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


Judith S. Kestenberg
March 17, 1910 - January 16, 1999

Born Judith Silberpfennig in Tarnov, Poland, Dr. Kestenberg received her training in medicine, neurology, and psychiatry in Vienna. In 1937 she came to New York to continue her training under Dr. Paul Schilder at Bellevue Hospital. She graduated from the training program of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in 1943. She went on to publish over 150 professional articles and seven books, and she taught generations of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, and other specialists in development, mental health, and dance movement therapy. She was professor emeritus at New York University Medical School, training analysts for adults and children, and was on the faculty and staff of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Dr. Kestenberg was the founder and director of the organization Child Development Research (CDR), which for twenty years ran the Center for Parents in Long Island, where the study of early development and methods of primary prevention evolved.

Along with her late husband Milton, who was one of the first Holocaust-reparation litigators, Dr. Kestenberg founded the CDR's International Study of Organized Persecution of Children, which through the worldwide collaboration of mental health specialists has interviewed over 1,500 child survivors. With colleagues, she developed interview methods to protect the well-being of the survivor, and ways of processing the information from both historical and psychological perspectives. She also conducted interviews of children of Nazis. Through her tireless quest to understand the roots of hatred and prejudice, she sought to lay the basis for the prevention of recurrence. She contributed to the development of such organizations as NAHOS (the National Association of Holocaust Survivors) and the Hidden Child Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League, and to the organization of support groups for child survivors in several American cities and in Israel. She was also the founder of the Group for the Psychoanalytic Study of the Effects of the Holocaust on the Second Generation. Dr. Kestenberg received many honors for her work, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from the American Jewish Congress, and the Holocaust Memorial Award from the New York Society of Clinical Psychologists. She wrote books and articles on Holocaust survivors and the second generation, and contributed several articles to Echoes of the Holocaust.

In the context of conducting interviews with child survivors, both Judith and Milton came to Israel on several occasions. They were a great support to the group that we have created for interviewing survivors in Israel, contributing their ideas through very long conversations about the ways in which such interviews should be conducted, and about the potential problems for both interviewer and interviewee. Through Judith's drive and as a continuation of the interviews, we established a group of child survivors that met once a month over eight years at the Wiener Library of Tel Aviv University. For the first meeting, Judith was present. She was very lively and determined, and indeed the most important goal of the last fifteen years of her life - to interview every single one of the child survivors of the Holocaust - was accomplished. When Judith could not get a child survivor to come to her, she went to the survivor, using her experience in recognizing child survivors even in the street, through gestures, postures, and facial expressions. With her very direct, straightforward manner, she managed to obtain these interviews. Although sometimes this appeared intrusive to me, after the interviews the interviewees were clearly grateful.

For example, we went once with Milton and Judith to see a new exhibition of paintings in Jaffa. Judith stood in front of a portrait of a man for a long time, and then told me: "You see, this is a child survivor. Look at the sad eyes, the expression on the face..." We asked the painter about the portrait, and he told us it was of his father, who was present at the event. Judith, after being introduced, asked the artist's father if he was a child during the Second World War. The man, who looked and spoke like an English gentleman, remained speechless. He acknowledged being a Holocaust child, but warned us that his son did not know about it. He asked Judith how she found out about it, and Judith said that through the portrait, painted by his son, she was able to detect all the hidden suffering that his son knew about without knowing that he knew. Judith invited him for breakfast at her hotel the following morning so that she could interview him. He accepted the invitation, and following the interview he became not only very grateful, but also able to talk to his son.

That was Judith Kestenberg!
Yolanda Gampel, Herzliya, Israel

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