Minutes in: Learning from experience in the presence of the other-
Opportunities and obstacles
80 years later- will history repeat itself? PCCA 2019 Conference
Our airplane lands in Larnaca airport after a short flight from Israel. Four people, all of us psychoanalysts, were on that Wednesday morning flight. Three women and one man. One couple. For the three of us, it was the third time participating in a PCCA conference. For one woman, it was the first time. The local driver waited for us in an almost empty hall. He was very enthusiastic in doing his job. The conference organizers took care ahead of time for the transportation to the hotel. It was a long trip to the mountains.
This nice hotel in Platres village surrounded by old pine is very proud of historical visits. Two more participants joined us in the airport. It was easy to meet, as there were few people in the hall. The woman was a psychoanalyst from Brussels. A Jew. The man was a German Psychoanalyst. For her, it was the first conference. He did not miss any of the 12 conferences since the beginning.
Even though there was a lot of room in the minibus, it felt we are pressed together. There was no room for legs. Bad ergonomics? Something else? The driver took the role of a leader. Following our request, we stopped for a coffee break at a local coffee shop near a fruit market. We bought some grapes, dates plums and set together for drinking a local black coffee (Cyprus coffee, not Turkish coffee).
What is your name? I asked the German colleague.
Josef. He answered. However, you can call me Richard. Some people find it easier to call me Richard. It is fine with me.
Josef – Josef Mengele….Josef Breuer…I think for myself. The Nazi Doctor from Auschwitz or the physician who worked with Freud… Richard is a name for a British king.
A flash of a memory: I remember this person! We had met in the past. This man is having a big issue with Nazism. He is a tall person with blue eyes. A very typical Ari Type, I think to myself.
The parents of the two women who came for the first time are Holocaust survivals. They survived the Nazi concentration camps. Josef’s mother was an active Nazi party member.
We talk about coffee and fruits.
What kind of learning are we going to do in the conference? Are we going to repeat ourselves, coming here for the third time?
The closing plenary. Six working days later, the end of the conference.
An Israeli participant is telling us that his family emigrated from a Middle East country to Israel. He does not know of a family connection to the atrocities in Europe during the war: ” I was afraid to come to this kind of conference, but after I listened to the German members’ suffering and coming to know them personally – I now can forgive you’.
Whom do we forgive? Why do we forgive?
I Felt uneasy. Is this a good reason to come here? For me, this statement of forgiveness represents the obstacles we could meet in learning from experience, sharing the same environment; expose ourselves to the suffering of the other. The enemy?
The work in the small study group started by an Israeli woman. She came a day before the conference started. She is an artist. “I saw a cockroach in my hotel room. I was thinking about how to respond. Usually I have a hysteric reaction. Will I kill it? Should I call the room service?
I decided to befriend with it. to share my room with it”.
Josef was also a member in my small study group. The artist is approaching him. She is interested to hear his story. He complies. His mother used to be a young senior secretary, in the SS special staff during WWII. A very active enthusiastic member in the Nazi party. As a child he admired her. He shares with us a memory from his childhood: he was not allowed to play with some kids in the neighborhood because they were not “cultured enough”. “I like to belong to an upper class. I like group work, as we do here. I am a proud active member in a party who believe we had better keep our boundaries close for immigrants”.
The other German participants in the group are furious. They want to dissociate from him.
I am sharing my review and application group with the artist woman. We are all Israelis in this group. She is proud of herself. For the first time in her life she is listening to someone who does not belong to her milieu. Someone whom she would not talk to in any other circumstances. She came from an aristocratic family in Tel Aviv. In our RAG group, there is another woman. She knows the artist. A single child to holocaust survivors from a poor family, always felt to belong to an inferior class. She remembers herself admiring the artist family.
The artist repeats her ‘cockroach story’, she mentions Kafka’s story: Metamorphosis.
A man from our Israeli RAG group says: I understand I have to strengthen myself. I hope I could stand by myself- without a party or theory to support me.
Did Josef help us to befriend the cockroach parts of ourselves? Do we understand better the world we live in?
What did Josef take from the group? Josef likes group work – Josef likes his party very much. He needs to belong to the party. He needs the group to reinforce himself.
Every day starts with a Social Dreaming Matrix. Staff and members are invited to attend the matrix. One morning a member shared a story about a present he got from his brother. The brother gave him three fancy knives their father left him. It was the father’s legacy. On one of them he found a swastika engraved on it. He was very excited to get the knives but could not decide what to do with the swastika: should he blur it? Someone else in the room is talking about admiring power. A third man is sharing a secret meeting he had with his neighbor. She showed him a box she hides opened in it a picture of Hitler petting her father’s head. He was a little child. The man was very excited telling his wife the story. His wife thought he was very confused, admiring the power of a leader. This man is a Muslim living in Germany.
Are you confused? So am I. Is it dangerous to live near a neighbor who secretly admires Hitler? How easy is it to identify with the Other when you get close to him.