The Road Back for the DP's:
Healing the Psychological Scars of Nazism
It seems altogether incredible today that when the first plans for the rehabilitation of Europe’s surviving Jews were outlined, the psychiatric aspect of the problem was overlooked entirely. Everyone engaged in directing the relief work thought solely in terms of material assistance to the DP’s. It took months of first-hand practical experience before anyone would acknowledge a similar, equally pressing need for psychological assistance.
Perhaps this astonishing oversight can be better understood if one remembers the atmosphere of those anxious days before the liberation of Europe. None of us knew then what we might expect to find in the ruins of Europe, and it was all too easy, especially for the psychiatrist, to think of Europe as a huge, unattended hospital for neurotics, psychotics, and the hopelessly insane. How then explain the indifference and even often downright opposition on the part of many people to psychiatric aid for the survivors? It was not due—let me hasten to explain—to any lack of devotion or interest. It was rather that all of us—I do not by any means exclude myself—were filled with a sharp and pervasive feeling of guilt towards those very victims we were trying to help. As a defense against this omnipresent emotion, leaders in relief work tended to credit the optimistic stories about the survivors, while at the same time they discounted those describing psychological misery and disorder. We accepted the theory that the very fact of survival was evidence of physical and psychological superiority—without looking too closely at the implications of this statement, which dishonored millions of martyred dead.
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