Friday, March 05, 2010

Significant Moments: Why Did I Write Letters to My Sister After I Was Fired From Akin Gump?

I began writing "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations" in 1940, about a year after I had been set free and moved to the United States. From the moment I arrived in this country, within weeks after liberation, I spoke of the camps to everybody willing to listen, and many more unwilling to do so. Painful as this was because of what it brought back to mind, I did it because I was so full of the experience that it would not be contained. I did it also because I was anxious to force on the awareness of as many people as possible what was going on in Nazi Germany, and out of a feeling of obligation to those who still suffered in the camps. But I met with little success. At that time, nothing was known in the U.S. about the camps, and my story was met with utter disbelief.
Bruno Bettelheim, The Ultimate Limit.
National Socialist Germany seems to have been something new in human affairs. Its roots were old, and the soil was old, but it was a mutant.
Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance.
A plague!
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice.
The Third Reich erupted into history as a surprise. It lasted a mere dozen years. It is gone. Historians, social scientists, political analysts, still stammer and grope in the mountainous ruins of the unprecedented facts about human nature and society that it left behind. Ordinary people prefer to forget it: a nasty twelve-year episode in Europe's decline, best swept under the rug.
Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance.
Before the U.S. was drawn into the war, people did not wish to believe that Germany could do such horrendous things. I was accused of being carried away by my hatred of the Nazis, of engaging in paranoid distortions. I was warned not to spread such lies. I was taken to task for opposite reasons at the same time: that I painted the SS much too black; and that I gave them much too much credit for being intelligent enough to devise and systematically execute such a diabolic system, when everybody knew that they were but stupid madmen. Such reactions only convinced me more of the need to make people aware of the reality of the camps, of what went on in them and the nefarious purposes they served. My hope was that publishing a paper, written as objectively as possible to forestall the accusation that I distorted facts out of personal hatred, might make people listen to what I had to tell. That was my conscious reason for writing "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations," which I finished in 1942.

Unfortunately, for well over a year, this paper was rejected by one after another of the psychiatric and psychoanalytic journals to which I sent it, thinking that these were most likely to be willing to print it. The reasons for rejection varied. Some editors objected because I had not kept written records while in the camps, implicitly revealing that they had not believed a word of what I had written about conditions in the camps. Others refused it because the data were not verifiable, or because the findings could not be replicated. A few came right out and said that both what I claimed were facts and my conclusions were most improbable exaggerations. Some added--probably correctly, as judged by my experience when I tried talking about these matters to professional people—that the article would be too unacceptable to their audiences.
Bruno Bettelheim, The Ultimate Limit.
Certainly it was awkward that I was obliged to publish the results of my inquiries without there being any possibility of other specialists testing and checking them, particularly as those results were of a surprising and by no means gratifying character.
Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.

June 14, 1993
3801 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008

Paul G. Yessler, MD
2501 Calvert Street, NW
Suite 101
Washington, DC 20008

RE: Social Security Disability Psychiatric Evaluation

Dear Dr. Yessler:

Enclosed with respect to the above-referenced matter is a collection of letters I wrote and sent (by mail or fax) to my sister after my job termination on October 29, 1991 and before the filing of a disability claim with the Social Security Administration. Most of the letters were in fact written and sent in the year 1992.

I wrote the letters under the influence of my belief that my sister was in communication with my former employer, Akin Gump, and that my sister, upon receipt of the letters, would transmit the letters by fax communication back to managers of Akin Gump.

Both the writing and sending of the letters together with the content of the letters establish the persistence of seemingly paranoid ideation throughout the period beginning October 29, 1991. The letters deal, among other issues, with my concerns regarding harassment by Akin Gump co-workers; harassing (and anti-Semitic) telephone calls I received during 1991 and 1992; my belief that various of my treating psychiatrists were in communication with my former employer; the belief that librarians at the Cleveland Park Public Library (referred to as "the Club") harassed me; my belief that a clerk at a Giant Supermarket in my neighborhood (Adam) harassed me concerning my friendship with Craig Dye; my belief that a specialist at the Brookings Institution (Stephen Hess) was in communication with my former employer; the belief that it was not a mere accident that my former supervisor, Christine Robertson, had me touch her breasts, etc.

Please forward these materials to:

Ms. Fay Peterson
District of Columbia
Rehabilitation Services Administration
Disability Determination Division
P.O. Box 37608
Washington, DC 20013

If you have any questions, you may contact me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx (or leave messages at xxx xxx-xxxx). Might I suggest a follow-up evaluation consult?

You may contact my sister, Mrs. Estelle Jacobson, at (609) 727-3295.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely ,

Gary Freedman

The above cover letter transmitted a document production of approximately 185 pages. The document production is presumably on file at the Social Security Administration. The produced documents were presumably a significant factor in Social Security's disability determination of August 1993.

So people say to me, "What good did all your writing do, what good does your continued writing do -- you're still obsessed with your experiences from 20 years ago?"

Some traumatized people write about their experiences to discharge the lingering distress they feel. But writing doesn't seem to cure the distress. Many Holocaust survivors who became writers eventually killed themselves. In addition to Primo Levi and Paul Celan, Jerzy Kosinski, Jean Améry, Piotr Rawicz and Tadeusz Borowski all took their own lives. Bruno Bettelheim could be added to this list, although he was primarily a psychologist and not a writer. Each of these writers ended their lives without providing a note of explanation. Maintaining a writing life where art and atrocity exist in such close proximity to each other apparently can be toxic.

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