Rezension zu Fed with Tears - Poisoned with Milk

Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review

Rezension von Tomas Böhm

This volume describes the preparation and the work of three consecutive Group Relations conferences during 1994 to 2000 concerning German-Israeli relatedness in the post-Holocaust era. This is pioneer work. Difficult, painful and brave from both organizers/authors and participants, who were psychoanalysts from Germany and Israel. After the three conferences that are described in this book the work has continued in including other groupings affected by the Holocaust, like Diaspora Jews and Palestinians. This has resulted in a new organization, Partners in Confronting Collective Atrocities (PCCA) with the aim to learn from the Holocaust about dealing with other atrocities.

The authors underline the importance of the actual presence of the other in producing desirable change in one/'s identity, which is why they chose the format of a Group Relations Conference, which was modified for this special aim. In the first post-war decades there was an inability to mourn as a group in the German Psychoanalytic Society (DPV), even if the individuals mourned. »Individual awareness anticipated the collective one by decade«. In the second stage German analysts acknowledged their personal responsibility from 1983 with the help of Hillel Klein and Rafael Moses. This occurred in moving group experiences in among other places Wiesbaden in 1984. It also meant the painful realization, in R. Vogt/'s words that »Hitlers heirs are embarking upon the heritage of Freud. The one heritage mixes with the other like fire and water.«

In these described conferences the German analysts could realize their heritage of the Holocaust only in the presence of Jewish colleagues. The conference experience is described beautifully in a collage written by 28 participants and staff, grouped under different thematic headlines. Identity issues dominate over emotional contents. This also concerns the image of the other, the »not-me«. Another painful and striking finding is of the Germans growing up in families as victims of parents who were unaware of them emotionally. »I was raised by an ordinary Nazi mother«, is a quotation that upsets any reader of this text. These German participants could be superficially pleasant but difficult to relate to fully. Also here was the issue of shame that the German members struggled with. Altogether the authors emphasize how this points to a possible deficit in the early object relations of many German children.

For the Jews, murderous rage and vengefulness was more evident, but also their envy and even an unacceptable need to identify with the Germans.

It is interesting that the authors underline how the common aims of understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness are foreign to these conferences. The primary task is instead defined as exploration This, however seems to include working with group identity. The change of identity in the presence of the other has the burden of betrayal against the group affiliation as a particular resistance. People are willing to participate which is a valuable indicator of the work, even if we dont know what these people are looking for consciously. The authors indicate that the place and meaning of the Holocaust is a huge gaping wound that refuses to scar over and heal. Therefore we must keep on dealing with it, and this might be the unconscious reason for participating.

The conferences are not aiming for dialogue either, but for each group to work in the presence of the other group. This seems to be in line with the Group Relations approach. The authors underline that dialogue implies the prior recognition of the others otherness, and that it can only emerge as a by-product in a not yet dialogic process. I differ on this point, because I see dialogue as a way to facilitate a process where the other is experienced as an individual with his own humanness. If you speak to your enemies they become less demonized.
But this may be just a minor theoretical controversy in my mind as a reader of this text.
It is hard to describe this kind of experiential process in a public presentation, as the authors write themselves. They have however succeeded in overcoming this challenge. It is also noteworthy when they tell that this work has been given quite an importance in Germany, but hardly the same place in Israel. Maybe this illustrates the dialectics between German guilt feelings and Israeli rage through the generations.

The new organization, PCCA has already organized another widened conference: »Repeating, Reflecting, Moving on: Germans, Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and Others Today« in September 08. This seems to be an important development, even if the organizers might have a somewhat optimistic view about how much conferences of this kind, for people motivated to work with psychological issues, can contribute in political conflicts. They also emphasize that the »radioactive fallout« from the Holocaust still reaches far removed from its original devastation and therefore it is the energetic center of this work.

This book is an unusual presentation of a brave and unique project, where psychoanalysis is applied in an explorative way in the world outside of consulting rooms. I recommend it for any reader who doesn/'t believe in the transgenerational transmission of trauma - and to everyone else interested in identity issues.

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