The Woman Who Helped Germany Overcome Its Nazi Guilt

Margarete Mitscherlich, who died this week at 94, was the Grande Dame of German psychoanalysis, having helped unravel Germany's post-War zeitgeist of denial.

Margarete Mitscherlich, the Grande Dame of German psychoanalysis.
Margarete Mitscherlich, the Grande Dame of German psychoanalysis.
Sven Felix Kellerhoff

FRANKFURT– Margarete Mitscherlich died just before her 95th birthday, in Frankfurt. She was made famous by the title of a book – more than the book itself– The Inability to Mourn. The book, co-written with her psychoanalyst husband Alexander Mitscherlich came out in 1967 and struck a chord in Germany's collective conscience, just 20 years after the end of the war.

How do people with individual and collective burdens deal with their past? Since Sigmund Freud, that question has been psychology's central theme. The Mitscherlichs weren't the first to address this question in relation to German history, but they did so more forcefully than others before them.

The Mitscherlichs recognized that post-World War II society in West Germany was suffering from the fact that the crimes and actions of so many Germans in the Third Reich had been repressed. They postulated that the path to healing lay not in repressing but in facing the past -- and they came up with the term "inability to mourn" to define the problem facing German society as a whole.

Actually, by the time the book came out in the late-1960s, its basic premise was no longer strictly true: with the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem and the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt, along with the debate in the German Parliament about lifting the statute of limitations for war crimes, Germany had been facing up to its Nazi past.

What the Mitscherlichs were saying, however, had certainly strongly marked the 1950s, when the country put all its energy into rebuilding. At the time, most people in Germany thought of themselves as victims of the War and had blanked out the fact that a significant number of Germans had supported Hitler's rule and the racial fanaticism that led to catastrophe both for Germany and Europe.

But even if its basic premise was less relevant by the time it came out, the Mitscherlich book took on huge importance because it gave a name to the anxiety burdening the first generation born after the war. The phenomenon was reminiscent of the effect of another, very different book that came out in another turbulent time in history: Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West" (1918) about what more intellectually inclined Germans were feeling after World War I.

Alexander, who died in 1982, became a central figure in the "68er-Bewegung" – the 1968 German student protest movement – but Margarete steered clear of any excess. "To be part of the ‘68 movement, you had to accept the idea that your father might have been a Nazi…but nobody went to the trouble of trying to understand how Hitler could have happened in Germany."

As a psychoanalyst, Margarete Mitscherlich focused on human emotion, particularly aggression, and over the course of her career she wrote much more and conducted research of far more scientific importance than the book that made her name.

Emancipation, feminism and the psyche in older age were also important subjects for her, and her work engendered much discussion in specialized circles. But to the general public, she was mainly remembered for The Inability to Mourn.

When she celebrated her 90th birthday, Mitscherlich looked back on the impact of her famous book and said: "The big question is still whether or not mourning can be learned. But one thing is certain: no nation today remembers its own history as clearly as Germany. Germans have become very courageous. And that makes me happy of course."

She was also modest enough to stress that her book was "one of many catalysts' for the transformation in the way the Germans dealt with their past. But it was a major one indeed.

Read the article in German.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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