The Childhood Origins of the Holocaust
The following speech was given on September 28, 2005 at Klagenfurt University, Austria.
Over thirty years ago, my book The History of Childhood was published, opening with the following words:
In the three decades since then, a dozen books and over a hundred articles in The Journal of Psychohistory have been written by myself and fellow psychohistorians giving overwhelming evidence of the truth of this astonishing view of childrearing evolution. Furthermore, psychohistorians have written hundreds of additional books and articles showing the crucial effects of childrearing evolution on historical personalities — what we term “psychoclasses” — and on history itself, particularly on wars and genocides, which we have found to be caused by this routine child abuse, by the lack of love and care during the early years of life, by the severely fragile selves that are the results of extremely insecure early attachments.
Since I am giving this speech celebrating the release of my book Das emotionale Leben der Nationen in Austria — the home of Adolf Hitler and one of the countries that carried out the Holocaust — I feel I must address the emotional origins of the Holocaust in Austrian and German childrearing in order to understand why it occurred, so as to avoid a world-wide nuclear holocaust in the future. I want to do this because I hope you will be able to agree with me that Germans and Austrians were born innocent — as all humans are — but were made violent racists during their early years by childrearing practices that if I describe them to you I think will allow you to better understand your ancestors. I do this not to “excuse” them but rather to understand the developmental causes of the Holocaust, so genocides and wars can everywhere be eliminated in the future.
I hope you will find that my psychohistorical view of the origins of the Holocaust makes better sense than views like that of Daniel Goldhagen,2 who recently portrayed Germans and Austrians not only accurately as “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” but also as mysteriously containing seemingly inherited antisemitic personalities. I will furthermore show that the great reduction in German and Austrian antisemitism in the past half century is due to the vast improvement in childhood — that is, in the childrearing you in my audience actually experienced. Psychohistory’s main discovery is that war and genocide, like homicide and suicide, is a psychopathic disorder that simply does not occur in the absence of widespread early abuse and neglect, and I hope to show you that Austrian childrearing today has advanced sufficiently so that similar genocides and racist wars have become impossible for Austria in the future.
PSYCHOHISTORICAL MOTIVATIONS FOR WAR AND GENOCIDE
The killing of “Bad Self” enemies is done so that the Punitive Motherland will once again love and care for you once you have purified your sinfulness. The Holocaust was very much a “Victory Through Sacrificial Purification” group-fantasy. As we will soon see, every sinful attribute ascribed to the Jews is a repetition of "sinful" qualities German and Austrian parents routinely ascribed to their own children. The psychodynamics of wars are exactly the same as in the self-destructive behaviors of individuals — like self-cutters, who satisfy the inner voices demanding they suffer for their sins by making token cuts to their arms. The Holocaust was a similar self-destructive sacrifice of a part of the body politic to satisfy the parents' punitive voice in their head. Self-cutting, like genocide, makes people feel alive, reborn. As one self-cutter put it, “I feel really alive again, when I’d been feeling so dead…Now I'M in control of the pain again….The blood drained something bad from me.”5 Similarly, the Jews had to be “cut out” of Germania to “purify” it, to remove its “badness,” which was really the “badness” ascribed to itself as a child, saying it “must have been” the reason for mommy not loving it, for her abandoning it, for her torturing and assaulting it.
Racist nationalism is not “love” of your nation. It is worship of your Motherland, clinging to Her to get some attention — since she doesn’t love you when you are so independent — and you feel abandoned. And nationalist leaders like Hitler are not “loved” either; they are feared, clung to and followed blindly, because they are delegates of the Motherland and whose task it is to designate the “Bad Selves” (symbolically bad children) which have to be sacrificed — both externally in wars and internally in scapegoats. The recurring paranoid feeling of Germany and Austria that they are constantly being “encircled” by enemies is simply the dominating parent stopping them as children from having any freedom, saying, “You’re just being selfish! Do what I say or you’ll be sorry!” It isn’t just that your grandparents were brought up in what Adorno called “authoritarian” families.6 They were brought up by needy parents, who could not allow their children to be free or individuate at all, because the mother was severely depressed and overworked and angry, not helped in her tasks by her husband and needing her child as an extension of herself to diminish her despair. If there is one thing that has been thoroughly documented by the studies of childhood and personality it is that abusive childhoods are correlated with a later preference for military solutions and state violence in resolving social conflicts.7 Children brought up with love and respect simply do not scapegoat, either internally by designating Jews as enemies or externally by starting wars. The true cause of the Cold War wasn't the political fears of America being devoured by the Russian bear — it was real fears of devouring beasts (i.e., our caretakers) we had at age three. Those who did not have these early nightmares of devouring beasts had no need to spend a trillion dollars and kill a million people re-enacting their early fears.
Furthermore, wars are always self-destructive to those starting them. They are, in fact, prosperity-reducing rituals. Studies that carefully analyze the costs of conquest convincingly show that those who start wars rarely win them, and that invaders rarely gain anything even when they win a war, because if you determine the true long-term costs of wars — including the deferred costs of war borrowing and the costs of diverting resources for long periods of time to enforcing your coercion, plus the costs of provoking other nations who fear your further violence — one must conclude that the act of going to war is always irrational, always self-destructive for the nation as a whole.8 That is why nations in the past half century who have achieved more advanced childrearing so they are able to sustain democracies with true civil rights have actually had less wars — in fact, none against other democracies.9 In fact, childrearing evolution has been rapid enough in the past generation that the amount of organized violence around the world has halved in the past 15 years.10
There is one exception to the conclusion that democracies have less wars. It is a result of the concept outlined earlier that social violence is mainly caused by fears of losing the mommy’s love and approval because you try to exercise your freedom and individuation (the psychohistorical term for this fear of freedom is “growth panic”).11 Psychoanalysts often term this “abandonment depression,”12 and demonstrate that people who have abusive or neglectful childrearing fear all progress, all success, all freedoms and new challenges, and react with annihilation anxiety, fears that the fragile self is disintegrating, and by displacing their rage against “bad self” enemies. This is why wars are found far more frequently after periods of prosperity and social progress — wars after prosperity being 6 to 20 times bigger than those during depressions13 — plus no great-power war in the past two centuries was started during a depression.14 So the cycle of war historically begins with progress which leads to growth panic, fears of loss of maternal support, fusion with Motherland and finally war against all the “Bad Self” enemies of the Motherland.
But careful empirical studies of wars have also shown that the nations that are among the most prone to war are those that are in transition to democracy.15 This makes sense in terms of our “growth panic” model of war: democratizing nations are more belligerent because only a small portion of their populace are more advanced childrearing modes (psychoclasses). These more evolved psychoclasses — like liberals in Germany and Austria before the two World Wars — produce an explosion in industrialization and new social and political freedoms. But the less evolved psychoclasses — who were still in the majority — felt the new successes and freedoms were “selfish” and feared the loss of approval of the internal voice of their Killer Parent alter, and so had to oppose modernization and democratization . . . then fuse with the Killer Motherland and find “enemies” to punish. That is why genocidal wars have been specialties of fast-changing democratizing states which are “leaping into modernity.” As Michael Mann puts it in his book The Dark Side of Democracy, “murderous cleansing has been moving across the world as it has modernized.16 Even the United States carried out a genocide of American Indians while they were democratizing, following Thomas Jefferson’s directive claiming they “justified extermination.”17 Once these periods of democratizing wars are passed and the majority of the nation is able to achieve what I term “socializing mode” childrearing,18 mature democracies have in fact never gone to war with each other.19
First of all, parents openly expressed their resentment against girls when they were born, and uniformly neglected them. When a girl was born, fathers were often reported to “fling it on to the bed by the mother so violently that he might have broken its spine.” 20 The result was that newborn girls were far more often killed than boys in central European areas, which resulted in some of the highest boy/girl sex ratios in Europe, with mothers without guilt “giving birth to their babies in the privy and treating the birth as an evacuation…Some of the women killed their children in a very crude way, by smashing their heads.” 21 Thus children growing up would usually witness either their mothers strangling about forty percent of their new siblings or at least would see dead babies everywhere in latrines and streams, giving real content to their feeling that they too had better not be “bad” or their Killer Parent might kill them too. An alternative for wealthier families (who actually killed more of their girls than poorer families) was to send them to “killing wetnurses” called Engelmacherin, “angelmakers,” who were paid to kill off the children sent to them.22
Breast-feeding of infants was so infrequent that infant mortality rates in Germany ranged from 21 percent in Prussia to an astonishing 58 percent in Bavaria during the 19th century, the higher figures in the south being due to the routine practice of not breast-feeding at all, since hand-fed babies only fed flour and water “pap” died at a rate three times that of breast-fed babies.23 Thus German and Austrian infant mortality half again higher than France and England, with Vienna having one of the highest infant abandonment rates in Europe, half of their newborn babies being abandoned by their mothers at the end of the 19th century.24 Visitors to German homes from abroad reported, “It is extremely rare for a German lady to nourish her own child.” 25 Breastfeeding was less practiced the further south one went. One mother, who had moved from northern Germany where nursing was more common, was called “swinish and filthy” by local Bavarian women for trying to nurse her newborn, and her husband threatened “he would not eat if she did not give up her disgusting habit.” 26 Ende reports that “one rarely encounters a German infant who is fully breast-fed. Everywhere they got their mouths stuffed with Zulp, a small linen bag filed with bread and often alcohol,27the mothers saying they “didn’t want to ruin their figures” and breast-feeding was “too messy.” 28 Outsiders often noted that Central European mothers “paid less attention to their children than cows.” 29
Children began their history of abuse early, in fact during fetal life, since mothers usually consumed alcohol daily and since fathers routinely battered their pregnant spouses. Upon birth, as Mayhew described the practice in Germany at the end of the 19th century, “the wretched new-born little thing has been wound up in…ells of bandages, from the feet right, and tight, up to the neck; as if it were intended to be embalmed as a mummy.” Since these bandages were rarely changed, the infant was left in its own feces and urine, with the result, says Mayhew, that “babies are loathesome, foetid things…offensive to the last degree with their excreta [and] the heads of the poor things are never washed, and are like the rind of Stilton cheese, with dirt encrusted upon their skull.” 30 The mothers were so frightened of their babies that they not only tied them up but often strapped them into a crib in a room with curtains drawn to keep out “lurking evils.” 31 The results were that the infants were covered with lice and other vermin attracted to their feces, but they could not move to drive them away as infants who were not swaddled might do. The parents routinely called them “lice,” and “useless eaters” 32 because they didn’t contribute to the family’s work until they were older, resenting their children so much that they often recalled “Rarely could we eat a piece of bread without hearing father’s comment that we did not merit it” because they did not earn their living.
The fear that the infant would become a “tyrant” over the mother was so common that any child’s crying was “exclusively described as ‘screaming’ [and the mother told to] remain hard and relentless” toward her baby and never to talk to or hold it in her lap so that “after a few nights, the child will understand that its screaming will have no effect and is quiet.” 33 (Even rats who are tied up and never handled in their early years grow up vicious.)34 Since “the small child has a notorious smell,” mothers often put them, swaddled, in a bag, which they hung on the wall or on a tree, while the mothers did other things.35 Since the pedophobia of the mothers continued after their infants were out of swaddling clothes, there were many other restraint devices available to assure that the child would not be a demanding “tyrant,” such as tight corsets with steel backboards and steel collars, long straps around the body to restrain the child,36 anti-masturbation cages, etc. Painful enemas were routinely applied in daily rituals that were actually sexual assaults on the anus, beginning around six months of age, before sphincter control is available to the infant,37 with the mother or nurse sometimes tying the child up in leather straps and inserting the two-foot-long enema tube over and over again as punishment for its “accidents.” 38 Many cities had special enema stores that German children were routinely taken to in order to be “fitted” for their proper enema size. German preoccupation with feces was so widespread that Alan Dundes wrote an entire book about it (Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder…short and shitty).39
Since the child’s “real” nature was considered sinful, their free will had to be broken, and beating was the main way to accomplish this. Psychohistorian Aurel Ende’s extensive analysis of German autobiographies was entitled simply “Battering and Neglect” because, as he put it, there was “no bright side” to report about the universal German practice of beating children into obedience.40 Beating, said one German doctor, must begin early, even in infancy, and “consistently repeated until the child calms down or falls asleep…[for then] one is master of the child forever. From now on a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture, is sufficient to rule the child.” 41 German parents were often described as being in a “righteous rage” during the beatings while they “hammered obedience” into them, and the children often lost consciousness. Schools were beating factories: “At school we were beaten until our skin smoked.” 42 Hitler's father routinely battered him into unconsciousness. 43 Children regularly had to be dragged violently to school screaming, they were so afraid of the daily batterings that were inflicted there, and childhood suicides were frequent in reaction to beatings or such practices as “cold water bathing” that was often practiced to “harden” them.44 Childhood suicides in Germany were over three times higher than in other European countries.45
Other punishment methods supplemented the beatings. Children were placed on red-hot iron stoves, tied to bed-posts all night long, feces were forced into their mouths after “accidents,” and so on. Germans admitted that Kinderfeindlichkeit (rage toward children) was a common trait.46 Children were often frightened not only by being told that ghosts or other horrible monsters would carry them away if they were not obedient, but also by parents who “dressed up in terrifying costumes [as] the so-called Knecht Ruprecht, made their faces black, and pretended to be a messenger of God who would punish children for their sins.” 47 Petschauer tells of being threatened by a “hairy monster [that] chased me under the living room table, chains clanking, hoofs stomping, appearing it wanted to drag me off in its carrying basket, the Korb.” 48 Such frightening obedience rituals were especially common in Germany and Austria; studies of autobiographies at the end of the 19th century “suggest the brutal contrast between the experiences of Central European working-class children in the late nineteenth century and the dominant ideals defining childhood in other nations.” 49
Visitors to German homes at the time found that “one feels sorry for these little German children; they must work so hard and seem to lack that exuberance of life, spirits, and childish glee that makes American children harder to train but leave them the memory of a happy childhood.” 50 In order not to remain “useless eaters,” Central European children were often soon sent to other homes to work, as servants or apprentices, “to be drilled for hard work,” “to keep them from idleness,” to avoid being “useless mouths to feed,” or just to get rid of them.51 The first-born was often given away to relatives; others to anyone who would take them. When their parents came to take them home, the children usually didn’t recognize them any more. Apprentices and servants were not only routinely beaten but also sexually abused, the boys as well as the girls; in fact, sexual abuse in schools was rampant, by teachers and older students. There were even so-called “free schools” known for routine sexual use of young boys by teachers.52 Later childhood obviously brought no relief to the standard abuse of German and Austrian children.
AUSTRIAN/GERMAN CHILDREARING AND WORLD WAR I
But even though the “leap into progress” before World War I might have caused the growth panic that led to fusion with the Motherland and violence abroad, why wasn’t there a Holocaust then? Childhood had been no better for those who fought WWI than for those who fought in WWII and carried out the Holocaust. What historical situation produced an even more explosive emotional condition between the wars?
THE HOLOCAUST AS A PHOBIC GROUP-FANTASY
Even before Jews were designated to be the main scapegoats that were declared impure and diseased, the Weimar period spawned powerful racial hygiene movements that feared pollution by others. Doctors spontaneously began arguing for euthanasia of “the unfit who were a burden on the fit,” people who were “useless eaters” — a term all children were familiar with from their parents’ accusations against them.65 These “lice” were thought to be responsible for spreading typhus, syphilis and other infectious diseases, and it was said to be a major problem in sanitation management (called “house-cleaning”) to get rid of the “filthy lice” polluting the national blood. Symbolic lice-covered shit-babies were seen as the cause of all kinds of disease. Blood surveys were taken of hundreds of thousands of children in Germany and Austria to analyze their blood purity.66 Many thousands of helpless sick children were not fed and were allowed to starve to death,67 repeating the routine near-starvation they themselves experienced as infants in swaddling bands. Questionnaires given in the 1920s to parents of children in state homes asking if they might allow them to be killed were returned with 73 percent saying yes.68 That these children were undesirable “bad babies” was obvious, for long before the Holocaust began, doctors set up medical committees “to exterminate ‘undesirable’ children [who were] late in being toilet trained or had used ‘dirty words.’” 69 Over 70,000 of these “useless eaters” were exterminated in the first gas chambers and crematorium ovens between 1939 and 1941, before any Jews had been sent to gas chambers, the doctors terming the murders “disinfections,” “cleansing” and “therapy.” 70 Many of these parents actually wrote officials requesting their children be put to death.71
The more growth panic Germany and Austria felt from what Erich Fromm termed their “fear of freedom,” 72 the more the phobic group-fantasy expanded. Because as infants they had feared the ubiquitous real lice within their swaddling bandages, poisonous political lice seemed to be everywhere throughout Europe, attempting to “Bolshevize” everyone with their impurities. Jews eventually became the central scapegoats, called “filthy lice” who had “attempted to infect the pure German blood” 73and who had to be exterminated to “cleanse the German bloodstream.” Jews were termed “excrement…filth…epidemic-causing bacilli,” “eternal bloodsuckers,” “maggots in a rotting corpse,” “germ carriers” and “bacteria that brought about infection,” and were rounded up and put into concentration camps, telling them, “You’ll be eaten by lice, you’ll rot in your own shit,” and “because you’re dirty you have to die,” as German and Austrian babies feared they might during infancy.74 Germany voted for a leader, Hitler (who often referred to himself as a “Scheisskerl” [shithead]), who worried about and examined his feces often and took frequent enemas, who was clinically phobic, having his own blood regularly sucked by leeches to get rid of its “poison,” which he thought might have given him syphillis,75 who gave speeches full of references to blood poisoning and of Jews sucking people’s blood out, and who eventually ordered the extermination of the “world blood-poisoners” in the worst genocide ever experienced by mankind.
Since Jewish mothers almost always breast-fed their babies and since Jewish children were far less authoritarian than their neighbors,76 Jews were far more liberal as a group than the rest of Germany; for instance, Jews comprised the majority of Viennese Social Democrats. They had to be exterminated to purify the nation; as Goebbels put it, “The Jews are like the lice of civilized mankind. Somehow they must be exterminated, or they will invariably resume their tormentive and molesting role,” 77 fearing that Germans were “about to perish of the Jewish disease.” Himmler expressed the childhood source of the Holocaust similarly: “Antisemitism is exactly like delousing. The removal of lice is not an ideological question, but a matter of hygiene.” 78 Racial edicts repeated the phobic group-fantasy: “It is commonly known that typhus and other infectious diseases are spread by the Jewish population,” and the elimination of Jews was begun by a medical and health official, Dr. Kroll, termed a Sanitaetsoberfuehrer [sanitation leader.] Jews, said Hitler, were “parasites on the body of other peoples” and must be exterminated.79 Nazi Germany had to become “like Pasteur,” he said, eliminating the “bacillus that was the cause of innumerable diseases.” 80
The first thing done to the Jews rounded up was to make them into “shit-babies,” putting them into ghettos so overcrowded that lice and typhus were widespread. Exhibits equating Jews with typhus and lice were set up; Jews were called poisonous, “primary carriers of lice;” a little boy at the exhibit was heard screaming and pointing to the lice in the exhibit case, saying “Jewish army, Jewish army!” 81 Jews were then put into death camps and told, “You’ll be eaten by lice, you’ll rot in your own shit…All are going to die.” 82 The doctors in charge of Auschwitz called it anus mundi (anus of the world), recalling the routine enemas given in childhood.83 Since Jews were termed “excrement…filth…epidemic-causing bacilli,” they deserved to be exterminated to purify the national body. Hitler regularly called Jews “bacilli, germs, vermin, and pests” and proclaimed that “by exterminating the pest, we shall do humanity a service.” 84 The company that provided the chemicals used in the gas chambers was the German Fumigation Company and the gas that exterminated them was Zyklon B, routinely used to exterminate insects. Even the killing of Gypsies was spoken of as “eliminating the Gypsy plague.” 85 Only “clean, purified Germans and Austrians” would be left, and Germania would love, not hate, them.
Because early traumas are imprinted indelibly in the early fear system — the amygdalan “psychotic core” of the brain — every detail of traumatic German and Austrian childrearing was restaged during the Holocaust. As Jews were locked into the concentration camps, they were told: “This is a death camp….You’ll be eaten by lice; you’ll rot in your own shit, you filthy shitface.” 86 As Germans and Austrians enduring their own filthy swaddling bands as infants, Jews were also made to live in their own filth, forced to lie in barracks “awash with urine and feces,” forced to eat their own feces, and finally died in showers “covered all over with their excrement.” 87 German toilet training was even restaged in precise detail, such as by having the ghetto latrine supervised by a “guard with a big clock, whom the Germans dressed as a rabbi and called the ‘shit-master.’” 88 Jews on the way to concentration camps were tightly crammed into cattle cars, in the dark, having to defecate and urinate on themselves just like they were as infants. The cattle car trips and the endless “death marches” of Jews restaged the endless movement from family to family of turn-of-century German and Austrian children. Even the beating of Jews would often restage the hallowed German practice of insisting that the child not cry out — so the parent wouldn’t feel guilty — with Jews in camps being rewarded with some food if they didn’t cry out while being beaten by their guards.89 Every abusive practice of childrearing at the turn of the century that was imprinted in their early fear network, their “psychotic core,” was released like a time bomb. The Judenfrage was transparently a Kinderfrage restaged.
The same was true of fighting what Hitler called “the lice-ridden migration from the East” during WWII. Hitler's demand for more Lebensraum and "more land for our nourishment" was really a complaint about being swaddled with not enough Lebensraum and not enough nourishment. The war — like so many wars — was really a paranoid phobia, fed by fears of poisonous infections from abroad, reacting not to the so-called “stab in the back” of the Versailles Treaty (“The Treaty of Shame”), but to the even more shameful “stab in the back” of the torturous enema of childhood. Fused with Germania, Hitler could gain the omnipotent power of his own mother (whose staring eyes, he said, reminded him of the death-dealing eyes of Medusa, whose picture he kept above his desk). Identifying with his mother’s punitive eyes explains Hitler’s practice of rehearsing in front of a mirror his own death-dealing stare that he believed was, like his mother’s, all-powerful. He only became a politician after experiencing a delusion that Mother Mary had told him to do so. Fused with this Killer Motherland power, Hitler and other Germans and Austrians tried to gain the Lebensraum (room to live) that all the tying up in swaddling bands and corsets and parental blows so badly denied them. Thus the SA could claim that “the German warrior always carried with him the spirit of his loving mother, and her eyes shone on him even in death.” 90
Killing German Jews meant, of course, that they would not contribute to the winning of the war for Germany. That starting a war against nations whose combined power was far superior to that of Germany and Austria was suicidal was obvious to anyone not caught up in the war trance. Early on, the slogan of the Hitler Youth was “We were born to die for Germany,” and Hitler promised that “ten million German youth would experience sacrificial deaths” under his leadership.91 He often considered suicide himself, saying “Germans do not deserve to live” at the end of the war, and finally issuing orders to destroy Germany as he killed himself. Ultimately, shit-babies deserve death — no more, but also no less, since even in death they fantasied that they were returning to the bosom of their mothers, to their Motherland.
THE EVOLUTION OF CHILDREARING IN THE PAST HALF CENTURY
I would like to end my presentation with a challenge to all of you in this room. No one has yet researched the question of why and how childrearing has changed since your grandparents were all routinely being abused by their parents and how this has led to a less violent, more humane Austrian society. The reason no one researches this pivotal change is because no one yet recognizes the childrearing source of genocide, of wars, of all social violence. I have read over 300 books on the causes of war and genocide, and found that though they researched all kinds of economic, political and social elements of perpetrators, not one looked at childrearing. I give speeches like this one all the time in colleges, and the reception is always the same: “Aw, deMause, come on — that’s too simplistic! Just love your children and you’ll eliminate wars? You expect me to believe this?” Yes, I do, I always answer.
Therefore, I would like to ask those of you in this room to help me research the spectacular change in childrearing that has been achieved by your grandparents and parents which has been responsible for nearly eliminating violent racism from Austria. Go to them, and ask them what their childhood was like: when swaddling and routine beating and torture began to disappear, when love and approval of independence appeared, and what effect this had on their personality. In short, since all of us are only empathic, caring human beings to the extent that we have had a couple of generations of wonderful loving mothers and even attentive loving fathers standing behind us, I ask you to research how you are able to be who you are today. Write a paper on what you find from your history of childrearing study and send it to me. I’ll publish the best ones in The Journal of Psychohistory. Only by doing so will the world learn the childhood sources of the miracle that has occurred in Central Europe, a miracle based upon the simplest of human capacities: the ability to give love to your child.