The Israeli Mind: How the Israeli National Character Shapes Our World

Alon Gratch writes in this 2015 book:

In one version, the victim continues to reexperience the traumatic event in nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, the startle response, and so on, while in the other, he numbs himself to any feelings and withdraws from people in order to avoid being emotionally triggered and overwhelmed. In therapy, the goal is to integrate these two syndromes, helping one patient to contain the anxiety and move away from the trauma, and the other, to confront the trauma and let in some anxiety. Many individuals with PTSD are somewhere in between the two extremes, vacillating from one to the other in an effort to find a resting place.
Ka-Tzetnik had, it appears, struggled mightily to integrate these two positions. We know that after years of suffering silently through his nightmares, his wife finally pleaded with him to seek help. He refused for a long time, explaining that nobody, not even those who had been to Auschwitz, could ever understand him. When his wife heard about a new form of treatment, developed by Dutch physician Jan Bastiaans, at the Center for War Injuries in Leiden, Holland, she again begged Ka-Tzetnik to try it. At last he gave in. He was just about sixty when he arrived in Holland for what he knew was a highly controversial treatment. Bastiaans’s therapy rested on the reasonable-enough assumption that in becoming introverted many survivors created an internal concentration concentration camp, walling themselves off from the healing touch of other people. The more questionable element in his approach was his use of LSD to break down these defenses. Unlike drugs with soothing or numbing effects, LSD tends to sharpen perceptions. It usually precipitates powerful flashbacks from significant events in the past. Bastiaans injected his patients with several rounds of LSD, recorded or videotaped their reactions, and then analyzed them. The idea was to force the patient to reexperience and confront his trauma directly, under supportive medical supervision. Bastiaans received permission to administer his treatment in the 1960s only after several Dutch Holocaust survivors sent a petition to the queen.
During his LSD-induced trances, Ka-Tzetnik experienced the most horrific hallucinations. He saw his mother standing naked with other women on line to the crematorium and then going up in smoke. He saw his sister among the camp prostitutes. He saw a friend from the barracks being beaten to death on his naked buttocks. He saw starving prisoners attacking one of their own after his face was covered with jelly by the guards. Within seconds, a thousand prisoners were licking and biting each other, and when it was all over, Ka-Tzetnik saw the bloody, eaten-away corpse of a friend, surrounded by laughing German guards. And he saw an SS soldier murdering a boy whom he had sexually abused. The soldier then grilled the boy’s body on a skewer and ate it piece by piece.
During a break between trances, Ka-Tzetnik was able for the first time in his life to expose the number on his arm—to a group of German tourists when he was taking a walk on the beach. He later wrote that when one of these tourists, who had strange, elaborate tattoos on his chest and arms, approached Ka-Tzetnik on the beach to examine his simple and therefore more unique tattoo, Ka-Tzetnik suddenly panicked. “A crazed beast was awakening inside me, ready to plunge its fangs into the throat of this creature standing over me. I jumped to my feet, shouting curses, and ran.” 3
In a subsequent trance, Ka-Tzetnik saw himself in an SS uniform, wearing a hat with the skull insignia. He then came to what he considered the major discovery of his treatment: Auschwitz was man-made, and in different circumstances he himself could have been the Nazi murderer, and the Germans, his victims. This insight triggered a horrible sense of guilt and a desperate plea to God: “O Lord, merciful and compassionate Lord, am I the one, the one who created Auschwitz?” 4 This new awareness also apparently cured Ka-Tzetnik of his nightmares—strangely, though logically, by creating a new problem for him. While letting go of his nighttime dreams about the past, he now developed daytime fears about the future. If the Holocaust was indeed man-made, what could man do now when he had the atom bomb at his disposal? He thus began to have tormenting visions about a nuclear holocaust. “Wherever there is humankind, there is Auschwitz,” he later explained. 5 He had gone to Holland demanding an explanation for Auschwitz of the night, he wrote, but where might he go now for an explanation of Auschwitz of the day?
Whatever one makes of this type of treatment, in broad conceptual terms it bears some similarity to contemporary psychoanalytic therapy. Both seek not to eliminate symptoms but rather to replace them with more authentic sufferings, which is what Ka-Tzetnik’s outcome appears to have been. Indeed, as part of the horrific realization that under certain circumstances he, too, could have been a Nazi, Ka-Tzetnik came to see that Auschwitz was not another planet after all. It was very much man’s creation and should therefore not be walled off or delegated to dreams and other works of fiction. It had to be—it was—part of everyday reality. Thus, Ka-Tzetnik and De-Nur were one and the same, not of two different worlds, and with this resolution Ka-Tzetnik terminated his therapy. Dramatically, Ka-Tzetnik’s LSD-induced hallucinations allowed him to leave the “other planet” behind, in Holland, or more accurately, to bring it back into his reality in Israel. He continued to struggle with integrating the two, and it was ten years before he was able to write the story of his treatment, which further reinforced this integrative process.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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