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By Lily Davenport
It may have been April Fool’s Day, but last Wednesday’s component of Sewanee Remembers was certainly no joke. Dr. Dagmar Herzog’s lecture, entitled “ Post-Holocaust Antisemitism and the Psychiatry of Trauma,” explored the aftermath of the Holocaust through the development of posttraumatic stress disorder as both a concept and an official diagnosis. Her visit to campus, sponsored by the History, German, Theatre, Religion, Art, and Art History departments, was one of the central events of Sewanee’s observance of Holocaust Remembrance Week.
Dr. Herzog began her talk by informing those assembled that “the story I’m going to tell you is an upsetting one.” She continued, outlining the deeply entrenched antisemitism that remained rampant in Germany after the end of the Nazi regime, and the flood of who sought monetary compensation for their suffering. Next, Herzog discussed the plight of those survivors who found their claims of psychological damage denied by psychiatrists who did not believe that the symptoms of PTSD stemmed from trauma inflicted during the Holocaust, but from events either in their early childhoods or post-war lives. According to her research, such patients often sought second opinions from more sympathetic doctors in countries such as the U.S. and France; this division sparked a debate over the nature of psychological trauma that stretched over several decades, until increasing evidence of PTSD in the context of the Vietnam War resulted in the illness’ addition to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM) in 1980.
After the lecture, Dr. Herzog gracefully fielded a number of audience members’ questions, giving a particularly lengthy about the role of gender in trauma and treatment. Such questions aside, the response of those in attendance was curious and positive. As Dave Dermon (C’16) commented, “She reminded and informed the audience of the continued persecution against Holocaust survivors during the Cold War; not only was this a good reminder that such deep rooted hatred does not end with the end of a war, but it was also informative of the long term mental damage caused by the Holocaust.”
Perhaps the most striking testament to the power of Dr. Herzog’s words came from audience member Tom Lenda, who identified himself as a survivor of the Terezin concentration camp. He thanked Herzog for her work, jokingly inquired if her revelation of the effects of trauma on Holocaust survivors would mean the end of his marriage. From her position in the neighboring seat, the aforementioned lady only looked up and Dr. Herzog is the author of numerous books and articles on modern European history and the history of sexuality, including Sex After Fascism: Memory and Morality in 20th-Century Germany (2005) and Intimacy and Exclusion: Religious Politics in Pre-Revolutionary Baden (1996). She is a Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.