Selma Leydesdorff

My Parents Were Killed in Sobibor, but it feels as if I was there’
The Concept of Postmemory in Life Story Interviews

From 2008 to 2010, I conducted interviews with the last survivors of Sobibor and with the children who had lost their parents or close relatives, and who testified as witnesses (co-plaintiffs) during the Demjanjuk trial in Munich . The interviews use the life story methodology in oral history. They are explicitly not therapeutic. Using memory as their principal source, the narrator and the historian seek to reconstruct the trajectory of the narrator, who is free to talk about his/her interpretation of the past, frequently skipping episodes and jumping back in time.

The survivors, who were often of advanced age and gave very ‘late’ or ‘last’ interviews, sometimes volunteered unexpected stories or stories they had never told anyone before. But now  I want to focus on the other group, in order to show how even those who have hardly known their parents are unable to escape their parents’ memories, and sometimes ‘know’ or ‘imagine’ that they themselves ‘were’ in Sobibor. This state of mind is what students of memories have named postmemory. What really happened in Sobibor is virtually never been mentioned and I doubt that these interviewees know much about it. In their stories, Sobibor appears as an epiphany of death, a hideous and dark place about which it might be too painful to know too much. Often, the interviews convey the impression that the narrator is lost in time and feels unable to recount his or her life story as a coherent historical narrative.

As oral historians consider imagination and dreams to be integral parts of any interpretation of past life, I want to focus on  the concept of ‘postmemory’ and wonder if this term is adequate to describe the search for a memory of ‘belonging’ and in which  phantasy connections with lost parents are made. That connection could give them an identity as members of their family. But in many cases this goal is not attained. 

Selma Leydesdorff is chair of Oral History and Culture. Her last book was Surviving the Bosnian Genocide, The Women of Srebrenica Speak (Indiana Un Press, 2011, reprinted in 2015). She is editor of many volumes in the series Memory and Narratives. At the moment she works on a biography of Aleksandr Pechersky, the leader of the uprising in Sobibor, in collaboration with Foundation Sobibor and sponsored by several institutions(Jewish Claims Conference and others).

Frans de Waal

Social regulation and dysregulation in primates

The possibility that animals have empathy and sympathy has received little attention due to two factors. One is that evolutionary biology, until recently, emphasized "nature red in tooth and claw" with little room for kindness. The second has been an excessive fear of anthropomorphism and a taboo on the term "emotion" in relation to animals. Both of these influences take little account of actual animal behavior, which would lead one to agree with Darwin that "Many animals certainly sympathize with each other's distress or danger." In my own work with monkeys, apes, and elephants, I have found many cases of one individual coming to another's aid in a fight, putting an arm around a previous victim of attack, or other emotional responses to the distress of others. In fact, the entire communication system of nonhuman primates is emotionally mediated. Here, I will review expressions of empathy in animals, which ranges from a core mechanism of emotional linkage (known as emotional contagion) to higher levels of perspective-taking and targeted helping. This increases the effectiveness of sympathetic support, care, and reassurance. I will also discuss the role of emotion regulation and the sense of fairness in animals, including the Ultimatum Game which we recently played with chimpanzees.

Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social intelligence of primates. His first book, Chimpanzee Politics (1982) compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior. His popular books - translated into many languages - have made him one of the world's most visible primatologists. His latest books are The Age of Empathy (2009, Harmony) and The Bonobo and the Atheist (Norton, 2013).

De Waal is C. H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department of Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Center, in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (US), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was selected by Time as one of The Worlds’ 100 Most Influential People Today, and in 2011 by Discover as among 47 (all time) Great Minds of Science.  

Kathy Steele

Attachment, Dependency and Collaboration in the Psychotherapy of Complex Developmental Trauma Disorders

Therapists often experience a major relational dilemma in working with individuals who have complex developmental trauma disorders. On the one hand, secure attachment is heralded as an essential outcome of successful therapy. Thus, we are taught to develop a relationship on which the patient can depend for predictability and consistent repair. On the other hand, dependency needs are overly intense in trauma survivors, leading to a vicious cycle of need-panic-shame-rage-loss, which can derail therapy. This cycle maintains dissociation and evokes relational crisis. Thus, we are encouraged to prevent patients from becoming “too” dependent on us. How can we reconcile these contradictory approaches? The clinical literature typically likens the therapeutic relationship to that of a parent and child, which is an inherently dependent relationship. There are some shortcomings in using this paradigm alone, especially with trauma patients. First, the differences between dependency and secure attachment are described. Then, a treatment model emphasizing collaboration will be integrated with the traditional concept of the therapeutic relationship. This model is based on an evolutionary need to be understood and to understand others. It is this need to collaborate and share, not the need to be dependent, that leads to competence and healthy attachments.

Kathy Steele, MN, CS is Clinical Director of a low cost psychotherapy and training center, and has been in private practice in the US for over 30 years. Kathy has (co)authored numerous publications on trauma and dissociation, and teaches and consults on a wide range of treatment issues. She is a Past President and Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). Kathy has received a number of awards for her clinical and written works, including the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from ISSTD.

Annemiek van Dijke

Trauma, dissociation, affect dysregulation and the body across the life-span

Somatizing allows us to translate psychological stress into bodily signals of distress or discomfort (channeling). In an interpersonal context, somatizing, that is presenting with somatic complaints, is often meant to alleviate stress and be comforted by a secure other person. However, for persons with early childhood stress and trauma-by-primary-caregiver, being comforted may not be available and high stress remains in the body. The person becomes vulnerable to the development of stress-related diseases such as conversion disorder, Non Epileptic Attack Disorder, chronic pain, dystonia, headaches, etc. Chronic heightened stress also disrupts normal meaning making and cognitive-emotional information processing, resulting in disorientation, desorganization, or dissociation among emotional-, cognitive-, and somatic/bodily information. In fact, alexithymia, often described in patients with somatic symptoms, can be understood as trauma-related dissociation of emotional experience. The self is not only a psychological construct, there is also an embodied self, from which the person may be disconnected in different ways. Results from clinical experiences and research findings will be presented for (complex) PTSD, severe dissociative disorders, BPD, somatoform disorders including conversion disorder, substance use disorder, personality organization, and psychotic-like experiences. Different procedures oriented to improve self-regulation and self-care will be described. Case descriptions and videos will be included.

Annemiek van Dijke, (1969), PhD, clinical psychologist-psychotherapist and clinical neuropsychologist, associate professor with VU University Amsterdam. She is a senior researcher at the Yulius Academy and she is the medical manager of a department for severe somatic symptom disorders, specialized in the treatment of conversion- and non-epileptic attack disorder. Her research area taps dysfunctional self-regulation across several domains of functioning (including but not limited to emotional-, cognitive-, somato-sensori-, executive-, interpersonal functioning and social cognition) that is often related to stress and adverse experiences such as severe neglect or sexual/physical trauma across the lifespan. She is a board member of the European Society for Trauma and Dissociation (ESTD). She is a fellow with the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) and was awarded the Morton Prince Award for Scientific Achievement.

Karl Heinz Brisch

The assessment and treatment of traumatized and dissociated children with attachment disorders

Attachment disorders are a syndrome-like disease that can be seen in statu nascendi already early in infancy between the infant and his or her caretakers. It has a high relevance for the development of later severe psychopathology and is difficult to treat.

After an introduction, the different symptoms and the multiple facets of attachment disorders are presented. For diagnostic reasons I will explain my understanding, how attachment disorders develop out of disorganized attachment with dissociative states and are different in severity and expressed in a more organized or “fixed” early psychopathology of traumatized attachment. Different video-clips and case vignettes demonstrate the clinical approach of evaluation and explain the different pathways from traumatization in the parental representation in respect of the inner working model of attachment to disruptive parent-infant interaction that fragments the growing process of a secure base of infant attachment and negatively influences all areas of further development of the child.

A critical re-evaluation of the current diagnostic criteria in respect to clinical experiences is needed. A broader perspective from typical symptoms to atypical symptoms of different types of attachment disorders could help to capture the multi-faceted picture of attachment disorders. I will discuss a new diagnosis that I call “Attachment Traumatization” that is reflected in disruptive attachment behavior and other forms of early psychopathology. Because of the life-long consequences with negative impact on the child’s development early detection of attachment disorders by diagnostic screening, and early treatment is needed. Our new MOSES® concept of an early intensive in-patient treatment with focus on the traumatization of the child and of the caregivers is discussed to prevent the development of severe psychopathology of the child in later life.

Karl Heinz Brisch M.D., is specialist for child and adolescent psychiatry and psycho-therapy, adult psychiatry and neurologist, specialist in psychotherapeutic medicine, psychoanalysis and group psychoanalysis. He is head of the Department of Pediatric Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich/Germany. He is an associate professor and lecturer at the university and also lecturer at the Psychoanalytic Institute in Stuttgart/Germany. His main research topic is early child development with special impact on attachment processes and disorders. His publications are about attachment development of high-risk infants and clinical attachment research. He wrote a monograph about the application of attachment-oriented psychotherapy in the treatment of attachment disorders.

Brisch, K. H. (2002): Treating attachment disorders. From theory to therapy. 2nd Edition 2012. New York, London (Guilford Press).

Ira Brenner

The Last Witnesses - Learning about Life and Death from Elderly Holocaust Survivors

Massive psychic trauma due to genocidal persecution leaves an indelible imprint upon the psyche. These effects, however, may be variable due to many factors, such as one's age during the onset of the trauma, the nature of the trauma, it's duration, post liberation experiences, etc. While these effects persist throughout one's life, this presentation will focus on the the end of the life cycle, when survivors, like everyone else, are faced with the prospect of infirmity, illness, dependence, loss of loved ones, helplessness, and ultimately death. There may be an emergence, re emergence, intensification, and/or transformation of Holocaust memory and symptoms as the sands of time in the hourglass of life are running out. This phenomenon appears to be on a continuum with the so- called deathbed confession and the doorknob phenomenon at the end of a therapy session. The extent to which Holocaust trauma is integrated as opposed to being walled off through repression or dissociation also influences this "hourglass effect".

Findings will be presented from the clinical situation, a semi-structured interviewing project with child survivors, survivors' testimony, accounts in the literature, and personal relationships.

Dr. Brenner is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia, where he is also Director Emeritus of the Adult Psychotherapy Training Program. He has a special interest in the area of psychological trauma and is the author of over 80 publications, as well as co-editing two special issues of The International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies and writing five books: The Last Witness- The Child Survivor of the Holocaust, co-authored with Judith Kestenberg (1996), Dissociation of Trauma- Theory, Phenomenology, and Technique (2001), Psychic Trauma- Dynamics, Symptoms, and Treatment (2004), and Injured Men-Trauma,Healing, and the Masculine Self (2009), and Dark Matters- Exploring the Realm of Psychic Devastation (2014).

A member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, he has received a number of awards for his work, including the Gratz Research Prize from Jefferson for work on the Holocaust, the Piaget Writing Award for his 2001 book, the Gradiva Award for his 2009 book, the Bruno Lima Award for his work in Disaster Psychiatry, and Practitioner of the Year Award from The Philadelphia Psychiatric Society. He has lectured nationally and internationally, and has a private practice of adult and child analysis, in the greater Philadelphia area.

ESTD Conference 2016 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    • Location

      Beurs van Berlage
      Damrak 243
      1012 ZJ Amsterdam
      The Netherlands


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