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Relief From Nightmares of the Gestapo

Famous psychoanalyst breaks the cycle of one woman’s memories of the Nazis

Batya Ungar-Sargon
January 10, 2014

French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, one of Freud’s most ardent and creative disciples, believed, like Freud, that words—not just their meanings but their very sounds—held the key to deep psychoanalytic structures.

In the following clip from the 2011 film, Rendez Vous Chez Lacan, Suzanne Hommel recalls a moment from 1974 during her psychoanalysis sessions with Lacan, when the psychoanalyst used the sounds of two similar-sounding words to reclaim an unpleasant memory from Hommel’s youth: when the Gestapo would round up the Jews at 5 a.m.

Stroking a patient’s cheek would surely be grounds for a lawsuit today, and yet Hommel seems to have drawn great comfort from the gesture. Is the clip proof of the eminent psychoanalyst’s virtuosity, or proof of the Svengali-like power he held over his patients (a rumored 100 of whom committed suicide upon hearing of his death)?

Batya Ungar-Sargon is a freelance writer who lives in New York. Her Twitter feed is @bungarsargon.