Barag, Dr. Gershon
Immigrated to Palestine as a child
Died in Tel-Aviv in 1957
On 26 May 1957, Dr. Gershon Barag of Tel-Aviv died at the age of 54½ years. In the midst of a rich and industrious life, just about to reap the fruits of three decades of labour and to settle down to a more comfortable way of living, he met his fate, suddenly, cruelly. Feeling a slight feverish indisposition, he did not stop seeing his patients as usual. With the help of acromycin he got rid of the fever, only to feel worse than before, and was confined to bed. The same day his younger childfell ill, evidently with the same virus infection. But as the daughter recovered, Barag was, all of a sudden, stricken with paralysis. At once his own diagnosis was fixed in his mind. He told his wife that he thought he suffered from polyneuritis toxica and that his death was imminent. Watching in full consciousness the paralysis expanding over his whole body, he disbelieved the optimism of his doctor, who held out the prospect of complete recovery. Six days of torment and agony had passed by, when a change for the better seemed to set in. He regained even the use of his voice sufficiently to utter his wife’s name, was overjoyed to be understood by her, and fell asleep in a happy mood. In that same night he passed away, a victim to an insidious attack of polyradiculitis (Guillèm-Barré). His death came as a terrible shock to his people, his friends and colleagues, and left the Israel Psycho-Analytical Society bereft of one of its prominent active members.
Barag was born in Russia. But having come to Palestine in his early childhood, he was generally considered a native of that country. He got his high school education at the Herzlya Gymnasium in Tel-Aviv, then left for Frankfurt-am-Main, in 1922, and was admitted to take up his medical studies. It was during the worst period of the German inflation, and Barag, as a foreigner, was relatively well off and used his resources with gusto to lay the foundations of his large, well assorted library. In 1926 he went for one semester to Berlin. There he met his future wife, then still a schoolgirl. Back in Frankfurt, Barag finished his studies in 1927. Being very much interesed in dermatology, he wrote a year later his doctorate thesis on “Lues venerea resistant to Salvarsan’ under the auspices of Prof. Herxheimer. For the rest of his life he was an excellent diagnostician of diseases of the skin.
Yet another field of medicine proved to be more and decisively attractive. Barag was famous amongst his fellow students as the only cand. med. who spent his spare time working voluntarily at the psychiatric clinic. Somehow Karl Landauer got to hear of this medical student on whose table psycho-analytical books could be seen, and sought his acquaintance. From then on Barag spent many an evening conversing with Landauer. When he wanted to be analysed by him, Landauer refused, because he felt they had become too intimate, and advised him to apply to the Institute in Berlin.
Barag was in training analysis with Dr. Harnik for about two years. During a four years stay in Berlin, Barag renewed the contact with his future wife, who, in the meantime, had taken up on her own account her medical studies and started, later on, under his influence on her own career as a psycho-analyst. Barag did hard work in various well-known hospitals and private sanatoria, and acquired a vast experience in general medicine, neurology, and psychiatry which afterwards stood him in good stead in his analytic practice. Although a foreigner, he got the licence to practise medicine in Germany, but with the advent of Hitler, he was soon deprived of the right to do any further work there. For the next few years Barag tried to cope with the 600 inmates of a private institution at Littenheid, near Zurich in Switzerland. There he came to know the blessings of a well-organized work programme, but also the dubious benefit of any treatment of alcoholics with the village inn within easy reach. He liked the work of expertise before the cantonal and federal tribunal. But he felt quite isolated in this secluded region of the Thurgau, and buried himself in heaps of books he got from the University library in Zurich, until, shortly after their marriage, his wife joined him there. With a short stay in London, where Barag’s son was born, the Wanderjahre came to a close at the end of 1935. The family settled in Tel-Aviv. In the following year, Barag was admitted to the (then) Palestine Psycho-Analytical Society.
A rich personality, his presence was always perceptible and he left his mark in the council. Broad, sound knowledge, manifold interests, and the command of five languages made every bit of conversation with him rewarding. He had a warm heart, he was pleasantly amiable. But as a man of independent thought and strong convictions he could be quite outspoken and a vigorous fighter. As his patients had the benefit of his vast medical and psycho-analytical experience, his theoreticalknowledge and his technical skill, his colleagues enjoyed his being imbued with the deep truth and the overwhelming import of Freud’s work. He dedicated his wholeenergy to his calling. Submerged in his daily work, he found less and less time to concentrate on scientific papers, and, regrettably, never got himself to take up teaching activities. As analytic therapy was for him a branch of medicine and any treatment not backed by medical knowledge dangerously close to charlatanry, he became the champion of the restriction of membership to M.D.s. His influence was no doubt instrumental in forming our society’s policy in this respect.
Much as Barag excelled in his calling, he was a true son of his people. He was steeped in Jewish lore and an active participant in the revival of Jewish independence and nationhood. He took a lively interest in public affairs and demonstrated his civic virtues by rejecting courageously any encroachment on the freedom of conscience. Besides, he shared the Israelis’ most cherished hobby: archaeology. He was one of the trustees of the Tel-Aviv Museum, and whoever saw his fine collection of antiquities became a witness to this mind of his which never tired lovingly to comprehend the phenomena of the present day from the vestiges of their distant past, in respect of the mental experience of the individual as well as of the cultural productions of nation and mankind.
This diversified interest in many spheres of man’s life combined in Barag’s scientific work. In his earliest paper, never published, on ‘Zukunfts- und Jenseitsglauben’ he dealt with the messianic idea of a golden era on this very earth, ‘a collective hope’, and with the belief in life after death in a world beyond ours, ‘a private phantasy’. The part of the oedipal complex and of the superego in these illusions is examined, and the concept of the Trinity explained as internalization offather and mother in the ego. In 1937 ‘Zur Psychoanalyse der Prostitution’ was published (Imago). It is an extensive study viewing both the client and the prostitute in a wide social and psychological range. The boundless object choice, the exclusion of generation, and the part of the component instincts are, inter alia, dealt with. Barag saw the key to the understanding of the phenomenon in a narcissistic phantasy according to which father, mother, and child are united in one person, an idea similar to that expressed in his first paper. Again, in 1945, he advanced this idea in another connexion, in: ‘The Mother in the Religious Concepts of Judaism’ (American Imago). Barag shows that even in Jewish monotheism, the purest form of a father religion, vestiges of former mother goddesses are to be found. Moreover, every god figure seems to exhibit both male and female features. This leads him back to the phantasy of the
unity of father, mother, and child, and eventually to the suggestion that a characteristic attribute of the Semitic religions can be seen in this very union of male and female in one god. A paper: ‘On Jewish Monotheism’, containing a discussion of Freud’s book, and a report on a case of pseudologia phantastica, both read before theIsrael Psycho-Analytical Society, complete Barag’s analytical articles. He wrote another, rather philological paper trying to explain the meaning of the word ‘Koheleth’, which he saw in ‘wisdom’ or ‘the one who attained wisdom and experience’,
With his passing a full life came abruptly to an end, and many hopes were dashed with it. Israel’s small analytical group has suffered a dire loss.