xi)

I find the Jungian approach – systemic as it is – extremely well suited to studying questions of intergenerational transferences. Complex theory can well be applied to study the history of the individual, her family and her social group, background, religious and cultural. Fairy tale and even mythological images serve as models for the study of unconscious interchanges between the generations.

When I presented in Cambridge I surmised that we Jungians needed to clear up the question of Jung’s position with regard to Judaism and to the Nazis before we went on to further topics concerning the Holocaust. As I mentioned above, a large portion of the Jungian work that I have seen is devoted to this question. I must add to the French and German contributions a conference held in New York in 1989, co-sponsored by the New York C.G. Jung Foundation, which led to the publication by Aryeh Maidenbaum and Steve Martin of Lingering shadows: Jungians, Freudians and Anti-Semitism – a collection of essays including works from the Paris 1989 Congress workshop on the subject of Jung’s anti-Semitism). Andrew Samuels’ article on Jung’s anti-Semitism appeared in the Journal of Analytical Psychology in 1992 (by the way, one of the only signs of interest in the English society, besides my lecture at the Society for Analytical Psychology in 2001). Mario Jacoby devoted an article to Jung’s “eternal shadow theme” (1992) and Micha Neumann delved into this question (both articles published in the German Zeitschrift).

Freudian Freedom?

In the Freudian world the attention devoted to the topic is more common and more intense. The Freudians do not have to defend against charges of anti-Semitism. The psychoanalysts active on the Shoah have a personal interest. Judith Kestenberg was a child psychoanalyst who escaped from Poland to the United States in 1937. She wrote in 1996 (The Last Witness: The Child Survivor of the Holocaust): “Some twenty-five years ago, faced with my first patient who was a child of survivors, I became concerned with the generationally transmitted effects of persecution, but I still knew very little regarding the adult fate of children who were themselves persecuted.”

Kestenberg was responsible for much of the work, writing herself but also keeping interest in the topic alive. She began the child survivor project in which analysts the world over conducted interviews over a period of ten years with people who survived the war as children. The material, documented on tape and in transcripts, collected and catalogued in the Wiener Library of Tel Aviv University, is vast and unwieldy, difficult to read and digest, let alone to work on scientifically. (Suzanne Kaplan of the Swedish Psychoanalytical Society, who met Judith Kestenberg in 1984, wrote her doctoral thesis on the basis of such interviews. She later went on to study the effects of mass collective trauma on children in Rwanda.)

The American Psychoanalytic Association has an ongoing group initiated by Judith Kestenberg, Milton Jacovy and M.S. Bergmann, devoted to the study of intergenerational transmission of trauma. My contact person, Ira Brenner, chairs this group with Dori Laub, born in 1937 in Czechoslovakia, presently professor at Yale University and very active writer on the Shoah. Ira Brenner’s own group in Philadelphia is active on the Shoah as well as on more general topics related to it: killing and aggression and the problem of evil. Such broad, unspecific and a-historical topics are, by the way, a preferred subject matter in many societies (Freudian and Jungian), e.g. the San Francisco Freudians.

At every International Psychoanalytic Conference the Freudians grant a prize – the Elise M. Hayman Award – for the presentation of a work on the Holocaust or on genocide. In Barcelona in 1997 the award was given to Janine Altonnian who spoke on genocide in Armenia. In this way the international organization encourages the work on this subject.

Before I go on to suggest the details of how I envision the development of an international research project on this topic, I must say why I feel this important.

III. The whys and wherefores of holocaust research

A concentrated effort to bring research on the Shoah and on collective mass trauma into our circles is essential for our training institutes. Therapists need to learn how to deal with collective and individual trauma. They need to know about treatment possibilities and typical problems; they also need to learn how important it can be to be informed of the cultural and historical background of the country and society in which the client’s trauma occurred.

Although the Shoah was a unique experience in itself, it nevertheless serves as a prototype for genocide, for massive collective trauma and its long-term effects on a population. In this respect, research on the topic is of vital importance for all who work in the field of psychotherapy, not only for us today, living and dealing with direct descendants of the Shoah, but also for the future. On the one hand, we cannot suppose that genocide and mass collective trauma are a thing of the past. On the other, numerous are the cases in which trauma inflicted on a previous generation makes itself felt in the children and grandchildren of those directly concerned. The traumatized mother cannot offer the same kind of empathy as the non-traumatized mother; the father who was the son of an alcoholic is a different kind of father, formed by these experiences. The transmission of psychic pain is a phenomenon, which we all know. Research on the Shoah has helped us become aware of the fact that the descendents of the traumatized are affected by their parents’ past. This consciousness can make us attentive to the psychological phenomenon of transmission – also of individual trauma.

Heritage versus Inheritance: Questionable and Painful

In our post-modern world the tradition of passing down folk wisdom, the wisdom of generations past, no longer claims the place it did among tribal cultures, who learned to construct boats, tend flocks or build tents from their forefathers. Today, family history, which is carried on in an oral tradition with stories about the forefathers, can serve in place of the talents, which used to be handed down. When tale telling is restricted, even absent because of shame, embarrassment, suffering and mechanisms of repression, the following generations are impoverished.

The psychological compensation for this lack of family heritage comes up, in Germany for example, in an overwhelming concern with the question of inheritance, inheriting material goods from silent parents, from parents who deny their children the heritage of stories. Passing down family lore has been replaced by the transfer of goods and scanty stories of improbable events in the past. The grandfather who lost his factory as a punishment for producing war materials becomes the grandfather who just happened to give up his factory for a while, dying impoverished. A perpetrator becomes a victim.

In recent years Germany is very much under the impression of a new style of therapy: Bert Hellinger does what he calls “Familienaufstellungen” – a kind of psychodrama on family constellations. People whose family heritage is not clear go for such treatment in which, for example, a grandfather with a questionable past is found and the therapist urges acting out the scene in which the client returns the questionable inheritance the guilt, about inhumane acts to the grandfather. The extraordinary popularity of this therapeutic school shows the extent to which people are suffering from their fantasies about these inheritances.

Attention to the family background is important for our therapists, too. If they are not aware of their own family heritage, they remain stiff and complex-laden when it comes to dealing with this question in their work. One of my respondents reported this phenomenon from her training analysis with a man who had lived through the Nazi period. The following case illustrates this problem in which the analyst’s “Shoah complex” prevented the analysand from getting what she needed out of the therapeutic relationship.

Mary came to see me after many years of therapeutic work in Germany. First a primal therapy, then a Jungian, archetypally-oriented analysis. Our work centered more on her development with an unempathic mother and on the experiences of her mother’s family in the Shoah. These two topics had been difficult for her previous analyst to deal with. The psychological development of the insecurely attached child was not the focus of this archetypal analysis. The Shoah was a sensitive subject for the analyst himself who obviously had guilt feelings in this connection.

Mary tried to work on her feelings, fantasies and experiences with her mother and her grandfather. The latter had been taken away and had to do manual labor for a Nazi family during the war. But he did survive. His daughter, being a so-called “half-Jew”, lived in constant danger of being deported and killed. The suitcase of the little tenyear- old girl she had been at the time was always packed and waiting for her in a corner of the living room. She and her mother must have lived in constant fear of the day when her name would appear on the list of deportees.

The little girl who was Mary’s mother grew up be an unempathic mother – not only, but certainly also – for this reason. Mary had a special relationship with her grandfather; trying to piece together her life history and, later on in our work, her mother’s experiences during the war was important for her. The previous analyst, blocked by his own guilt feelings, had constantly reprimanded her for wanting to delve into this field of memory and fantasy, “for that happened to your family, not to you”!

Shoah research on the second generation has shown how the experiences of the survivors affected their children and grandchildren. Knowledge of this literature could have helped this analyst to allow Mary to try to come to terms with her family history and how it affected her. Of course, working on his own complexes with regard to the Shoah would have been a necessary preliminary step in the process.

Taboo and Relationship

Asking questions about the Shoah and the parents’ experience at this time is often a taboo. As I mentioned, I found this phenomenon in most of the audiences with whom I spoke. Again and again people reported that they had not been able to speak of this period with parents, grandparents, or even with their analysts during training.

The Hebrew word for taboo is tameh. Tameh prohibits touching, being in contact with unclean, unholy things. Not getting too close to touch another is a learned pattern of communication, which isolates individuals from each other and from themselves.

I am thinking in this context of the husband of an analysand who was very taciturn, always retreating from discussions, avoiding intimate interchanges, a social butterfly with no real personal relationships and who had trouble confiding in his wife of twenty years. He lived in a cocoon, speaking seldom of anything that concerned him in a deeper fashion. On the strength of my urging, his wife managed to persuade him to go into therapy. And there he also sat in silence. Suspicions about his father’s activities as an SS officer had haunted him all his life. He could not face them, tried to avoid thinking about them and retreated into a world of silence. Out of a fear that he might have to confront his own father’s past, he avoided too-intimate contact with others, even with his wife and children.

With time, he followed his therapist’s advice to consult official archives: here he found answers, uncomfortable answers, but also clarity. Now he knew what his father had done at the time. No longer was he plagued by fantasies. The veil was lifted and the man became more and more open for communication. He no longer needed to avoid any real contact with the world.

The taboos surrounding not only the acts of the perpetrators, but also the suffering of the victims have marked an entire generation of people. I have also seen how it can also mark the following generations. I described this phenomenon in an article published in the review of the French society in 2001. Often children of the perpetrators who do not know exactly what inhumane acts their parents were responsible for have fantasized about them but never really dared to try to find out the truth. They tend often to retreat from intimate human relationships, out of a complex developed in communicating with their parents. Getting too close, intimate and curious could be dangerous. Parents who hide their past from their children, because of fear of retaliation, perhaps because of shame or guilt, definitely send clear signals to their children: “Don’t get too close, don’t ask too many questions”. This type of interaction molds the children who often grow up to be adults who avoid intimacy for reasons which are not immediately apparent. The parental relationship complex with its patterns of action and interaction and its dominant feeling tone can prevail for a lifetime. The same is true of the children of the victims, although the motivation for their retreat from intimacy with their parents is rather to protect their parents from suffering. The perpetrators’ children protect their parents from shame. The quality of their silence differs.1

1 Grünberg, Kurt, 1997: “Schweigen und Verschweigen. NS-Vergangenheit in Familien von Opfern und Tätern oder Mitläufern”: Psychosozial 20, Nr. 68, pp. 9-22.

IV. Suggestions for future research

What I envision as the next step in this project is to find a team to contribute to the work. We need to poll other schools of psychology, preferably through personal contacts. We need to contact the Jungian groups who have not responded to the questionnaire. Then, there are all of the other schools of psychology that may have had events or publications on the topic. The next step is to poll these groups.

During my research for this paper I came upon a very informative compendium of Holocaust research. It was part of a manual on violence: International Handbook of Research on Violence (published in Wiesbaden in 2002). The author, Peter Longerich, studied the literature on the subject, indicating trends that have emerged through the years. His interest is more historical and sociological than psychological. A further development of the project could be a compendium of work on the topic, including publications, and also seminars, courses and lectures. One chapter would be devoted to the survivors and their children, one to the examination of the phenomenon of the Shoah in general, one to the effects on the children of the perpetrators, of the silent mobilized masses and the children of the witnesses. A further chapter could be devoted to works on collective mass trauma.

A Jungian research project on the reception of research on the Shoah in the world of psychology (including the effects of the Shoah) would be a helpful addition to the work thus far done on the topic. Furthermore, it could also help redeem the tarnished image of Jungian psychology, which still suffers from the “lingering shadows” – as Aryan Maidenbaum called them – of Jung’s anti-Semitism. This is definitely a stumbling block in our communication, in our interactions with other schools of psychology. Jungians have lost the respect of the psychological community through Jung’s statements about the character and tendencies of Jews and Judaism. He has disqualified himself and his psychology. If it is at all possible to redeem this image, I believe it is through a Jungian effort on this topic.

It would be helpful if the IAAP would sponsor the research project. They could also follow the admirable example of the International Psychoanalytic Association, offering a prize at every international conference for the best paper on the Shoah or on other massive collective trauma.


  • Dreifuss, Gustav, “Forty Years as a Jungian Analyst in Israel,” at gustavdreifuss1.html
  • Kestenberg, Judith S., and Brenner, Ira, (1996) The Last Witness: The Child Survivor of the Holocaust, American Psychiatric Press. (From the “Introduction,” website version at