HILDE ECCLES's mother saw her as a 'bad object'. She predicted that her youngest child would turn out to be a whore, a gangster or a toilet cleaner. Instead, she became a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, a career she followed from the 1950s, when she first came to England, almost to the end of her life.
She saw her role as a facilitator - to help those who needed help. Her dealings both with her patients and with her trainees were remarkably free of dogma and prejudice. She believed in freedom and independence; and she deplored rigidity and orthodoxy. She was open and generous, but she did not tolerate anything that could be considered mean, greedy, or lacking in modesty.
Her own, thoroughly independent, character was moulded from her childhood as an exiled Jew in Switzerland, and from a complicated later history, first in Palestine and the new state of Israel, then in the United States and, eventually, in England.
She was born Hilde Rappaport in 1916, in Zurich. Her family was a famous one in Jewish history which produced many scholars, and her parents had emigrated from Poland before she was born. Her father was an orthodox rabbi; her mother a travelling saleswoman. They were very poor, so much so that they felt compelled to foster her with an affluent middle-aged Christian couple from an early age, until she was seven. This devout adoptive family made her a happy child and contact with her real parents was sparse. When she returned to them she became very unhappy and once even reported herself to the police as a stolen child. Although she spoke about her family later with love and respect, being the youngest she had felt unloved and unwanted.
The young Hilde was a dreamer. She loved flowers, started to read avidly and was greatly impressed by Freud's theory of neurosis. She also read Mein Kampf and afterwards was never in any doubt that Hitler meant what he wrote. Things seemed to improve in her teens: she started socialising, joined the Communist Party at the age of 13 and later became the secretary to the President of the
(multi-party) Anti-Fascist Youth Movement in Zurich. She was active in helping refugees from Germany and Italy in the early Thirties, but was upset when illegal refugees to Switzerland were caught and returned across the borders to persecution, imprisonment and death. Her disillusionment with Swiss attitudes decided her to emigrate from Switzerland.
She had become friendly with a group of Bohemian writers and students with progressive, unconventional views. She met and was impressed by CG Jung. Her first choice of destination was Russia, but her parents forbade her to go there. After years of preparation, working in a tree nursery in Basle, she went to Palestine, to study at the agricultural school in Nahal. She was 18.
Because of problems with her health she was advised to work in a kibbutz and confine herself to inside tasks, rather than work on the farm. She then married a man 17 years her senior. She found being a housewife unrewarding and, with her usual determination, she got herself involved in looking after mental patients in a voluntary capacity. Her various commitments - and her husband's inability to have children - probably led to the breakdown of her marriage.
At the onset of the Second World War she was active in the Haganah, the Jewish community's defence organisation, and became one of its intelligence officers. She got a job in a large British military camp outside Haifa, as a welfare nurse, then welfare officer, responsible for several hundreds of Jewish and Arab civilian employees. Because of her status in the camp she mixed freely with British officers, which helped her in her task in the Haganah, connected with arms procurement. But, at the same time, she attracted suspicion and disapproval from her commanding officer. She was court- martialled on several occasions, for disobedience, but always acquitted.
With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 she took a course in social work at the University of Jerusalem, then worked with concentration-camp survivors and immigrants from Morocco and Yemen; she also conducted research into juvenile suicide. She bought a house in Zefat and brought her parents from Switzerland to fulfil their dream of living in the Holy Land, and achieve a reconciliation with their rebellious daughter.
Hilde Rappaport's ambitions were, however, to train as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. She won a scholarship to study for an MA degree in Psychiatric Social Work at Tulene University in New Orleans. She travelled and lectured extensively in the United States about her experiences in Israel. She visited Bruno Bettelheim in Chicago and worked with disturbed children. Greatly impressed by the work of John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Michael Balint, she decided to come to London to train as a psychoanalyst.
She was already an experienced social worker and she was accepted for training at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in 1955, under Charles Rycroft, and qualified in the early Sixties. While training she continued as a psychiatric social worker in hospitals around London and became interested in work with mothers of disturbed children. Thereafter she developed a busy and active psychoanalytic practice, based in Bloomsbury, central London, took part in scientific meetings at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and started training students in psychotherapy.
Hilde Eccles (she was married again in 1958, to Anthony Eccles, who died five years later) also travelled widely, lecturing, giving seminars and participating in symposia. She was a member of the Psychoanalytical Society, in its independent group, and used her analytic insights and training in her work, but she was never an orthodox analyst and her techniques were those that suited her patients, rather than theoretical dogmas.
The great variety of traditions which Eccles encountered in her life gave her a depth of spiritual understanding and width of human comprehension which was, perhaps, encapsulated finally in a dream she had: she was lying on her couch, supported on one side by Christ and, on the other, by Spinoza - both of them, like her, nonconforming Jews.
I knew Hilde Eccles for over 20 years, as a close friend, colleague, wise mentor, and remarkable, charismatic person. She was sharp, sometimes opinionated, but always receptive and open to other people's views. She had a great facility to make friends. She loved music, art and literature. She always wanted to write, but could never find time to do so, until the last few months of her life, when she knew that she was approaching the end. She started dictating the story of her life on a tape. One hopes it will eventually be
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