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Mills, J. (2015). On Found Objects: Reflections on Auschwitz. Psychoanal. Perspect., 12(2):220-224.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 12(2):220-224

On Found Objects: Reflections on Auschwitz

Jon Mills, PsyD, PhD, ABPP

It was December 19 in a rural community outside of Kraków. I was anticipating an abreaction, both dreading yet wanting it at the same time, when I felt a clinical detachment come over me instantly as I stepped into the first compound. It was cold, but there was no snow. I was numb inside—no, I take that back, rather an absence of feeling best describes it, but I didn’t know it then. I was frozen but it felt like nothingness. In retrospect, I believe I had rushed through the whole tour, simply wanting to escape. A free-floating trance permeated my visit throughout the entire day, like I was recovering from a hangover. I was unaware of any of this at the time. I can only conclude that my defenses had arranged this so that the details would not overwhelm me.

I’ve been prone to dissociate since childhood. One of my first formal photographs as a toddler dressed in Sunday’s best depicts a sepia tone studio portrait with my mouth wide open staring off into space with an empty gaze like a goldfish in a bowl. It may have been the desperate faces on the walls in Block 6 riddled with trauma, the vacant stares looking into the photographer’s camera during official processing after they debarked from the trains, having been stripped of their clothes and belongings, separated from family members, and, if they were in the wrong line, deceived into taking showers to refresh from the long excursion they endured cooped up in cattle cars like animals for days.

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