Klein, Prof. Hillel

Klein, Prof. Hillel

Born in Krakow, Poland

Died 1990 In memory of Prof. Hillel Klein

Tel Aviv, 14 December 2010
Carl Nedelmann:
Hillel Klein’s contribution to psychoanalysis in Germany

Hillel Klein’s contribution to psychoanalysis in Germany centered upon the idea of rapprochement. The term was introduced into psychoanalysis by Margaret Mahler, but he used it in a broader sense, as the Oxford Dictionary defined it. Rapprochement means “coming together again in friendly relations“ or “renewal of friendship“.
To meet Hillel Klein was one of the wishes which I took with me when I travelled to Israel for the first time in June 1982. My wish was fulfilled with unexpected ease. Anne and Martin Wangh had just arrived from New York. In the evening of my first day in Jerusalem they gave their house warming party in the new apartment in Neve Sha’anan. Inviting me Martin said: “You will meet Hillel Klein this evening. He speaks German well, but he will talk with you in English.“ This is precisely what happened, but after a few minutes he changed to German, and the following day, in his consulting room, he involved me in a clinical discussion about guilt and guilt feelings. I soon felt like a candidate in the medical state examinations. I seem to have passed the examination sufficiently well because Hillel suddenly broke off the discussion and asked abruptly whether I had already been to Yad Vashem. I replied that I intended to go there today. He asked: “May I accompany you?“ I answered in the affirmative. Then we stood next to each other in the Remembrance Hall in silence for a long time. Eventually I stammered: “For me it means a lot.” – “For me as well”, answered Hillel, with a force which still reverberates in my ears.
We became friends. In October 1983, Hillel was my guest in Hamburg. The program included a lecture on the work of mourning. On the way to the lecture hall, he took hold of my arm, hesitating, and said: “Imagine, we go in and nobody is there. We could have such a nice evening.” Because his lecture was devoted to mourning, he may have also been thinking: Will my listeners be mourning with me or just not care? Am I accepted? We went in, where he was confronted to a big audience which followed him word by word. He spoke without notes.
The essence of this friendship showed itself in December 1983 at the autumn conference of the German Psychoanalytical Association. Hillel gave one of the plenary papers. He spoke in German, largely without a manuscript. Christoph Biermann secretly recorded it and made its publication possible (1992).
The paper shows that Hillel was very engaged in a process of coming to terms with Germany again. Hillel told his German colleagues: “What is important is not … to deny the past. What is important is the attempt at confrontation … And this is why I got the idea of approaching one another, in the sense of … rapprochement … And I might have started out with you: you and me. That would be … a movement with the … whole range of feelings, of the emotional world of hate, revenge, disappointed love“ (1992, p. 1183).
I come now to the first week of January 1985. For his sake I was in Jerusalem. His illness had visibly left its mark. But he made plans which were full of hope. He intended to write about Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and his “Nathan“ and suggested that we write an essay together with the title “No reconciliation but self-searching in the sense of rapprochement – Dialogue between an Israeli psychoanalyst and a German psychoanalyst 40 years after“.
Instead of writing the dialogue together with him, I wrote the paper many years later on my own, with the same title “No reconciliation but self-searching in the sense of rapprochement“. I only changed the subtitle and wrote: “Hillel Klein’s Holocaust research in Germany – 40 years after“ (2005). I presented an earlier version of this paper at the Israel Psychoanalytic Society in Jerusalem on 24 February 2004.
As a late sign of his influence in Germany, Klein’s book Survival and trials of revival ­– Psychodynamic studies of Holocaust survivors and their families in Israel and the Diaspora (originally written in English) appeared posthumously in 2003 in German. The manuscript was written during the first half of the 1980s. It consists of a revised version of his contributions to psychoanalytic Holocaust research as well as further observations and a number of autobiographical features. The book describes the struggle for survival from 1 September 1939 to 8 May 1945, from the invasion of Poland to the day of liberation, and it describes the trials of revival thereafter.
Several attempts to edit Hillel’s book in English had failed on account of the dictum that it could not be edited. Christoph and I read the manuscript and decided that we can do it. We thank Hillel’s daughters, Esther Ofer and Michal Klein-Honig, and their mother, Dr. Hortense Klein, for their trust in handing us over the manuscript. We thank Barbara Strehlow for the translation. The German edition shows that the manuscript can be edited.
In conclusion: Hillel had said that Yale University Press would publish the book. It would be great if it could appear there or in another suitable place and his wish could be fulfilled. Today, on the 25th anniversary of his death, I feel this wish particularly intensely.
In a most admirable way Hillel Klein has built a bridge for Jews and Germans.

Klein H (1992 [1983]): Von Schuld zu Verantwortung [From guilt to responsibility]. Psyche – Z Psychoanal 46, 1177-1186 – Transcript of the lecture given largely without notes at the fall conference of the German Psychoanalytical Association (DPV) at Wiesbaden in 1983, from the taperecording prepared by Christoph Biermann.
– (2003): Ueberleben und Versuche der Wiederbelebung. Psychoanalytische Studien mit Ueberlebenden der Shoah und mit ihren Familien in Israel und in der Diaspora [Survival and trials of revival – Psychodynamic studies of Holocaust survivors and their families in Israel and the diaspora]. Biermann C, Nedelmann C, editors, Strehlow B, translator. Jahrbuch der Psychoanalyse, Beiheft 20. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog.
Nedelmann C (2005): No reconciliation, but self-searching in the sense of rapprochement – Hillel Klein’s Holocaust research in Germany 40 years after. Int. J. Psychoanal 86, 1133-42
Oxford Dictionary (1965): The advanced learner‘s dictionary of current English. Second edition. Oxford University Press. London.