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
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit