HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals


  • Katia CharalabakiPsychiatrist, Family Psychotherapist, coordinating director of Family Therapy Unit of Attica Psychiatric Hospital

[Greek edition:  _Ο Τόπος του Εγκλήματος, _ Thessaloniki: Epilogi/Thyrathen, 2014]

_The Scene of the Crime _ is a poignant read and a significant book written with a historian’s and politician’s gaze, a psychoanalyst’s language and with deep human pain as it reflects on Nazi Germany.

How could all this possibly happen? How could ordinary people (Hannah Arendt) be led to absolute evil? This is the question the (German) writer asks, a question posed these last seventy years by all kinds of scholars and laymen alike. And also: What happened in post-war Germany? How did the Germans look themselves in retrospect in the mirror, and what did they see?

I believe that the core questions in the book highlight four crucial points:  education, power, silence, reparation.

The answers of Titus Milech relate to an exploration of the individual’s complex relations with the family and social context as well as with the culture.

According to him, the first answer is to be found in an  _education _ that seeks to exert control over things. The dominant element in Germany’s Protestant-Lutheran culture is “a worship of preachers and leaders”.

“As a child I generally believed all I was told. I am sure that, quite unconsciously, I adopted the dominant ‘don’t-want-to-know’ attitude.”

“My malady is obedience”.

_“In order to exist, such a subject needs a support or an identification. A weak or nonexistent self will automatically choose to identify with a person or ideology that exudes ‘power and greatness’ and thus participate in a collective delirium of grandeur”, _ all of which points us to identification with the attacker and the paranoid-schizoid position of Melanie Klein, “from the false to the split self”.

The British psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer spoke of a kind of narcissistic identification: adhesive identification. This was a process of identification effected via imitation: a shallow process, a ‘swallowing’ with no mental space. Time there was not seen as four-dimensional—it seemed to stay still, to lead nowhere, and in effect you never grew up. Ageing was a kind of accident, a result of poor design, negligence or the aggressiveness of others. To Meltzer this confusion around time has to do with the failure to go into Melanie Klein’s depressive position, which is a transition from egocentrism and the preoccupation with oneself, from safety and security, to a primary concern for the welfare of one’s objects. One can imagine how in a “monological world” autism is no longer purely a concept of individual psychopathology, a psychiatric diagnosis, but a “matrix” for the symbolic construction of human relations and, one might say, the dominant culture in a given age (Meltzer, 1971).

These thoughts bring to mind  The White Ribbon,  the Michael Haneke film that shows how the inhuman cruelty of a child-rearing method reminiscent of Frued’s Schreber Senior leads a group of children in a small German village shortly before the outbreak of the Great War to become murderers, and we can imagine that these children would grow up to become members of the SS and guards at Dora and Buchenwald.

The author’s second answer to the questions he poses in his work is  _power. _ Again we need to go from a social outlook to introspection. Hiding behind the devastating mass power of the Nazi boot were small people who exercised their own small power, eager to drain their mother’s breasts and kill their younger brother, Abel.

One example: during the German Occupation a Gauleiter heard of a Greek student who lived at a local village and played chess. He began to send a car every day to take the student to the Kommandantur so that they could play together. The student won the first game. He won the second game, too. After that, the German’s dark, sinister gaze made the student realise he should lose every single game of chess from then on.

The third element on which the author focuses is  silence.  He says:  “Let us not forget that the attempt to obliterate any traces, denial and minimisation are all integral elements of crime”.

“Unless we are bold enough to dive into the chaos of our family unconscious, even at the cost of losing our senses, we’ll never be cured”.

There is this joke I have always liked.  A coach full of Jewish tourists is on the way to visiting Buchenwald. In the dusk the driver loses his way, so he stops at a farmhouse and asks an old woman: “I have this coachful of Jews I am taking to Buchenwald, but I got lost. Can you help?” And the woman says: “I don’t see how I could; I only have a tiny little oven...”.  Once in a gathering of friends there was a German woman (an artist, progressive and intellectual). Without thinking, I told the joke with the oven, only to receive a ferocious attack from this woman. My friends told me later I should not have told it, that ‘it was natural for the German woman to get angry’.To the question ‘but why was it natural?’, Titus Milech’s book has given me some important answers.

DDR (East Germany): Total silence there, too. Revolutionaries, Marxists-Leninists and proletarian internationalists, four years after the war (or even 41 years later) would say not a word about what they or their parents did in the Nazi years. The only thing they did was to redefine the term ‘comrade’, replacing Hitler’s Kamerad for the communist Genossen; no repudiation of the German language, as Titus Milech did with so much pain, but a mere disguise). But then didn’t Angela Merkel say, when Günter Grass in  Peeling the Onion  confessed he had been a member of the SS, “take away his Nobel Prize!”?

The fourth point:  reparation or reparatory understanding . Can there be reparation? Says Titus Milech:

“My mother’s political view was extremely simple...” Among other things:  _“Hitler... restored national pride as he strove to make amends for the humiliations of the Treaty of Versailles”. _

Gregory Bateson has made an important analysis of the Treaty of Versailles which is strangely in tune with that of Milech’s mother. Let us go back to his words and effect a ‘cyclic’ or systemic closure, not in order to absolve the “German madness” but so as to bring it into a broader, universal context:

“Most of you probably hardly know how the Treaty of Versailles came into being. Thestoryisverysimple. World War I dragged on and on; The Germans were rather obviously losing. At this point George Creel, a public relations man -and I want you not to forget that this man was the granddaddy of modern public relations- had an idea: the idea was that maybe the Germans would surrender if we offered them soft armistice terms. He therefore drew up a set of soft terms, according to which there would be no punitive measures. These terms were drawn up in fourteen points. These Fourteen Points he passed to President Wilson. If you are going to deceive somebody, you have better get an honest man to carry the message. President Wilson was an almost pathologically honest man and a humanitarian. He elaborated the points in a number of speeches: there were to be “no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages…” and so on. And the Germans surrendered.

We, British and Americans -especially the British- continued of course to blockade Germany because we didn’t want them to get uppity before the Treaty was signed. So, for another year, they continued to starve.

The Treaty was finally drawn up by four men: Clemenceau, “the tiger”, who wanted to crush Germany; Lloyd George, who felt it would be politically expedient to get a lot of reparations out of Germany, and some revenge; And Wilson who had to be bamboozled along. Whenever Wilson would wonder about those Fourteen Points of his, they took him to cemeteries and made him feel ashamed of not being angry with the Germans. Who was the other? Orlando was the other, an Italian.

This was one of the great sellouts in the history of our civilization. A most extraordinary event which led fairly directly and inevitably into World War II. It also led (and this is perhaps more interesting than the fact of its leading to World War II) to the total demoralization of German politics.

If you promise your boy something, and renege on him, framing the whole thing on a high ethical plane, you will probably find that he is very angry with you, but that  _his _ moral attitudes deteriorate as long as he feels the unfair whiplash of what you are doing to him. It’s not only that World War II was the appropriate response of a nation which had been treated in this particular way; What is more important is the fact that the demoralization of that nation was expectable from this sort of treatment. From the demoralization of Germany, we, too, became demoralized. This is why I say that the Treaty of Versailles was an attitudinal turning point (...)

“He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer”. The general good smells of hypocrisy in the rising generation (…)

I don’t doubt that if you asked George Creel to justify the Fourteen Points, he would urge the general good  (Bateson, 1972).

As one can conclude from Titus Milech’s book, “Specific Evil” (like the Shoa) could result from the purported “General Good”. However, it could equally be a dramatisation of the fascism we carry inside (Manolopoulos, 2012). This is precisely why the author proposes an introspection of our inner “good” and “evil”: it may find some reparative powers in there.

Here is another story from wartime Crete. The Germans had commandeered half of my grandmother’s house, so one officer and three privates shared it with her and her three daughters (one of them was my mother). My mother’s brother, Yannis, was a student in Athens. One day Fritz (one of the privates) got leave for Germany. As he was going via Athens, my grandma asked him to take two cans of olive oil to her son. As a good soldier and housemate, Fritz took the oil in Athens, went to Yannis’s neighbourhood at Thission and started asking passers-by for directions to the house. At that time Yannis, a member of ELAS [a Greek Resistance army] was at a meeting with comrades, and they were all armed. The young boy who was on duty as a lookout ran into Yannis’s house and warned him that a German soldier was looking for him. Fritz came in as the ELAS soldiers were trying to hide the guns under the mattresses and pretend they were students studying together, but Fritz had time to see the gun that Yannis was hiding. He said nothing, left the oil, went to Germany and returned to Crete. When he saw my grandmother he told her in broken Greek: “Yannis bad boy, very bad boy”. The question is, which human side in Fritz (or which human side in Fritz’s relationship with my grandmother) stopped him from turning Yannis in...

“The essential thing in our, in my German madness and in the sickly condition of my ‘ordinary German family’ is not —was not— so much an ignorance of the pathological dimension of our German ‘culture’ —the foolishness, the lack of an open mind, the unconfessed anxieties— or the unawareness of that ignorance; it was our unshakeable conviction that we knew everything and that  we were always right.”

“As soon as we refuse to ‘have’ fears, inevitably we incarnate them. They become the essence of our existence and of our actions ... Will we ever be able, we Germans, ein-gehen auf uns und unsere Αngste to penetrate within ourselves and our fears ohne ein-zu-gehen without falling apart, without it killing us? ... Let us give time to ourselves.”

Indeed, I would say that this is an important proposition — and not just for the Germans.



Bateson G. (1972).  Steps to an Ecology of Mind,  The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. Reprinted in:  _Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy, _ no 1.

Manolopoulos, S. (2012). Ζούμε μια ζωή που δεν καταλαβαίνουμε.  Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy , no 3.

Meltzer, D. (1971). Sincerity: a study in the atmosphere of human relations. In: On sincerity and other works, collected papers of Donald Meltzer. Edited by Alberto Hahn . Karnac.


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