The Survivor's Outlook

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk

Self Hatred:  The Life-long Achievement of the Nazis

The psychotherapist Karl Menninger  wrote an insightful book: Man Against Himself.  The Jewish people who lived among the Nazis in Germany  before, during, and after the Holocaust era are a good example of how one can become a self hater from early childhood to eternity.  From very early childhood,  the Jewish people were called disgraceful names, they were physically attacked without recourse, they were accused of evil deeds they did not commit, were forbidden to sit on park benches, were incessantly ridiculed without retaliation.  In brief, they were made to feel like repugnant nonpersons who were held responsible for all of the evil in the universe.  Those few who managed to escape the last slaughter could never regain their self respect.  An individual who does not respect himself  is not able to be respected by others.  He  has been minimalized and for the most part remains with the undesirable image he has of himself.  It can be so often seen in folk who have had the “Jewish experience” thus noted.  No matter how much the refugee child, now grown, has achieved, he will never find real comfort in his/her accomplishments, in his very existence.  Such persons are also exceptionally sensitive and the slightest negative remark can have a serious effect, a withdrawal from the alleged offender, or humans in general.

A similar reaction can be seen to a somewhat lesser extent in individuals who have been physically abused by their parents or other upbringers.  The foster child and, rarely, the adoptee, may forever feel rejected or thrown away as worthless, and finds it difficult to relate to others.  Such folk may feel uncomfortable in their own “skin,” their own being.

Most of the dreams of the survivor are frightening, in which horrors are perpetrated and the feelings afterwards can be extremely anxious ones.

There are also the survivor “dreams” in which they find themselves striving for something that they cannot achieve or have.  A good example is the sailor in the song/poem by the poet Heinrich Heine,  “Die Lorelei.”  The lone sailor in his boat looks upward and finds a beautiful young woman sitting there who sparkles and is exceptionally desirable.  The lone boatman is so enraptured that he only has eyes for the outstandingly beautiful apparition on the mountain.  He is so overwhelmed by her beauty that he forgets to steer his small boat and drowns ultimately, the waves forcing him into the sea.

In spite of the self hatred that the Jewish people have practiced at a conscious or unconscious level, we have found our Israeli brothers and sisters are able to appreciate themselves, their country, their accomplishments.  They have not permitted themselves to be stomped into the ground, to be undermined by their enemies, they have not been stamped as nonpersons.  They are proud of their religion,  their status. They are not apologists, they have achieved, they have not permitted to have the soil under their feet stolen, they are unafraid, and will march forward to protect that which they have created, which through hard labor and self respect they have accomplished.

We have learned that we cannot magic away the past and have it disappear like the sailor and Lorelei.

 We must respect our brethren and stand up for our brothers, be they self deprecating or otherwise . We must not ally ourselves with other minority groups who would kill us.  We must not attempt to win them over just because they are also minorities. We must not join the anti-Semites that live among us and must oppose them at every turn.  If they are thus tainted we cannot change them.  By no means must we “bow and scrape” to be accepted by them.  We must take pride in our accomplishments, our brethren, our ancestors, and ourselves.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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