Hate and the 'Jewish Science': Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Psychoanalysis

By Reijzer, Hans | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Hate and the 'Jewish Science': Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Psychoanalysis


Reijzer, Hans, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Hate and the 'Jewish science': Anti-Semitism, Nazism and psychoanalysis by Stephen Frosh Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. 228 p. Reviewed by Hans Reijzer, Olympiaplein 7hs, NL-1077 CJ Amsterdam, Netherlands - reijzer@xs4all.nl

This is a book of more than one dimension. The author discusses the links of psychoanalysis to Jewishness with the help of three case studies, starting with Freud, against the background of his era. The author considers psychoanalysis to be one of the expressions of the Jewish mind, which, on the one hand, reflects Western civilization and, on the other, analyses the latter, revealing its irrational and intense underside. The suspicion that psychoanalysis is a Jewish affair has had far-reaching consequences. In the Nazi period, that label was murderously dangerous. The Nazi period is seen as the moment when the psychoanalytic movement was brutally faced with the requirement to defend or repudiate its Jewish identity. In this connection, Frosh refers to the collaborationist tendency in psychoanalysis at that time, and its own anti-Semitic dimension.

Frosh devotes three chapters to the Nazi era, the period during which psychoanalysis underwent a divestment of its Jewishness, with regard to content, persons, and radical ideology. He tells the reader precisely which individuals who participated in psychoanalytic work survived the period 1933-45, relating the history exhaustively and in considerable detail. He explains the differences and similarities in outlook between the two German psychoanalytic societies (Deutsche Psychoanalytische Gesellschaft and Deutsche Psychoanalytische Vereinigung), and tries to give to each of them their place in history. Although this survey is clear and well wrought, I found this the least engaging part of the book. Those who are familiar with the sources, in particular Brecht et al. (1995), Cocks (1997), Goggin and Goggin (2001), and what the late Chasseguet-Smirgel (1990) wrote about it, will find fewer fresh insights here than in the last part of the book. It is still gripping to read how Jones, in particular, played a political game to save psychoanalysis during the Nazi period and nonetheless preserve its integrity, while Jung seized the opportunity to aryanize it. The reader is led with a sure hand through the great grey no-man's land between collaboration and resistance.

As regards the 'whether-or-not' Jewishness of psychoanalysis, we encounter the already familiar arguments, examples and stopping places firmly planted in a solid context. We see Anna Freud, who in Jerusalem says that psychoanalysis is a Jewish science; and Freud himself, who strives to build a pure science in the prevailing anti-Semitic climate. Frosh approaches the matter of Jewishness as a sociocultural phenomenon. Freud, in his day and age, idealized this, and called the Jew someone who at the same time stands both within and outside the existing culture, and is therefore free of prejudices. As regards the origins of psychoanalysis, the Jewish position is in the forefront. For Jews, studying the Talmud in the isolation of the ghetto offered the only possible expression of intellect and learning. This led to a tendency to argument over the meaning of texts as the main expression of cultural achievement. This Jewish way of behaving is a direct precursor of the modern psychoanalytic approach, which considers 'the material' that is brought into analysis as, in the first place, a text.

Freud's own history is characterized by the secular Jew's combination of commitment to intellectual goals and ethical achievement, alongside resentment at the demeaning effects of anti-Semitism. This gave both personal and political impetus in determining Freud's deeply felt tendency to remain as far as possible removed from all that he perceived as undesirable in Jewishness; which as he saw it was mainly localized in the poor and poorly educated East European Jews and in their religion. …

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