Fink Shrinks

Psychotherapy in the Third Reich: The Göring Institute

by Geoffrey Cocks
Oxford University Press, 326 pp., $24.95

Die Professionalisierung der deutschen Psychologie im Nationalsozialismus

by Ulfried Geuter
Suhrkamp (Frankfurt), 594 pp., $34.00


Pathology afflicts every society, and in the first half of this century, Germans excelled in exemplifying it. They have also excelled in producing thinkers and scholars who analyzed this pathology. Twice in the era of the Great Wars, Germans, driven by dreams and terrified by reality, sought power and redemption. In 1945, the defeat of Hitler brought deliverance and division: the curse of frightened ambition seemed lifted. In the early years after the Second World War, the West Germans were our model wards: hard-working, prosperous, irenic, obedient, and accepting. But a terrible past and a divided and dependent present could not be banished forever. A new mood, at once anxious and assertive, has set in. The present chapter in the history of the Federal Republic could be characterized as “the return of the repressed.”

Some months ago, the Germans went through a collective psychic trauma, occasioned by the fortieth anniversary of V-E Day. To Chancellor Kohl’s chagrin, the Germans had been left out of the fortieth anniversary of D-day in June 1984. All the ambiguities of the past welled up again. V-E day had long troubled Germans. Theodor Heuss, first president of the Federal Republic, called it a day of deep paradox, “because at one and the same time we were saved and annihilated.” Chancellor Kohl felt his adherents’ resentment at always having to apologize for Germany’s past, and with characteristic insouciance thought that he could stage a second ceremony which would exorcise ambiguity. He wanted a gesture of symbolic forgiveness, a wreath from the American president that would demonstrate the moral equivalence of German and Allied soldiers. Kohl hoped to show his countrymen that the world—or at least official America—had detached the German present from the German past He wanted more: today’s moral equivalence should be extended retroactively, an amnesty for the dead.

Bitburg was the expression of a disturbed and disturbing national consciousness, of a yearning for a clear, confident identity. But in their own unease, and oblivious of the feelings of others, Germans achieved the very opposite of what they intended. They wanted reassurance; instead, they heard the outcry from abroad that expressed repugnance for anything approaching an amnesty for the past. They had wanted forgiveness and aroused anger instead. Some Germans, especially those on the right, blamed Jews for the turmoil, and for a fleeting moment anti-Semitism appeared respectable again. It was fortunate that on May 8, the president of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizsäcker, in a speech of magisterial honesty, reminded his countrymen that the past could not be banished, that the annihilation of 1945 had begun with the national orgy of 1933, but that one could learn from the past and thus live with it, in truth and dignity.

This past summer also saw the International Psychoanalytical Congress on German soil, for the first time since the advent of Hitler.1 In its program, the president of the German host society wrote:

We are aware of the fact that remembrance of…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.