Echoes of the Holocaust
Shalom Robinson, M.D., Editor

Book Reviews

Wiedergutmachung: Der Kleinkrieg gegen die Opfer (Compensation: The Fight Against the Victims), by Christian Pross. Hamburg Institut für Sozialforschung, 1988, 384 pp.

The German law concerning compensation, laid down by Adenauer's government in the early 1950s, allegedly to pay for crimes and destruction performed by the Nazis, was in fact regarded as a troublesome burden imposed by the victors after the Second World War. The author's own experience, like that of most other authors who have written about survivors of the Holocaust, provides ample evidence on obstacles raised by German authorities both against research and access to data and against many approvals of claims. His emphasis on these obstacles is, however, unique.

Even though overall compensations up to the year 2000 - mostly for damaged health - were estimated to run as high as 102 billion DM, individual claims were all too often denied. Pross reports in detail on many histories of survivors who fared poorly in this fight ("Kleinkrieg") with the German courts. He brings clear evidence to support his introductory assumption, namely, that the beaten and conquered nation of "blue-blooded superpeople" had no concern whatsoever for the former inmates of concentration camps. The Bundesrepublik did not regard the expenditure as a moral obligation but rather as a politically justified hardship.

This interpretation suits the fact that many perpetrators condemned in the Nuremburg trials after the war were prematurely released from prison. Pertinent here is the large difference between the economic consequences to Germany of World Wars I and II: after the former, Germany was fined 40 billion DM, whereas after the latter, some $U.S. 12 billion worth of economic aid was delivered to Europe (including West Germany). Even though the Nazis committed inhuman atrocities in their striving for a "Final Solution," they were punished rather mildly.

Not all areas covered in this volume are directly related to its title. One such area involves the sad truth that compensation was not essentially aimed at therapy or cure; instead, survivors were kept within the bounds of suffering and invalidity, "eternal victims," to quote Hillel Klein - a late after-triumph of Hitler's.

In summary, eight years after its publication this book still provides much valuable information, unknown to many - even to experts like W.G. Niedeland, as he himself writes in the foreword to this book. Those few who still fill out a new medical attestation for Holocaust survivors, or testify on growing disability due to victims' old age, will certainly read this book with great interest. Many others, too, should recognize its significance, whether they be concerned with the Holocaust and its aftermath, with massive psychic trauma in general, or with the relationship between offensive and defensive groups.

Uri Lowenthal, M.D.


Children: War and Persecution. Proceedings of the Congress, Hamburg, September 26-29, 1993. Edited by Stiftung fur Kinder. Selected and compiled by Hubertus Adam, Peter Riedesser, Horacio Riquelme, Axel Verderber, and Joachim Walter.

"Today the world is full of plans on how to make children into adults as fast as possible. Childhood is now being eradicated like many other loveable living beings ..." (Rafik Shama)

Children may suffer as the result of circumstances, or be the direct object of persecution or exploitation. Not only the Holocaust, but cultural prejudice, political persecution, and war are responsible. Some children were deliberately made to suffer because they were children; in Nazi Germany they were used for "scientific" experiments (new evidence [British Medical Journal, 7.12.1996] shows that the doctors were in some cases more enthusiastic than the regime).

David Becker discusses the therapy of extreme traumatization, where "fragmentation" of the personality may occur. The child surviving death has "given up his soul." Afterwards, his pretraumatic personality is partially restored, but a part of him no longer exists. A therapeutic dilemma arises: if the traumatic experience is cognitively recovered, a split remains between the "destroyed" and the observing part. If the patient relives the experience emotionally, it will disappear again. Balint, Winnicott, Khan, and Bion taught us that through the therapist's ability to connect himself with "the agony of fear" and to contain it, the patient can be offered a secure space to reintegrate himself.

Dan Bar-On writes of "Children as Unintentional Transmitters of Undiscussable Life Events." He quotes R.D. Laing and others: when an issue becomes "taboo" in a family, thought must be distorted to avoid it. This pattern of thought distortion can be transmitted to the next generation. A related phenomenon is described by Joachim Walter. The child of a torture victim learns that the most serious things must not be talked about. If the mother goes to search for a lost father, the children may fantasize that she has left them because she blames them for the loss.

Judith Kestenberg shows that children of Nazi perpetrators of persecution have problems, too. Their mothers may have lied to them about their fathers. One often wonders how it was that these fathers were good to their own children while experimenting with and killing Jewish children. Kestenberg found surprising answers.

In a moving paper Julie Goschalk writes of a second meeting, in Israel, between children of Holocaust survivors and of Nazi perpetrators. The finest aspect of this paper is the author's ability and willingness to describe her own feelings as a participant who was also convenor and translator. At the beginning, she feared silence, that everything had already been said at the first meeting. This proved unfounded. Later, she unexpectedly felt sympathy with the Germans who were too ashamed to speak up. She had to listen in two different modes, one to recall the exact words in order to translate, the other as participant, allowing her own associations to surface. Her great tiredness, she thought, might be due to attempting both at the same time. [Page 1 of 2]

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