Scenic Microanalysis of Video Testimonies of Chronically Hospitalized Holocaust Survivors

On the re-narrativisation of lost life stories from survivors of the Shoah, who were diagnosed and treated as chronically psychotic

Since 2007 / Project Head: Prof. Dr. Andreas Hamburger


Project Team

Prof. Dr. Andreas Hamburger, IPU Berlin
Pascal Heberlein M.A., cand. phil. Uni Kassel

Project Partners

Prof. Dori Laub MD, Yale School of Medicine (Teilstudie zur Phase II der Videotestimony Study of Chronically Hospitalized Holocaust Survivors in Psychiatric Institutions in Israel (VCHSI), Yale University u. a.)
Prof. Dr. Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber, Sigmund-Freud-Institut Frankfurt/M.

Project Duration

Since 2007

Third Party Funding

The study has been supported with a grant from the Research Advisory Board of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA).

Publications

Design und Zwischenergebnisse wurden auf Konferenzen vorgestellt:
Hamburger 2010: Sandler-Konferenz Frankfurt/M.
Hamburger 2010: 11. ISPS-US Meeting, Austen Riggs, Stockbridge, MA
Hamburger, Heberlein 2011: Forschungskonferenz Sigmund-Freud-Institut, Frankfurt/M.
Hamburger 2012: Symposium des C.G. Jung-Instituts München
Hamburger 2012: Preparatory Conference, Research Network Trauma, Trust, and Memory, Belgrade.

Raters / Moderators

PD Dr. phil. Tamara Fischmann, Dr. phil. Hella Goldfein, Dr. phil. Kurt Grünberg, Dr. med. Salek Kutschinski, Dr. med. Friedrich Markert, Dr. phil. Lillian Otscheret-Tschebiner, Dr. phil. Naomi Silberner-Becker

MA Students:

Sabine Nüsser and Sarah Katharine Schmidt (2010), Pascal Heberlein (2010)

Project Description

The international video-testimony project from Yale University has preserved testimonies from people who, as unknown victims of the Shoah, were placed in psychiatric clinics in Israel and treated as psychotics. The result of the investigation by the Bazak Commission (1999) is that about 725 (15 %) of the approx. 5,000 chronically psychotic patients who received inpatient treatment in Israeli psychiatric units were survivors of the Shoah without this being realised as a specific aspect of their illness (Cahn 1995, Terno among others 1998, Davidovitch  and Zalashik 2007). In the first phase of the video-testimony study from Yale University, Dori Laub and others conducted interviews lasting several hours in some cases with 26 of these patients, which were recorded as video testimonies and transcribed. Most of them are archived today in the Fortunoff Video Archive and can be viewed for research purposes.

Selected video testimonies from this sample are being examined more closely in the IPU using the scenic-narrative microanalysis method. Microanalyses of the video testimony reveal, beneath the comprehensible, manifest surface of the testimony, the scenic subtexts which map the inner mental processing – and that not only in the interviewees themselves who report in a fragmentary manner about their ruined lives, but also in the listeners and viewers of the testimony, which this report is processing into a whole. This inter-subjective approach reflects the level of psychoanalytical trauma theory (Bohleber 2000, 2007, Kirshner 1994, 2004, Hirsch 2004).

Personal testimony is not related to a date, but rather to a step; it does not lead to a finding, but instead it triggers off further steps. In the best case, it leads to a situation where people recognise how they acquire their social development unconsciously through the exclusion of the story and its witness from their own present consciousness (Hamburger 2013b). This finding can have an emancipatory impact as it influences actions in the present: A disavowal which can be named is eo ipso nullified. Yet for that, it is true that one should not indulge in the hope that such naming alone already effects longterm changes, either with the individual person or in society. Despite all the clarification and self-enlightenment, the social and private generation of the unconscious will always seek out new paths. Yet the quiet voice of memory continues to be an unmistakable warning which has to be asserted anew in each case.

1 Object of the Investigation

The starting point and material for the present study are 22 interviews which were recorded with survivors of the Shoah who were diagnosed as chronically psychotic in the context of Phase I of the VCHSI in Israel, which was headed by Dori Laub. The interviews were conducted and transcribed (with one exception) in Hebrew, with English translations of the transcripts provided. Regarding the selection of the methods with which we want to approach these testimonies, it is important to note that the material provided to us consists of complete documents where we had no influence on their creation and selection. In terms of their uniqueness, the video testimonies are historic documents in their own right. They record the moment of the searching motion for a story whose co-ordinates have been blocked. The searching motion itself, the interview with the surviving witness which the psychoanalyst Dori Laub conducted, does indeed have an eminently psychoanalytical quality. They are capable (with specific limitations which need to be clearly indicated) of being regarded as psychoanalytical situations in which a sense excommunicated to date, an "unconsciousness" of the patient, is permitted to find speech (cf. Laub 2005). These interviews with the surviving witnesses also left major impacts on the interviewees: As Strous et. al. proved in 2005, they experienced a highly significant improvement in their psychopathological symptomatology. For the present study however, it is not the patient her-or himself in an online situation who is the object of the investigation, but rather the completed video of this situation. In this way the research relation changes compared to that of the psychoanalytical examination or the interview. The counterpart is now no longer the patient but rather the (unchangeable) video.

2 Methods

In terms of the findings, the psychoanalytical interest in the analysis of video testimonies and other material fixed in a documentary structure, e.g. artworks as well, is not focused like in a clinical setting on the change in the patient, but rather on the introspective perspective of the "change" of the interpreter (Hamburger 1998a, 2003a, 2013a, Hamburger und Leube 2014). The reflection on this change in the self is the core aspect of cultural-analytical research methods (vgl. Lorenzer 1986), which we are basing here on narration research in addition to the historic-biographic reconstruction. It is highly important with the material being examined here to see its double conditionality precisely: On the one hand, the witnesses are victims of the Shoah. On the other hand however, we are encountering sick people, individuals whose perception and memory of reality seems more or less distorted. Reducing them to this aspect alone makes victims of them again; taking them solely at their word means a failure to recognise the severity of their damage and breakdown.

The double conditionality poses a double task for the investigation: On the one hand, the statements by the witnesses have to be read with a clinically trained eye, while on the other hand, the awareness must be maintained that the symptomatology which is regarded as psychotically impressive is part of a social denial process and that we, as researchers, are part of this society. That one's own entanglement here in the story can also always be newly enacted in diagnosis and research processes is demonstrated by the present group of patients especially. The research is best able to satisfy both tasks through a process of reflexive, transparent revealing of the effect on the reader. This findings and validation position, introduced to psychoanalysis as countertransference analysis, has a deep impact on the methods in the project.

The reanalysis of historic documents as in the present case requires, according to Devereux (1954), the reflection on the research scene in order to counter the tendency of having an arbitrary or re-mythologising interpretation. The role of psychoanalytical methods in the evaluation of cultural artefacts or research data has been developed in numerous works (cf. Leuzinger-Bohleber, 1995, Leuzinger-Bohleber, Rüger, Stuhr and Beutel, 2002, Leuzinger-Bohleber and Fischmann, 2006).

2.1 Scenic-narrative Microanalysis Method

The scenic-narrative microanalysis method with video testimonies (Hamburger 2010) is related to a connection between naturalistic observation methods of a qualitative and expert evaluation as applied for instance in the catamnesis study by Leuzinger-Bohleber among others, as well as text hermeneutic processes. The method was initially tested in a pilot study with a single interview (Hamburger 2010, Nüsser and Schmidt 2010, Heberlein 2010). The video testimony to be investigated is described by psychoanalytically trained experts in segments independent from each other and evaluated with respect to the prevailing transference-countertransference scene in the interview situation. The material provided consists in each case of a video and a transcript. The results of the single interview are documented in the form of comments written on the edge of the transcript, as well as in a summarising assessment for each segment.

After each evaluation procedure, those segments marked by the raters as having high concurrence are selected and discussed in a joint session (consensus session). At the end of each session, proposed wording for the interview discussed is suggested by the moderators, presented to the group of raters and modified as required. The consensus sessions are recorded and transcribed. They are included in the concluding interpretation as additional material. The result is that all of the documented steps in the evaluation process are brought together and the evaluation and consensus process transparently summarised. In addition to the project head (AH), seven psychoanalysts in various ratings groups were involved in the present study. Two MA students and a PhD student transcribed the consensus sessions, organised the statements in relation to the text passages in the video testimony and removed contradictions and conformities.

2.2 Comparison with Grounded Theory (P. Heberlein)

Independently from the segmenting, assessment and consensus building by psychoanalytical raters, the speech structure and interaction of the interview partners were examined on the basis of manifest text signals in the context of grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1996). Characteristics of the fragmented autobiographic narrative and its display in the interactive speech traits of the interviewer and interviewee were identified, material based codes developed and linked and the theories generated subsequently condensed into overlapping structures. In a further step, the findings were compared with the independently gained psychoanalytical ratings and discussed.

The interim findings show that overlapping structuring types can be identified in grounded theory: All of the survivors questioned have extremely positive memories of subjects which were closely linked to relationships with concrete persons or, where these are lacking, with work (positive subjects). Negative, missing or disavowing memories always arose when the corresponding subject was linked to being alone or loneliness (negative subjects). Different motives are revealed depending on the individuality of the traumatic experience or relationship structures. These structuring types frequently correspond in a psychoanalytical rating in an analogous manner to protection and defence processes in an interview, while the negative subjects stated in grounded theory can be organised in a psychoanalytical rating as moments of the abandonment of the survivor. These formal analogies initially identified on a high level of abstraction still require more in-depth analysis.

3 Literature (selection)

  • Bazak, Yaacov. Principles of the General Guardian (Apotropos) Regarding Care in the Community for Mentally Ill Survivors of the Holocaust. Jerusalem: Ministry of Justice, 1999.
  • Bohleber, Werner (2000): Die Entwicklung der Traumatheorie in der Psychoanalyse. Psyche Z Psychoanal 9-10, 797-839 Bohleber, Werner (2007): Erinnerung, Trauma und kollektives Gedächtnis – der Kampf um die Erinnerung in der Psychoanalyse. Psyche Z Psychoanal 4, 293-321
  • Cahn, Dianna. Holocaust Survivors Mistreated. Associated Press Release, November 26, 1995
  • Davidovitch N. und Zalashik R. (2007): Recalling the Survivors: Between Memory and Forgetfulness of Hospitalized Holocaust Survivors in Israel, Israeli Studies , 12.2, 145-163
  • Hamburger, Andreas (1998a): Traumnarrativ und Gedächtnis. in: Koukkou, Martha, Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber und Wolfgang Mertens (Hg.): Erinnerung von Wirklichkeiten. Psychoanalyse und Neurowissenschaften im Dialog. Bd. 1: Bestandsaufnahme. Stuttgart: Verlag Internationale Psychoanalyse 1998a, 223-286
  • Hamburger, Andreas (2003a): Erinnerter Abschied. Zur psychoanalytischen Interpretation des Trakl-Epitaphs von Else Lasker-Schüler nebst Anmerkungen zum Übertragungsangebot der Lyrik. in: Mauser, Wolfram & Joachim Pfeiffer (Hg.): Trauer. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann (= Freiburger literaturpsychologische Gespräche. Jahrbuch für Literatur und Psychoanalyse Bd. 22), 185-226
  • Hamburger, Andreas (2010) Scenic-Narrative Microanalysis. Panel Presentation, Sandler Research Conference, Frankfurt/M.
  • Hamburger, Andreas (2013a): Arbeit in der Tiefe. Vorüberlegungen zu einer skeptischen Kulturanalyse. In: Hierdeis, Helmwart (Hg.): Psychoanalytische Skepsis. Göttingen: Vanden-hoeck & Ruprecht, S. 123-183
  • Hamburger, Andreas (2013b): Warum psychoanalytische Holocaustforschung nicht enden kann und soll. Einleitung zum Vortrag [von Kurt Grünberg und Friedrich Markert]. In: Walker, Christoph E., Heribert Blaß, Rainer Paul und Martin Teising (Hg.): Die Psychoanalytische Haltung – ihre Bedeutung im Spannungsfeld innerer und äußerer Angriffe. Arbeitstragung der Deutschen Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung Bad Homburg, 21. Bis 24. November 2012. S. 261-265.
  • Hamburger, Andreas und Katharina Leube (2014): Wie im Kino. Zur Filmanalyse in der Gruppe. Methodologie der Psychoanalytischen Filminterpretation anhand von Lars von Triers „Melancholia“. In: Blothner, Dirk und Ralf Zwiebel (Hg.): Arbeitsmodelle der Filmpsycho-analyse. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  • Heberlein, Pascal (2010): Mikroanalyse eines Videozeugnisses eines hospitalisierten Holocaustüberlebenden – Entwicklung einer Grounded Theory. Magisterarbeit Universität Kassel, FB 01 [Betreuung. Andreas Hamburger]
  • Hirsch, Mathias (2004): Psychoanalytische Traumatologie – Das Trauma n der Familie. Psychoanalytische Theorie und Therapie schwerer Persönlichkeitsstörungen. Stuttgart: Schattauer
  • Kirshner, Lewis (1994): Trauma, the good object, and the symbolic: A theoretical integration. Int J Psychoanal 75:235–42.
  • Kirshner, Lewis (2004): Having a Life: Self-Pathology After Lacan. Taylor & Francis Ltd (United States)
  • Laub, Dori & Shoshana Felman (1992): Testimony – Crisis of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York, Routledge
  • Laub, Dori (2005a): From Speechlessness to Narrative: The Cases of Holocaust Historians and of Psychiatrically Hospitalized Survivors, Literature and Medicine 24:2 (Fall 2005), pp. 253-265
  • Leuzinger-Bohleber, M.; Fischmann, T. in cooperation with the Research Subcommittee for Conceptual Research of the IPA (2006): What is conceptual research in psychoanalysis? International Journal of Psychoanalysis 87: 1355-1386
  • Leuzinger-Bohleber, M.; Stuhr, U.; Rüger, B.; Beutel, M. (2002): Psychoanalytische Forschung und die Pluralität der Wissenschaften. Einige kritische Anmerkungen illustriert am Beispiel einer repräsentativen, multiperspektivischen Katamnesestudie von Psychoanaly-sen und psychoanalytischen Langzeitbehandlungen. Bulletin Psychoanalyse in Europa 56: 194-220
  • Leuzinger-Bohleber, Marianne (1995): Die Einzelfallstudie als psychoanalytisches Forschungsinstrument. Psyche Z Psychoanal 49: 434-481
  • Lorenzer, Alfred (1970): Sprachzerstörung und Rekonstruktion. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp
  • Lorenzer, Alfred (Hg.) (1986): Kulturanalyse. Frankfurt/M.: S. Fischer
  • Nüsser, Sabine und Sarah Katharine Schmidt (2010): Szenisch-narrative Mikroanalyse eines Videozeugnisses eines hospitalisierten Holocaustüberlebenden. Magisterarbeit Universität Kassel, FB 01 [Betreuung. Andreas Hamburger]
  • Schütze, F. (1984). Kognitive Figuren des autobiographischen Stegreiferzählens. In M. Kohli & G. Robert (Hrsg.), Biographie und soziale Wirklichkeit. Stuttgart: Metzler.
  • Strous, Rael D., Mordechai Weiss, Irit Felsen, Boris Finkel, Yuval Melamed, Avraham Bleich, Moshe Kotler, Dori Laub (2005), „Video Testimony of Long-Term Hospitalized Psychiatrically Ill Holocaust Survivors.” Am J Psychiatr 162:12, pp. 2287-2294, December 2005.
  • Terno, Pnina, Yoram Barak, Jack Hadjez, Avner Elizur, Henry Szor (1998): Holocaust survivors hospitalized for life: the Israeli experience. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 39, 364–367.