Judith Miller Ph.D. – Prejudicial Beliefs Can Easily be Transferred from Generation to Generation
Can we Humans Learn How to Transcend These Beliefs? Part 1
Judith Miller Ph.D., an American Jew, a developmental psychologist and professor, has traveled to Germany several times a year for the last 14 years. On these trips, she conducts workshops and retreats together with a German psychologist, Dr. Ingo Jahrsetz. Their work is intended to help the children and grandchildren of Germans who carried out the Holocaust to deal with their extreme guilt and shame. The participants all spend time and money to try and deal with their guilt. Probably in all these years, she has worked with almost 1000 of these descendants.
These five-day psycho-emotional-spiritual retreats provide space where participants can access their deep unconscious thoughts and feelings. Sometimes through powerful meditations they open to expanded states of consciousness where they feel like they are someone other than who they really are. For example, many German participants have had meditative experiences where they suffer as Jews in Auschwitz. Sometimes American Jews have joined these retreats and had their own meditative experiences where they imagined themselves as the Nazi perpetrators.
During the times participants are engaged in their own inner explorations, they are encouraged to speak German, so they can be fully authentic. Translators are always present to assist Judith in working closely with them. During these workshops, participants have revealed many things to her.
One day in a workshop consisting primarily of mental health professionals and psychotherapists, Judith sat down next to a psychologist in his 50’s. The man immediately leaped out of his chair in reaction to her sitting down. When Judith asked him why, he shamefacedly said, he never came that close to a Jew before. And then he apologized and cried. Then there was the blond, blue eyed young woman who upon sitting in the circle of 20 some participants the first day of the retreat, told the whole group that she felt uncomfortable because she felt evil energies coming from Judith. Today, 4 years later, this young woman and Judith have a close and trusting relationship. During these workshops participants have told how their parents and grandparents justified their actions and what they were thinking when they murdered Jews and other victims. What this work has also revealed is how the prejudices and hatred of Jews by these murderers were transferred to their descendants.
Can we Humans Learn How to Transcend These Beliefs? Part 2
During the retreats, participants lie down on mattresses, and breathe deeply with closed eyes to powerful music for three hours at a time. This method, referred to as Transpersonal Breathwork, facilitates an expansion of consciousness where one’s inner world becomes experienced and expressed. Once in the middle of the Breathwork, a German woman suddenly jumped up to her feet, and started yelling “Heil Hitler,” screaming words out in German, and marching in place. When Judith asked the translator what exactly was being said, the hesitant red-faced woman told her “I’m so sorry Judith, but she says that she is stomping on Jewish bones.”
Judith was shocked and devastated. She felt she could no longer do this work. When she discovered later that this woman had been taken into the Hitler youth at a very tender age, she then understood the long-term effects of such brainwashing on young minds and souls.
Throughout the years of conducting these workshops in Germany, Judith has partnered with the same German psychologist who runs these workshops with her. Ingo Jahrsetz was a war child. When his father fought in WW 2, he as an infant and his mother lived together in an unheated box car as the bombs came reigning down on their heads. He tells that only 1% of German babies in their village remained alive during this time. He was born to fire and catastrophe. His life has been spent trying to understand how such a thing could have happened. As an adolescent, he fought with his parents constantly. Where were they, he implored, when the Jews were being destroyed. Why didn’t they do something, speak up, acknowledge what was going on? Ingo and his parents never came to a peaceful resolution around these questions.
Ingo tells Judith the story of how as a young child he remembers being scolded by his mother when he and his sister were acting too wild in the house. He told how his mother would lean over the banister and yell down “stop acting like Jews.” Little comments like this to a young child are how prejudicial beliefs can be implanted in a young mind.
And then there was the time that Judith hurt her foot on a silent meditation walk in the Black Forest with the group participants. When she came back to the Retreat house, her foot was throbbing, swollen and red. Tentatively and shyly, a German woman participant told Judith she was a physical therapist. “May I help your foot,” she asked. I have remedies with me that can help. As she gently and tenderly massaged Judith’s foot, tears poured from her eyes. “I am so grateful,” she sobbed, that I can do something, anything, for you Judith who is Jewish. Thank you, thank you, she said.
–Prejudicial Beliefs Can Easily be transferred From Generation to Generation; The big question is “Can we humans learn how to transcend these beliefs?”
Dr. Miller shares these and other insights in A Journey into the Holocaust.