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Marcus, P. Rosenberg, A. (1994). Reevaluating Bruno Bettelheim'S Work on The Nazi Concentration Camps: The Limits Of His Psychoanalytic Approach. Psychoanal. Rev., 81(3):537-563.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Review, 81(3):537-563

Reevaluating Bruno Bettelheim'S Work on The Nazi Concentration Camps: The Limits Of His Psychoanalytic Approach

Paul Marcus, Ph.D. and Alan Rosenberg

Bruno Bettelheim, who was incarcerated in Dachau and Buchenwald during 1938-1939, was probably the first psychoanalyst to develop a psychoanalytically informed theory of inmate behavior in the Nazi concentration camps. Bettelheim's theory of behavior in extremity is widely regarded as one of the most influential narratives to date on the nature of inmate behavior in the Nazi camps. As psychoanalyst-survivor Hillel Klein has commented, “Bettelheim's approach to human behavior and survival in the concentration camps influenced and shaped the thinking about survivors of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe” (Klein, 1984, p. 545). Catherine Leach has commented that “Bruno Bettelheim's The Informed Heart presents the theory which has perhaps carried the greatest weight among explanations of behavior in the camps” (Leach, 1979, p. xxvii).

There is perhaps no subject that Bettelheim wrote about that has provoked as much controversy, criticism, and outrage among scholars and survivors as his work in this area. Bettelheim's point of view has been strongly criticized from a variety of perspectives. Many of his views have been challenged by the scholarly community, as well as thought to be offensive to survivors. Jacob Robinson (1977) has criticized him for his lack of historical knowledge about the death camps, the “Final Solution,” and Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Lawrence L.

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