Rita Teusch, PhD, Faculty Member of BPSI. Her remarks below originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of the Hanns Sachs Library Newsletterwhich can be read here.

Emily A. Kuriloff (2014). Contemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third Reich: History, Memory, Tradition. Routledge, 177pp.

Emily Kuriloff, a psychologist, psychoanalyst, and Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute, illuminates the question: What effect did the trauma of the Holocaust have on the émigré analysts’ theoretical and clinical work and the direction of the psychoanalytic tradition that contemporary analysts have inherited? Kuriloff, trained in the interpersonal tradition, grew up in a household where “the past (of the Holocaust) was in the present”. She starts her investigation with the observation that the subject of trauma and specifically the trauma of the Holocaust was largely neglected in psychoanalytic theory and practice for most of the twentieth century. However, Kuriloff is aware that, in the privacy of the consulting room, many trauma survivors found analysts who were compassionate and bore witness to their trauma, and analyzed with them the damaging long-term effects of trauma, though this was not reflected in psychoanalytic theory. Using unpublished original source material, extensive personal interviews with émigré analysts and second- generation scholars and clinicians who have studied the Shoah, Kuriloff presents an illuminating, complex, and, at times, painful discussion of her discoveries. What made this book special to me was Dr. Kuriloff’s thoughtful and flexible approach to this challenging topic and her willingness to share with the reader how her own views changed during her research: she came to appreciate the significant individual differences among survivor émigré analysts with regard to their adaptation to the trauma of the Holocaust. Responses and adaptations to trauma are not uniform, as is sometimes assumed today, with denial, dissociation, repression, avoidance, and survivor guilt being its hallmarks. Adaptations ranged from various degrees of silence (see Parens) to adaptive uses of dissociation (see Krystal) to verbal processing and creativity (see Anna Ornstein, Dori Laub). Many émigré analysts experienced various degrees of “frozen grief” which complicated the mourning process, as reflected in Erikson’s and Mahler’s theories. Everyone who lived through the trauma of the Holocaust had to go on living with unspeakable memories and experiences. People did so in highly personalized ways. Kuriloff suggests that even today, it is the quality of relatedness between two human beings (Stern, D.B. 1998) that determines what is possible to know and to feel.

Kuriloff divides her book into 7 chapters with a foreword by Philip Bromberg, who praises Kuriloff for transforming the term of “intergenerational transmission of trauma” from an abstract concept into “affective moments of such immediacy that the reader becomes part of the experience”. Chapters one and two trace the Shoah’s impact on psychoanalytic communities in the United States, where many émigré analysts found refuge and built a new life. Kuriloff discusses how the cultural norms and characteristics of United States society ( i.e. optimism and a forward looking mentality, idealization of analysts who had known Freud, and barriers for “lay analysts”) interacted with the psychological needs of many émigré analysts to move on and forget, and de-emphasize their Jewish heritage in order to feel safe and also to allow psychoanalysis to become more than “a Jewish science”. Also the prevailing standard of “neutrality” in psychoanalytic practice at that time, which encouraged exclusion of the analyst’s personal experiences and reactions in the analytic interaction, facilitated the denial of personal trauma.

Kuriloff suggests that the theoretical models that were subsequently advanced by US émigré analysts reflect in no small way their conscious and unconscious reactions to the Holocaust. For example, several analysts proposed changes to the concept of the ego, e.g., Kohut replaced the ego’s synthetic function with a self, which is characterized by a struggle to achieve cohesion. A split self mirrored Kohut’s personal experience of fragmentation after losing his life in Vienna and needing to assume a new identity. Kohut, and also Ernst Kris are said to have no longer identified as Jewish in the new land. American–born Thomas Kohut, Heinz Kohut’s son, revealed that his father did not want him to know that he was Jewish because: “He was afraid I’d be killed”. A split self also provided an answer to the question of how otherwise normal people could engage in evil actions and/or allow the evil actions of the Nazis to proceed. Hartmann’s “conflict free ego-sphere” and his postulation of an “average expectable environment” are similarly said to be attempts to come to terms with the knowledge of a traumatic environment, which could not be articulated and mentalized at the time. Kuriloff describes how in case reports many emigré analysts focused on their patients’ preoedipal pathology and did not address the adult-onset trauma present. In fact the concept of adult- onset trauma was not articulated at the time; it was only infantile trauma, which caused psychopathology. A notable exception is the prescient work of Henry Krystal (1966, 1975) whose writings on Holocaust trauma stood alone for a long time. He emphasized the need to bear witness and mentalize the intolerable through increasing affect-tolerance. Later Martin Bergman and Harold Blum followed with their writings.

In Chapter 3, Kuriloff discusses psychoanalytic developments in Britain in the aftermath of the Holocaust. She points out that anti-Semitism and ambivalent attitudes toward Jews were present despite Britain’s acceptance of émigré analysts. She gives examples of letters by Ernest Jones who described Jews as “foreigners”, and the government action of a travel ban for Jewish émigré’s during the Blitz. Kuriloff furthermore offers her thoughts on the “Controversial Discussions” involving Melanie Klein and Anna Freud among many others, which resulted in the threefold split of the British Psychoanalytic Institute. A central issue in these discussions was the disagreement about the nature of the death instinct. Kernberg has wondered whether these intense conflicts were a projection of the pain from the Nazi era onto disagreements in psychoanalytic theory. While Klein thought the death instinct was clinically observable, Anna Freud rejected the death instinct as a way to explain destructive envy and hatred. Today, however, when analysts are much more likely to acknowledge the impact of the Shoah on their analytic sensibilities, their relationship to the death instinct is also still far from uniform (compare Bergman’s views on aggression and the death instinct to Parens’ views).

Carl Müller-Braunschweig. Photograph from the BPSI Archives

Chapter 4 presents a fascinating discussion of the complex reactions and adaptations of the psychoanalytic communities in Austria, Switzerland and Germany during and after the Nazi era (only roughly summarized here).
The Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute was taken over by the Nazis, and several non-Jewish analysts, while not joining the Nazi party, collaborated with the new Nazi leadership to “save“ psychoanalysis. For this they received praise from many at home and abroad, including Ernest Jones, Anna Freud and Freud himself. While trying to manage ambivalent feelings about the Nazi leadership, which gave psychoanalysis new prominence, they worked to preserve “individual” psychoanalysis when the individual was supposed to be subordinated to “the whole”. Many of these analysts personally helped their activist Jewish colleagues to escape the country. A prominent example is Edith Jacobson, who was imprisoned by the Nazi’s but then smuggled out of the country. There was a post-war split in the Berlin Institute, which ostensibly was caused by “progressive” and “non-analytic” ideas being unacceptable to the conservative DPV (German Psychoanalytic Society), which had had ties to the Nazi’s, but, Kuriloff points out that, on a deeper level, the split was about the DPV’s prior Nazi involvement. When the DPV applied to the IPA for membership “as the only German psychoanalytic Institute”, it was accepted without any investigation of its Nazi past. Kuriloff presents a nuanced discussion of two analysts i.e., Muller-Braunschweig (who led the Berlin Institute during the Nazi era) and the Swiss analyst Carl Jung, who was well known for his long-standing anti-Semitic views, and who became a favorite of the Nazis and was often invited to lecture at the Berlin Institute during the Nazi era.

Max Eitingon, the founder of Palestine Psychoanalytic Association, in his library, 1943. Photograph from “Max Eitingon: in Memoriam,” (Israel Psycho-Analytical Society, 1950)

Chapter 5 describes the situation of émigré analysts in Palestine and later Israel and the development of psychoanalysis there in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Kuriloff states that in Israel (just as everywhere else) there was “a vital need for a kind of amnesia “ in the forties and fifties following the Holocaust. Between 1945 and 1948 150.000 survivors of the Holocaust came to Israel and between 1946 and 1953 Holocaust survivors represented 50% of all new emigrés. Many of the European emigrés were assimilated urban professionals who were identified with the German language and way of life, and they felt very different from immigrants who were intent to cultivate and live off the land in kibbutzim. When they founded the Israeli Psychoanalytic Institute in Israel, they continued to write all their meeting memoranda in German – even into the 1960s. In the 1950s the plight of the Holocaust survivors became the purview of the “neutral expert” (Dorland, 2009) and the discourse began to form itself around the concept of “pathology”. At first there was research on the physical sequelae of internment, particularly the long-term effects of starvation and disease. Psychoanalysts, except for a very few, like Heinrich Zvi Winnik and Gerda Braag, did not contribute to trauma research until the 70s and 1980s, when Ilany Kogan’s studies described what is today known as “the intergenerational transmission of trauma”, i.e. the often unspoken yet profound communication of dread and suffering from survivor parents to their children. Kuriloff quotes the analyst Shoshani in a personal interview in 2011: ”In many respects, the Israelis still live as though the Holocaust happened yesterday, so there is no differentiation between past and present…It is as if time stood still in the Shoah. ….The opposite extreme of significant fear in the Israeli narrative is a tendency to ignore all danger (past and present), a manic position of complete denial of fear…..the inner world narrows, gradually limiting the ability to think and feel freely… for a false and temporary feeling of safety and security, freeing them from the terror of being afraid but enslaving them to the false and imprisoning god of omnipotence.” p. 304). While the psychoanalytic community was characterized by classical rigidity until the late 1990’s, there are now several psychoanalytic institutes in Israel, such as the Tel Aviv Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Israeli Institutes named after Kohut and Winnicott, and many lecturers from Europe and the US regularly come to Israel.

Sigmund Freud with Marie Bonaparte and William C. Bullitt arriving in Paris, 1938. BPSI Archives.

Chapter 6 examines the development of psychoanalysis in France after the
Holocaust. The French Psychoanalytic Society (SPP), even before the Nazis entered France, was sympathetic with the nationalistic and anti-Semitic group Action Française. During the French collaboration with the Nazis 76.000 French Jews were deported to Auschwitz with less than 3% surviving. Kuriloff states that it was not until 1991 that there was an examination of the French trauma and crimes. Until then the predominant narrative was to deny collaboration and to glorify resistance to Nazi occupation. Kuriloff details the complicated experiences and adjustments of Heinz Hartmann and Rudolf Loewenstein who had sought refuge in France. She discusses the French history of “disavowal and negation in relation to
the Jews and the Shoah in particular. She discusses the influence of Lacan’s work with its historical connection to the French academic scene, surrealist artists, poets and intellectuals rather than to clinical practice, which was secondary. Lacan wanted French analysts to break from the International Psychoanalytic Association, because of its acceptance of American ego psychology. A split inside French Psychoanalysis ensued. Kuriloff reflects: “Modern science and secularism did much to expand horizons, but they did little to check divisive xenophobia parading as nationalism, and racism disguised as science” (p. 129). Kuriloff ends this chapter quoting Marion Oliner (2012), a Holocaust survivor, who states that her awareness of her
trauma allows her to explore, rather than to dispose of, the richness of the French psychoanalytic landscape.

Chapter 7, the final chapter of this book describes contemporary psychoanalysis as it deals with the legacy of the Holocaust. Those analysts who were children during the Nazi era and the children of Holocaust survivors do no longer downplay the impact of the Holocaust and personal catastrophe on their lives. Kuriloff presents in particular the lives and works of Jack Drescher (Psychoanalytic Therapy and the Gay Man, 1998), who explicated the concept of “a hierarchy of suffering”), Robert Prince (Holocaust trauma is either over- or under-represented in clinical work) and Ernest Hartmann (The Nature and Function of Dreaming, 1976). These analysts have each made significant contributions to the study of trauma.

In summary, Kuriloff ‘s important book fills a gap in the history of psychoanalytic theory and practice. Working through the effects of severe trauma, such as the Holocaust, is a painful and painstaking process that requires bearing witness and having empathy and patience until the time comes when the trauma can be safely and more explicitly articulated on a larger scale. Kuriloff shows us that that time has come now. While those who lived during the Holocaust or were born immediately afterwards were, for the most part, too close to it, the current generation of analysts is freed up to acknowledge its pain, shame and residual fear, and they are finding a
place, as Gerson (2009) puts it: “between the scream and silence, which can allow the hard work of mourning” (Gerson, p. 1342). This review could only hint at the richness of Kuriloff’s research and interviews. I felt changed by the book and highly recommend it. It should be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding psychoanalytic theory and practice, past and present.

About the Author

Rita Teusch, PhD, is a Training and Supervising Analyst and faculty member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. She is a part-time Lecturer in Psychiatry (Psychology) at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Health Alliance, and provides supervision to psychology interns and postdoctoral fellows at Cambridge Hospital. Dr. Teusch has a private practice in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Rita Teusch can be contacted by email here.


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