80 years later, will history repeat itself?
The fallout of the holocaust over those affected
Looking back, moving forward
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
W. Faulkner, Requiem for a nun
This conference in the context of PCCA
This conference in the context of PCCA
This conference, marking 80 years to the beginning of WWII, was the 12th
Conference in the “Nazareth project” (the 7th PCCA conference), taking place 25 years after the first conference in Nazareth in 1994.
The last four PCCA conferences moved the focus to recent developments in Europe.
They were targeted at a different and widened population in Europe.
The 2019 conference was a U-turn and re-turn in this trajectory, re-emphasising the fallout of the Holocaust, appealing again mainly to the two original target populations: Germans and Israelis/Jews.
The invitation in the mini-site of the conference reflected this:
”Dear Prospective Participant, (I don’t know how I can make it clearer that this was the letter of invitation to prospective members in the website)
If you recognize in yourself that you are carrying the residues of past atrocities, either as one who participated in or as the carrier of the trans-generational transmission of such traumas, and if you share the assumption that this burden is influencing present events on personal, national and international levels, you may wish to benefit from participating in PCCA’s next conference:
80 years later, will history repeat itself?
The fallout of the Holocaust on those affected,
Looking back, moving forward.
This experiential conference provides an opportunity to recognize the influence of the Holocaust and other atrocities on the present and to do this work in the presence of the Other in order to move on and get out from under their pervasive influence. If we do not recognize what haunts and influences us as individuals and members of our societies, we are doomed to repeat our history. If this resonates with you, you are welcome to join us in this unique opportunity of shared work” (M.E-G, 2019).
In this sense it was a trial conference to verify whether indeed the original focus was still relevant or whether it had run its course.
The title reflected this aim: noting the 80 years since the beginning of WWII and stressing the fallout of the Holocaust over those effected
Aside from the PCCA initiative and ownership, the conference had an impressive list of sponsoring organizations: The German Psychoanalytic Society (DPG), the German Psychoanalytic Association (DPV), the Israel Psychoanalytic Society (IPS), the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and Supporting organization:, the Polish Psychoanalytic Society (PTPA), the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), The European Psychoanalytic Federation (EPF) – for the first time, OFEK (Israel Association for the Study of Group and Organizational Processes), and OPUS (Organisaiton for Promoting the Understanding of Society).
Cyprus – a crossroads of inter-racial contact with both a benign and a very troubled background seemed a suitable place for our conferences. The forest Park Hotel in Platres, Cyprus, which hosted the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 conferences seemed to be the right venue to return to for a conference that revives the original topic. The price offered to us make it possible to offer an affordable conference.
The charm of the venue, secluded but reachable from two airports, with its beautiful balcony overlooking the pine forest and the sea, did not fade out, and provided the right container for the stressful work.
As in the past, Geber and Reusch were the pre-conference administrators, processing the registration and the collection of fees. They also helped members to arrange shared ground transportation from the airport. We appreciate the service they offered.
The staff was comprised of:
Mira Erlich-Ginor (Israel), Director
Olya Khaleelee Associate Director (UK)
Christoph Freytag (Germany), Administrator
Moshe Bergstein (Israel)
Louisa Diana Brunner (Italy)
Jolita Buzaitytė-Kašalynienė (Lithuania)
Oren Kaplan (Israel)
Hüseyin Özdemir (Germany)
Iwona Sołtysińska (Poland)
Dorothee C. von Tippelskirch-Eissing (Germany).
The staff group represented both continuity with those with experience of previous conferences and those new to PCCA and diversity in relation to age, nationality, ethnicity, religion and organizational affiliations. 6 were PCCA members, 4 were OFEK members, 3 Israelis, 3 Germans, 1 each from Italy, Poland, Lithuania, and UK.
This was a relatively small staff group but was enough for the size of membership. It is important to note, in view of past experiences, that recruitment was easy and all registered staff arrived on time.
Recruitment efforts followed the usual paths of sending the flyer to PCCA and to our sponsors’ mailing lists. The flyer was handed out in several conferences. A personal letter was sent several times to the presidents of all the European psychoanalytic societies. The conference had its own website and it was also featured in the IPA website’s Events Calendar. It was on Facebook, which did not justify the investment.
The cover letter to the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society and to OFEK stressed that this may be the last conference of its kind, inviting members to join this time and not postpone to a future date.
Due to the generous contribution of the psychoanalytic societies in Germany and Israel (DPV, DPG, IPS), we were able to lower the overall price for all participants, thus making the conference affordable. We had 6 requests for bursaries which we were able to provide, also because of our agreement with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. The vast majority of the members registered in time so as to profit from the bigger reduction.
:Composition of Membership
The final number of members was 43.
The composition was: 18 Israelis, 15 Germans, 3 Polish, 2 Danish, 1 Chinese, Spainish, Russian, French and British.
Female to male relation: 32 to 10. The majority of members were middle aged, ranging from 46 to 76. Only 2 members were under 50, most members between 60-76.
The notion of the “Nazareth project” as a series is reinforced by the fact that members are repeatedly attending these conferences. In this conference, 40% had come to one or more conferences before (some in most of the conferences, two had participated in the first conference, 25 years ago). This phenomenon is especially marked in the German group in which 73% participated in one or more conferences before. The Israeli group had 28% of members who attended one or more conferences before. Only 20% of the “other nationality” group had previous PCCA experience. This is a remarkably high number in comparison with previous conferences: in 2016 there where 25% of returning members, in 2018 – 24%.
This data shows that the conference did appeal and provide an opportunity for further work to those who are already familiar with the topic and methodology but did not create a big interest in new members and in the younger generation.
It was the first conference in which Israelis outnumbered Germans with 42% of the membership. In comparison, in the 2016 conference 27% were Israelis, in 2018 conference 6.4%.
Structure and design
The primary task is for participants to explore feelings, fantasies and conflicts about personal and cultural identities related to the past, their impact on relationships within and between individuals and groups in the conference and toward the conference as a whole, and how they affect perceptions of the past, present and future.
We used the same basic structure as in previous conferences, including: 2 Plenaries,
5 Small Study Groups, 5 Large Study Groups, 4 Social Dreaming Matrices, 7 sessions for the Conference Event, 4 Review and Application Groups.
Two changes were introduced: the addition of a RAG session instead of one Conference Event session, and a format of a separate but related Social Dreaming Matrix and Large Group: The morning opened with an SDM, of one hour, with the entire staff participating, and three hosts. Following a 15-minute intermission we had the Large Group with 3 consultants. This format (which came about because of a mistaken memory) created a semi-permeable membrane between the two events, yet left them as distinct events – dreams brought up by members or staff served as shared material in the Large Group.
Methodological considerations – the specificity of PCCA:
It is important to stress that PCCA’s methodology is built on the basic Group Relations methodology: systemic thinking, concepts of boundaries, primary task and issues of authority that, even if not at the foreground, are always at work. These concepts and the stance of the staff is of immense value. Having said that, there is specificity to PCCA conferences:
- The conscious contents, as well as the unconscious processes, are the focus of work. Yet, similar to other contexts, we use ourselves in our roles in the service of decoding the unconscious processes.
- Members are colleagues that came to do joint work (“partnership in search of understanding”). Hence the stance of the staff is less remote.
- Our national identity is declared and is worked with. It has an immediate relevance to the primary task of the conference; hence our involvement is different. We are activated to a noticeable degree much more as our own agents and not so much by projective identification as in other settings.
In a “regular” Group Relations conference, the staff will have had the experience of being a member in such a conference. This is different in a PCCA conference: as new staff members have not necessarily had a member experience in such a conference.
It is a challenge to find the right balance of transmitting the specificity of the methodology and past learning (via oral or written material), without compromising the discovery and the here and now experience. Some unlearning of Group Relations staff roles has to be done on the boundary of the conference.
A conference is too complex and too rich to sum up; it is better told by individual participants. The following are some points that where unique to this conference.
-As in previous conferences, there were many painful and moving stories from all members, whether related to the “fallout” of WWII or not. Yet, there was the “hierarchy of pain”, the relative weight of tears: in this conference, the Holocaust-related Jewish tears were the heaviest, then came the German tears, only then the “ordinary human suffering” tears. The dilemma was: is it possible to get rid of the poisonous past without denying it (father’s heritage with Swastika, getting rid of undesired part of self).
-It seemed that members came to do the work on behalf of their parents (Mothers, in particularly) and their children, and only secondarily for themselves, as if they are too damaged to care about change, feeling trapped between the generations. “My daughter told me that it is good that I go to the conference, we may understand why sometimes I am sad and don’t know the reason”.
-Although participants came to ” Work in the Presence of the Other” it appeared to be more challenging when the Other was not the expected German for the Israeli or of another nationality but appeared, this time, as an identified “right wing” member who got the projections of a Jewish-Nazi, or as an East European “new” consultant, who became the abandoning Nazi mother, or the German next generation administrator who defied blind authority and was not ready to accept the expected Nazi projections, opening a place for resentment and anger in the conference.
The fantasy was that “if we only get rid of these unwanted individuals” we can have a proper conference.
-Identities are complex and do not lend themselves to a good/bad split. One thought that arose was: you cannot trust a German doctor (Mengele), but you also cannot trust a Jewish doctor who can abuse your trust and your body. Can you trust the consultants to provide safety and understanding, to work with when these projections are at play?
-The special relationships between Germans and Israelis, in the mind and in actual past connections did not leave space for other nationalities to have a stage. They were pushed to role of bystanders to the main drama; if not bystanders, at least they occupied a minority position.
-The conference was occupied with the possibility that this may be the last conference in the series of the Past in the Present.
-Some of the working hypotheses presented in the Conference Event:
1.”The institution in the mind is a totalitarian regime
in which the children are neglected by fathers needing to undo their past, leaving the children to fend for themselves with needy cruel mothers, and are trapped in a transgenerational repetition”.
2.Building the hypothesis on the titles of the groups in the event:
” Unspoken explosive issues are related to the left/right split of the past repeating itself in the present. This has led to complex identities, which are at the same time problematic but also carry hope for the future.
Happiness is hard to find but treasured. The reparation may come through creating a politically efficient alternative management – that will undo the possibility that this will be the last conference in the series.”
-The last input in the Closing Plenary (always significant) was by an Other: a Chinese woman asking: Where does the future lie?
-Societal trends that came to the fore in the conference:
Difficulties with taking ownership for our institutions in our societies equals difficulties of members taking over ownership for the conference as their learning institution either looking out/creating an authoritative leadership to organise the institution or retreating to inner worlds and happiness instead of engaging and learning with the “other”. This might signify the loss of importance of (traditional) political parties.
-Demeaning East European as “2nd class Europeans”.
A valid question for all of us to reflect on wether at the level of PCCA, at the level of the Fallout of the Past, or looking forward to the fate of our planet.
25 years later, what has changed
This conference took place 25 years after the first Nazareth conference which allows us to ask: What has changed (Ma Nishtana)?
Few striking differences (limited to the German-Israeli special tie):
- While Nazareth 1994 was an opportunity for many Israelis to meet, work and learn to get to know Germans for the first time, now many of the Israelis had a German passport and have turned to Berlin as a desirable place. Many more Israelis have other European passports. This was inconceivable 25 years ago.
- While in 1994 the identity of the Israelis was clearly that of the victim, it has now moved to being the victim/perpetrator. The changes in the identity of the Germans are more subtle, it certainly takes on a different meaning vis-a-vis the now mixed Israeli identity.
- The working through of the Nazi past that has been done by the German society during this period makes these conferences less crucial for them.
To succeed in mounting and carrying out a conference is not self-evident. Every conference involves risks that the director as well as the staff and the members take. We know where we start, it is unknown how we will fare or where we will end up.
It was a good conference, so it seemed to me and to the staff, it was worthwhile having it.
I was glad to be there and having had the opportunity to work with a willing and competent staff and with members that gave themselves to this unique learning experience which is, in my view, to be a staff member in a GRC or PCCA conference requires generosity – putting the members first, letting them use the staff without immediate rewards. This is not to be taken lightly. PCCA has to think about these conferences and to return to the original reason for holding them in terms of the overall strategy of PCCA.
I will end with a quote from the epilogue of : Fed with tears, poisoned with milk. epilogue, (p.189) which is our credo:
”…. PCCA is very mindful and committed to the centrality and uniqueness of the Holocaust and its aftermath. While expanding its horizons and focus, it remains convinced that the Holocaust and what it stands for have enormously and irreparably affected the present world, and that its radioactive fallout reaches areas far removed from the original site of the devastation. The adherence to this view continues to inform our understanding not only of what was done already, but what still sorely needs to be done.”
I am grateful to PCCA for giving me the opportunity to build and direct this conference to a conference I had in mind for a long time and could now actualize.