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Alexandre Gilbert

Surviving Genocides, and Aftershocks of the Vestigial Unconscious

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
Jean-Jacques Moscovitz (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)

Jean-Jacques Moscowitz is a french psychoanalyst. 

Are you from a family that survived the Holocaust?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: I was born in 1939; I have memories of fleeing through the woods, changing cities, using false papers that my parents used to get out of there, always with fear in their hearts.

In which region were you located?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: We were in Nice, before the Italians left, where Alois Brunner, a “roundup freak”, organized the most terrible one in Europe because many people were hiding there. The families of Serge Klarsfeld and Simone Weil were there, as well as mine with my grandparents. It was dramatic. My father was a cunning warrior. He understood. He didn’t wear the star. So, we headed north to Nancy, crossed the non-existent demarcation line. We threw ourselves into the lion’s den. We got through like that, but at the same time with fear.

Wasn’t the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup the most significant since that of the Templars?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: Indeed, but many Jews had taken refuge in Nice because the Italians didn’t bother the Jews; they weren’t particularly Nazis, so they were there when they left Nice, and a thousand Jews were taken. What happened to them, we don’t know for sure, but I think they escaped. It wasn’t too savage. Later, the Germans demanded things from the Italians, but I remember the Italian soldiers in Nice very well. So, we left by train from Nice with a plan my father had made with the help of communists and the “FFI” of the time. We were supposed to stick with a nun, actually a communist woman whose name I can’t remember. So, I ended up with my sister; my younger brother hadn’t been born yet, at the end of 1944. We were supposed to be near this woman. Of course, I didn’t want to. So, in the end, my mother held my hand, I held hers, and fortunately, there were false papers to show.

When it was time to board the train, there was no space. My mother, a beautiful blonde with blue eyes, was with her three children and that famous communist nurse disguised as a nun. It was the best way to get through. A German made everyone get off the wagon and put my mother in. He asked everyone for papers except her, who was trembling with fear. You have to be a bit seasoned, know how to use the warrior’s cunning to present false papers to someone who only wants to take you. We arrived in Nancy. Since he looked very Yiddish, spoke German, he was three rows behind to watch without saying anything and not to be directly linked again. He arrived three days later to make sure he wasn’t followed. He was involved in the stories of de Gaulle’s secret army.

In the end, we got through like that, and at the Pépinière in Nancy, we met my uncle who had been dismissed by Pétain because he was studying medicine in Montpellier. He was numerus clausus, so he brought us to the Pépinière as if we were going to school, from September 1943 to August 1944 when Nancy was liberated. We hid. We pretended. The bombings. We weren’t supposed to say our names; we had a false name. I could barely absorb it. I could barely absorb my real name, all of that created memories, to the point that when I read L’ami Fritz, and saw the word “Jew,” I went to my mother after the war and said, “Look, it says Jew,” the word Jew. It was forbidden to say it, to think it, to read it. It was death; we were in that atmosphere. Moreover, when I saw Lanzmann’s Shoah again, there was a retrospective; I experienced exactly what I think the kibbutz people must have experienced. I felt that anti-Semitic, hateful, murderous violence; it made me cry to see this film, which is so well done.

Regarding October 7th, I came across a text by Freud, Moses and Monotheism, from 1938 where he talks about Islam, which would have imitated Judaism outright, in short, but forgotten an essential point: the relationship with death, by denying that a community is founded around an eminent dead, like Moses or Jesus. But not Muhammad, who was not killed. One cannot say a word about Muhammad, as Freud says, because the Quran copied Judaism, and the only way to recognize it, in short, is to kill it. I simplify, and this taste for death is due to the fact that death is not integrated as an act that puts a limit on life; it has completely merged. Freud has a stroke of genius there, surely influenced by the 1929 riots in Hebron, and the text dates from 1938. The symbolically dead father generates something that holds up, that works. Freud explains that the Jews survived because they had in them this history of knowing where death is, where life is and choosing life. The Arabs chose death and the Ummah, that is, the matrix of Muslims, the archaic Muslim mother tolerates no other mother than her, a Muslim, of her son who cannot be a father and remains a son, that he can do whatever he wants with what is not Muslim. Taking these people from southern Israel and using them like toys, like celluloid, and cutting them into pieces, what we have read as madness, is the most dramatic point that people do not want to hear in the analytical community. It’s heartbreaking for us; we’re lost.

What do you think of what Fathi Ben Slama says about the over-Muslim, and that the heroes of Islam are sons and not fathers?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: they are very close to death and non-birth. The attack on October 7th is an attack on non-birth, to ensure that there was no life at all, that the Jews never existed. I studied this with the case of Daesh and the guy who blows himself up with his stupid explosive belt; he must be thinking something at that moment, that he is as if he had not lived. The over-Muslim is the one who is not born and who can disappear as if he had never existed, and with these attacks, he wants to attribute the same thing to the Jews. But not with the same purpose. You did not exist, so we, the Muslims, have the right text and criticize the Torah by saying, “it’s a falsified text.” Muhammad spoke well of the religion of the text and was only interested in that. The other pagan religions were not their problem at all. It is the text’s religion, therefore Jewish, because at that time there was only that, to swallow it, absorb it, and completely deny having absorbed it. There are people like Sibony who have worked well on these questions of imitation. Freud says it in 1938, to take in abbreviated form this Jewish thought, the mono- of monotheism, the only unique god, the god of the text, and make it the only valid god and not the others. Hamas accepts no other way of being Muslim.

Is there a clinic for Holocaust survivors?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: during the Holocaust, death had become a consumable object; it could be used, taken, almost imposed on the neighbor next door so as not to suffer it oneself, this dreadful story. It is at the moment of death that it resurfaces; I noticed that some survivors became hostile at the moment of dying, accusing their surroundings and their children of being Nazis.

A survivor could unexpectedly get back on track; upon returning from the camps and in a situation of extreme weakness, dehumanization, as in the example you take at the hospital, develop animal rage, of someone whose humanity has been taken away again.

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: And families then find themselves accused of being Nazis, which is unbearable, that is to say, it hits the children of survivors. We are dealing with a denaturation of the father’s function, of someone super, who has probably done a lot of wonderful things and who becomes, as you say, a “ferocious beast.” And it breaks the children of these people, who may have to deal with very long internal conflicts. I also received family members who had somewhat similar symptoms, who screamed at night in rage because when falling asleep, censorship relaxed, and something hidden somewhere very deep came back violently. So, we had to hold on, treat with medication, even forbid them to come and see me because it could cause fits of rage.

Should we speak of genocide for what happened on October 7th and then in Gaza?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: genocide is the act of killing and then erasing the act. Here, in this case, they do not erase their acts. Killing people in front of others produces a bewilderment, makes one lose the idea of defending oneself, makes one lose the idea of murder that one has, like everyone else, and that one will not exercise, but that one has to defend oneself. I become the object of the other who does what he wants with me.

Doesn’t this invalidate the case of the avenging Hamas that is not in “identification with the aggressor”?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz:  the often used example is that a family that the father wants to kill allows it to happen, not even knowing that it’s going to happen, that it’s happening. Human nature is like that. It takes time to react to murderous violence. You have to be a soldier, and even the 300 soldiers who were shot during the attack were not ready to defend themselves. Freud explains very late that there is a “vestigial unconscious,” the first unconscious formed for humans, where an excitation arrives in psychic form and then manifests itself in motor form, immediate and not in sublimated, intelligent, reflective form or the establishment of a program. These impulses must be countered by someone stronger to act less violently and create a superego, then an ego.

So, the victim of genocide would find himself facing the resurgence of his vestigial unconscious, which would lead him towards a form of primitive regression?

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: not to mention that in the case of genocide, there is erasure, whereas here it was recording. We are not dealing with denial but with affirmation. They wanted to affirm their anti-Semitic violence against the Jewish “body,” that it could be done with as one pleased, like a doll, like a rag, like “schmattes.” To verify that the Jew has no soul and must disappear, not having existed. They did not erase the traces, but one thing must be said, they are idiots, filthy idiots.

IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will acknowledge the suicide of soldiers within its ranks. It’s a real taboo in Israel.

Jean-Jacques Moscovitz: they become Jews again. Not that suicide is tolerated among European Jews, but when it has to happen, there’s nothing to be done; when it starts, it starts. No hospitalization is necessary; it’s pointless; it happens, it goes through everything. It’s a psychotic moment. There is a desire for death, a desire for self-murder, that sets in; the person is very afraid. It’s a sign that we use, the person ix afraid of committing suicide; it has nothing to do with the blackmail of a little girl that scares her entourage; taking meds, and then stops. When the person knows she is going to commit suicide, she’s very afraid and calm in front of it at the same time. So you have to be careful; you can hospitalize, but it will happen if it’s planned.

Is suicide always an act in a state of psychosis that manifests fear in full consciousness ?

Not necessarily; there are “correct” suicides. That’s why it’s so embarrassing for the army.

Previous articles:

*Dialogue avec Marie-Frédérique Bacqué
*Dialogue with Alexandra Fleischmann
*MBK: « le suicide est une forclusion de l’Autre »
*Y.M. : « La violence psychologique est la racine du mal »
*Margaux Mérand, la Maladie du Faux-soi

*Suicide, a Taboo That Subverts Israel’s Core

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery since 2005. He lives and works in Paris.