Margarete Mitscherlich: Psychoanalyst who dealt with German post-war guilt

 

Margarete Mitscherlich was a German-Danish psychoanalyst and feminist who famously claimed that Germans could not mourn. Often referred to as the "Grande Dame of German psychoanalysis", with her husband Alexander she co-authored Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern ["The Inability to Mourn"] in 1967.

It was an exploration of Germany's attempts to come to terms with the Second World War in the era of the economic miracle, "'restoration" and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. They concluded that not enough had been done to address the crimes of the Nazi era, and called on Germans to embark on more collective attempts to do so. It was provocative and touched on the taboos many Germans had long nourished.

In truth, many ordinary Germans were dazed. They felt they had had no hand in Nazi crimes, that they had paid for them with the destruction of their cities by heavy Allied bombing, the expulsion of millions from their homes in former German territories and eastern Europe, the massive reparations and the dividing-up of the remainder of the country. Had not the criminals been brought to justice in the Nuremberg Trials? They wanted to get on with rebuilding what was left of their country.

The Mitscherlichs noted that in the course of reconstruction many old Nazis had returned to positions of prominence and responsibility. All too often, the past was simply written off. Change came in December 1963 with the start of the Auschwitz trials. The Inability to Mourn became a key weapon for those West German students who, in 1968 took to the streets in protest not only against antiquated traditions at German universities but also to draw the attention of their parents' generation to what had become a collective suppression of guilt in Germany and the false return to an ostensible normality. The book was an instant bestseller and influenced the political debate which helped to bring Willy Brandt's Social Democrats to power in 1969.

She was born Margarete Nielsen in 1917 in the small south Danish town of Gråsten, her father a Danish medical practitioner, her German mother a headmistress. She studied at secondary school in Flensburg, Germany, then took up the study of literature. She later switched to medicine, in Munich and Heidelberg, and trained as a psychoanalyst. Her work began at an anthroposophical clinic in the Swiss canton of Ticino. There she met her future husband, Alexander Mitscherlich who introduced her to the works of Freud.

The Munich-born Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Frankfurt, Alexander Mitscherlich was a co-founder of the Humanist Union and director of the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt from 1959-76. Margarete was employed at the same institute and the couple spent years working together: in the 1950s Margarete completed her psychoanalytic training at the London institute led by Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and Michael Balint.

Margarete increasingly turned her attention to the position of women in society, declaring in the first issue of her friend Alice Schwarzer's magazine, Emma (November 1977), "I am a feminist". She also took an active part in legal actions against degrading depictions of women in the media. In her successful 1985 book Die friedfertige Frau: Eine psychoanalytische Untersuchung zur Aggression der Geschlechter (The Peaceable Sex: On aggression in women and men), she dealt with the roles of women in politics. This was followed by Die Zukunft ist weiblich ("The future is feminine", 1987) in which she advocated that society's values should become more feminine.

She continued to work into her nineties as a psychoanalyst, advising younger colleagues and commenting on political developments. In her last book, Die Radikalität des Alters: Einsichten einer Psychoanalytikerin (Radical Age: Insights of a Psychoanalyst) she examined her experience of aging.

Margarete Nielsen, psychoanalyst and writer: born Grasten, Denmark 17 July 1917; married 1955 Alexander Mitscherlich (died 1982; one son); died Frankfurt 12 June 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - London - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Analyst...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness