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Marcus, P. (1992). Doctor 117641: A Holocaust Memoir. Louis J. Micheels. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, 199 pp. Trauma and Rebirth: Intergenerational Effects of The Holocaust. John J. Sigal and Morton Weinfeld. New York: Praeger, 1988, 204 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(4):611-617.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(4):611-617

Doctor 117641: A Holocaust Memoir. Louis J. Micheels. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, 199 pp. Trauma and Rebirth: Intergenerational Effects of The Holocaust. John J. Sigal and Morton Weinfeld. New York: Praeger, 1988, 204 pp.

Review by:
Paul Marcus, Ph.D.

Louis J. Micheels, a psychoanalyst-psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, has written a memoir that is both poignant and thoughtful and, yet, fundamentally disappointing in that it does not deliver what it promises: “a psychoanalyst's moving account of his experiences in the Nazi death camps.” That this book is moving and honest is obvious to anyone who reads the prologue and opening chapter, but for those readers who are expecting the rudiments of a well-formulated psychoanalytic theory of behavior in extremity, or some new psychoanalytic insights into inmate behavior in the camps or survivorship, I am afraid Micheels never fulfills those expectations. These expectations, I might add, are created by the book's subtitle and by the jacket cover summary: “using his psychoanalytic training to attempt to make sense out of his experience and by implication, the experience of others…. An invaluable aid to those who wish to learn what it means to be a ‘survivor.’” Moreover, the foreword by Albert J. Solnit and the blurb by Robert S. Wallerstein — two of the most prominent names in mainstream psychoanalysis — generate in the reader expectations that this book will be a memoir that is laced with psychoanalytic insights and informed by a psychoanalytic vision as it confronts the horrifying nightmare we call “Auschwitz.” Instead, the reader is offered a very limited and overly cautious final chapter that tends to rehash what is already known about the camps and survivorship while omitting reference to the important existing psychoanalytic and psychological literature on the subject. Nor does Micheels seem to face up to the challenging implications of the death camps and the Holocaust as an assault on our customary intellectual categories that have been part and parcel of modernity. It is well known that psychoanalysis, which strives to be a comprehensive theory of human behavior, is as much in the dark as all of the other social sciences in its attempt to explain the Holocaust.

Micheels was a medical student in the Netherlands when the Nazis invaded in 1940.

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