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

Book Reviews

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. (continued)

Roberta Apfel studied two groups of ten Palestinian and one group of ten Israeli eight-year-olds during the Gulf War. The Palestinian groups were from a good school for mildly handicapped children and from a religious school; the Israeli group was from a religious kibbutz.

The author noted that the Palestinian children saw the Israelis not as monsters but as misguided. Conversely, Israelis saw Arabs as the enemy, killing Jews, with some exceptions. One child said timidly: "Ishmael and Isaac are both sons of Abraham so they think maybe they both should have a share of Israel."

The picture appears skewed. Perhaps the samples were not sufficiently representative. The author contradicts herself, writing, on the one hand, that the Palestinian schools were "microcosms" of the world, on the other hand of "illusions that this school setting was typical of the school environment of most Palestinian children."

Ilany Cogan, in "Listening to the Sound of Mute Children," movingly describes the therapy of the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was unable to form a loving relationship. She was an adult on entering psychotherapy. What is special about Cogan's work is her use of countertransference feelings. Interpretations, in such cases, come not from psychodynamic reasoning, but from the therapist's ability to take upon herself the patient's suffering, and verbalize the emergent emotions.

Yolanda Gampel writes of the "background of the uncanny" against a "background of safety." Some child survivors relate that the experience of shock is always with them, even becoming deeper as time goes on. Gampel holds that remembering is beneficial. It prevents "catastrophic return of the repressed," prevents the repetition which eventually destroys the ability to feel, prevents the destruction of collective memory. It is thus important for the collective as well as in the therapy of individuals.

Childhood trauma in Latin American countries was not confined to war or political persecution. Horacio Riquelme analyzes some characteristic perceptions of children which lie at the root of their trauma. Children are regarded as "almost human"; they are considered expendable and their special qualities are exploited. This comes as a shock to those in whose culture childhood is a supreme value.

There are also the children who suffer as a result of political persecution of parents in Latin American countries. Parents may have suffered torture, even death. Sometimes a veil of silence has been imposed by the suffering family. Children in such cases cannot verify what happened, never mind making sense of it. Maria Lucila Pelento describes the treatment of a little boy with learning difficulties. In a moving account she describes how he came to remember events which at first he could not recall.

Devastating though our own persecution as Jews has been, it would be wrong to claim unique status as victims. On the contrary, our terrible experiences should make us more sensitive to the suffering of others.

All 41 papers in this volume reflect original and important work; all are lucid and readable. The editing, like the writing, is excellent. One wishes this book could be read by those who make the policies leading to so much suffering.

Rachel Chazan, M.D.


Tödliches Mitleid: Zur Frage der Unerträglichkeit des Lebens, oder: die Soziale Frage, Entstehung Medizinisierung NS-Endlösung heute morgen (Lethal Benevolence: The Problem of Intolerable Life), by Klaus Dörner. 3rd edition. Güterslohn, Germany: Verlag Jakob van Hoddis, 1993, 134 pp.

This book's introductory chapter quotes Primo Levi on the "Tanwitz look." Tanwitz was the chief chemist in Auschwitz; his "look" relegated human beings to "things" that could be killed. The author examines whether he himself would have been a Nazi if he had been an adult during the Nazi period.

The next few chapters deal with the Nazis' industrialized killing, their use of mass murder as a form of social "medicine." One chapter deals with "therapeutic" killings as a "solution" to the problem of people with limitations. First there was the law of sterilization; up to the end of the war, 350,000 people were sterilized. Then the killings began; an initial group of Polish psychiatric patients were gassed in 1939. From there the Nazis went on to systematic killing of groups such as the Jews and others.

The next chapter deals with postwar issues. It now became tactful and opportune, Dörner suggests, to present oneself as "in favor of life." In the help profession in Germany, a "collective displacement" occurred; people did not want to hear, see, or know. It was no longer opportune to speak about "inferiors"; the preferred term was "marginal groups." There was talk of giving the sterilized people financial compensation for the offspring they had been forced to forgo. Another group of professionals maintained that the sterilized had suffered so much that their wounds should not be reopened. The affected themselves, however, were not asked. Questions of compensation brought the "social issue" to the fore again in the Bundesrepublik-and with a negative result. The sufferers became, again, "things" and not people.

One chapter deals with a trip to Poland made by Dörner and a group of about 30 German psychiatric professionals in 1989. They visited the psychiatric hospitals that the Nazis had used to kill people. They lit candles, placed wreaths. They also held intensive talks with former Auschwitz prisoners. Both groups felt that the passage of 40 years was what made conversation possible.

In the 1990s, questions about life have again arisen, involving euthanasia, assisted dying, and gene technology. What are the solutions for the rising numbers of elderly and of elderly ill, often unable to function independently, or suffering pain? Dörner maintains that the hospice movement offers the best answers.

The next section is concerned with Fredi Saal, today an important philosophical thinker, who spent 11 years of his childhood and youth in an institution for the mentally underdeveloped. He was considered retarded because of his physical and speech impediment, yet achieved a high standing in life. Dörner sent him his manuscript, and the subsequent chapter is a long letter from Saal in which he speaks of the great need for tolerance and humanity.

The book ends with two short supplements, one written in August 1989 and the other in March 1993, as there was again a need for a new edition.

The publishing house, Jakob van Hoddis, provides work for ex-mental patients. Jakob van Hoddis was an expressionist poet, a Jew, and mentally ill; he was persecuted and killed by the Nazis.

This book is a very well-written one. Dörner deserves praise for his self-revelation, and for his ability to evolve from a son of a Nazi follower to an open, humanistic person who is much involved with helping to alleviate mental suffering.

Judith Rapaport, M.D., and Michal Bar-Sever, M.D.

[Page 2 of 2]

BackTop of Page