GHDI logo

A Psychological Critique of the Refusal to Accept the Loss of the World War II (1967)

Exasperated by the illusionary demand of West German politicians to regain the Eastern territories lost in the Second World War, the psychiatrists Alexander and Margarethe Mitscherlich published a spirited indictment of Germans’ widespread inability to accept the consequences of defeat.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 2

The Inability to Mourn

[ . . . ]

The war was lost: yet though the mountains of rubble it left behind were enormous, there is no denying that Germans did not allow this fact to penetrate their consciousness fully. Later, with the revival of German political influence and economic strength, a fantasy about the past sprang up. Put somewhat crudely, it could be said that if we in Germany were to deny the events of the Third Reich, their consequences need not be acknowledged. Instead, Germany tried to compel the victors, on the basis of the victors' own moral and political standards, to deal with the consequences of Nazi crimes as if the whole thing had been a relatively inconsequential military conflict. This interpretation of world events entitled Germans, of course, to their own "just claims"; for instance, to the lost territories beyond the Oder-Neisse line.

True, insistence on these fantasies did not bring Germany one step further in political reality; instead, the gulf between the two German states was unnecessarily widened. Nevertheless, Germans insisted on the notion of a legitimate claim that should be recognized in a peace treaty. Of course, no such a treaty has ever been envisioned. Indeed, in the history of humanity, the rule has usually been that those who aim at the complete annihilation of their enemies must reckon with similar consequences in the event of defeat; and it is easy to imagine how a victorious Nazi state would have dealt with the nations of Eastern Europe. But, even after all that has happened, Germans continue to make "legitimate" claims; claims that they would never have recognized had they themselves proved the stronger. During the nearly thirty years that have passed since the end of World War II, and particularly since Stalin's death, the consolidation of the Soviet Union as a world power has become an accomplished fact. Yet, until recently, we in Germany persisted in the expectation that a peace treaty would somehow return to us "territories temporarily under foreign administration"; i.e., a restitutio ad integrum.

Obviously, the Third Reich and Hitler's war were nothing but a dream!

The fact that the German attitude was based on an illusion does not justify the accusation that Germans are pursuing "revanchism": their policies had neither the power to influence world events nor to induce anyone else to join them in an attempt to regain their lost Eastern territories by force of arms. Such a notion may perhaps have been taken seriously here and there when the cold war was at its height. But, since Sputnik, any such hopes have faded. German policy was not "revanchist." It was illusory – though no less dangerous for that. Neither Germany's various governments nor its political parties, nor any of the other groups influential in its public life, have yet succeeded in impressing upon German minds a simple, straightforward, chain of events: Germany invaded the Soviet Union, inflicted endless suffering upon that country, and then lost the war. This in turn led to a shift of world political power zones, though admittedly this shift lacks the formal sanction of international law. After the unconditional surrender in 1945, Germans should have adjusted themselves realistically to the political fact that the winner – who had won only at the cost of enormous sacrifices – would make such terms as he believed to be in his own interest. It was obvious from the outset that Russia, whether Bolshevik or Tsarist, upon winning a war would make territorial demands and vigorously seek to expand its sphere of influence. When Germany invaded Russia it accepted this calculated risk; yet Germans remain incapable of acknowledging that Russian demands were a logical consequence of the war. They behave as if the whole conflict had been some insignificant skirmish, and not an ideological crusade.

first page < previous   |   next > last page