Carl Jung and the Question of Anti-Semitism
Struggling with Accusations
by Aryeh Maidenbaum, Ph.D.
This is an article I do not want to write, about a man whose psychology and ideas have played a most important part in my life. I was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish environment, spent many years in Israel, and earned a Ph.D. at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Professionally, I am a Jungian analyst (trained at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich in the late 1970s) and I direct the New York Center for Jungian Studies. Additionally, for over eighteen years, I was an adjunct faculty member at New York University and have lectured on various aspects of Jungian psychology at NYU, throughout the U.S. and internationally. Given my background and still active involvement in the Jewish world, writing about Jung and anti-Semitism is neither an easy nor a dispassionate task.
I first discovered Carl Jung and Jungian thought through Dr. Rivkah Kluger, my first analyst, in Haifa. Jung had been one of Kluger’s own psychoanalysts, and in addition to being a Jungian analyst herself, she was a noted scholar and student of Jewish studies and Near Eastern religion. (Two of her books, Psyche and Scripture and Satan and the Old Testament, deal with building bridges to the world of the Bible through the application of Jung’s ideas.) Through Rivkah, a woman I loved dearly, I learned much about not only Jung’s psychology but also about Jung the man. As someone who knew Jung well, she felt that there was no possible way he could be seen as an anti-Semite.
My first indication that Jung’s attitude toward Jews was an issue arose when I was awarded a postdoctoral grant by Hebrew University. Indicating that I intended to use it to study at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, I was put on notice that this was not acceptable. One of the committee members insisted that Jung had been not only anti-Semitic, but a Nazi — and I soon learned that this was a widely held view. Nevertheless, I was able to convince the committee — with the testimony of Rivkah, as well as Gershom Scholem, and Zwi Werblowsky, both of whom had also known Jung personally — that Jung was not personally anti-Semitic, and I obtained the post-doctoral grant.
Years later, after I had completed my studies, a photocopy of a secret document limiting Jewish membership in the Analytical Psychology Club — composed of Jungian analysts in Zurich — was given to me in confidence by a former member of the club. This and other factors compelled me to explore the disturbing question of Jung and anti-Semitism, and finally led me to organize an international conference at the New School for Social Research and edit two books on this topic.
Carl Gustav Jung, M.D. (1875-1961) began his professional career at the Bergholzli Mental Hospital in Zurich, one of the leading psychiatric hospitals in Europe. He was encouraged by his mentor, Dr. Eugen Bleuler (best remembered for defining and introducing the terms “schizophrenia” and “depth psychology”), to read Freud’s groundbreaking book, The Interpretation of Dreams. Shortly afterwards, Jung began a correspondence with Freud. This led to a strong bond for the next decade, punctuated by several powerful meetings and a joint trip to the U.S. in 1909, but then their relationship broke off in 1912.
Jung’s exposure to the field of depth psychology (psychology that takes into account the unconscious mind) came through his initial work in psychiatry, treating psychoses and working with institutionalized patients. During the course of his long and fruitful career, he developed many concepts unique to his own theories of psychoanalysis, including archetypes; the collective unconscious; the process of individuation; psychological types; synchronicity; shadow; animus and anima; and the importance of “complexes,” and of symbols and myths in dreams.
Although many in mainstream psychology portray Jung as a mystic and philosopher, we should remember that until their break, Jung was considered by Freud to be his “crown prince,” his “heir apparent.” At the time (the first decade of the 20th century) Jung was considered among the leading Freudians in the world. Indeed, one of the basic tenets of psychoanalytic training originated with Jung’s suggestion to Freud that analysts should themselves undergo a “training analysis.” In short, Freud looked to Jung not only as his successor but also as one who would lead the psychoanalytic movement into the future and ultimately validate Freud’s own work. In a letter written by Freud to Jung, dated January 19th, 1909, he declared, “We are certainly getting ahead; if I am Moses, then you are Joshua and we will take possession of the promised land of psychiatry, which I shall only be able to glimpse from afar.”
The fact that Jung was not Jewish was important to Freud, who placed him in what Sanford Drob calls an “unenviable position” as Gentile guarantor that Freud’s work would not be dismissed as “a Jewish national affair.” In addition to being well placed in the field of mainstream psychiatry, Jung was the son of a Protestant pastor. He represented credibility and acceptance for Freud, as he acknowledged in a letter to Karl Abraham as early as 1908: “. . . you are closer to my intellectual constitution because of racial kinship,” Freud wrote, while Jung “as a Christian and a pastor’s son finds his way to me against great inner resistances. His association with us is the more valuable for that.”
However, many of Freud’s primarily Jewish disciples resented his catapulting Jung into the leadership of this new, exciting movement. Here was this Gentile, a stranger (whom Freud referred to as “not like us”) from Switzerland, being brought in and instantly promoted to “crown prince” of the movement. It is not difficult to understand that the members of Freud’s inner circle resented and did not find it easy to relate to Jung personally. In turn, Jung felt alienated and snubbed, which fueled his need to break free of Freud the father.
Following their break, Jung spent several years in withdrawal from professional activities and in deep contemplation. He referred to this period as the “dark night of his soul” with much of his inner turmoil revealed in his recently published Red Book. During this period, many of his ideas germinated. Ultimately he resurfaced and began to take his place in the wider world of psychoanalysis, though clearly disconnected from the mainstream, Freudian-dominated field.
By 1933, well after Jung and Freud had ended their personal and professional relationship, and after the Nazis had risen to power in Germany, Jung accepted the presidency of the German General Medical Society for Psychotherapy. By then, along with Adler (in 1911) and Stekel (in 1912), Jung had been depicted as a traitor to the movement and marginalized by those close to Freud (including Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham and Max Eitingon, all unofficial members of a “secret society” that had been proposed by Jones to protect Freud). The decision by Jung to accept the presidency of the Society gave wings to rumors and accusations that Jung was anti-Semitic, even a Nazi sympathizer — yet throughout his life, Jung steadfastly insisted that by taking this honorary post, he had thought of his ability to be of help to many of his German Jewish colleagues. Indeed, Jung was responsible for having the Society renamed as the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy and for permitting Jews barred from the German national section to join as individual members. This seemingly small change to how the Society functioned was actually quite important, since up until that time one could be a member only through a local society — which meant, under Nazi rule (Herman Göring’s cousin Matthias was the head of the German Society), the banning of German Jewish members.
Here the plot thickens, however, as in the December, 1933 issue of the Society’s journal, the Zentralblatt, an editorial was published praising Nazi ideology and using Jung’s theories of archetypal cultural patterns to justify the superiority of the Aryan race. Both Jung and C.A. Meier, Jung’s assistant and chief editor of the journal, insisted that this editorial was inserted by Matthias Göring without Jung or Meier’s permission. During the course of my research, I interviewed Dr. Meier and was informed that Jung was not involved in any of the details of the journal’s publication, but had delegated those tasks to Meier.
In hindsight, it is clear that Meier and Jung should have written a second editorial, in a subsequent issue, renouncing the first and disassociating the Society from its views — or resigned their posts. However, in my interview, Meier made it clear that Jung thought it better simply to ignore the incident in order to avoid risking the breakup of the Society. According to Meier, who was closer to Jung than any other Jungian at that time, Jung believed that the Society, under his leadership, would be better able to protect some Jewish psychotherapists from Nazi persecution by including them in the reorganized International Society. Meier describes Jung’s inaction as naïveté, and insists that one has to understand Jung in this light:
Jung was naïve . . . particularly when it came to political things. . . He was always looking for the healing aspect of any disturbing neurosis or psychosis or whatever it be, and he always tried to help the patient or cure the patient . . . and so, he accepted this German movement as a disease, as the collective disease which maybe even had a chance to do something good to the German
Nation. . . . But of course, he was rather naive. . . But he still had a hope.
Nevertheless, I cannot but wonder if Jung, feeling unappreciated by the psychoanalytical world, didn’t also see his presidency of the Society as an opportunity to improve his status. It may well be that he was a victim of his own, in Jungian terms, “inflation,” and believed he could easily handle Göring and the Nazi machine. Jung’s various political activities in the 1930s were no doubt some combination of good will, the need for ego gratification, and political naiveté on a large plane, as Meier acknowledges by telling us that perhaps in that particular time in his life, Jung
. . . suffered from the impression that he was not sufficiently accepted — his ideas were not sufficiently accepted in the world — so he had a sort of, a kind of minority complex in that respect and when the Germans started to condemn Freud he had a hope that maybe now, Jungian ideas may have a better chance . . . no question but that was maybe sick. But it all comes from this idea that maybe something could come of it.
In fact, Jung’s difficult relationship with Jews and Judaism went beyond that one editorial. In 1934, Jung himself wrote an article, “The State of Psychotherapy Today,” which discussed the differences between what he called the Jewish psychology and the German psychology. “The Jewish race as a whole,” he wrote, “ . . . possesses an unconscious which can be compared with the ‘Aryan’ only with reserve. Creative individuals apart, the average Jew is far too conscious and differentiated to go about pregnant with the tensions of unborn futures. The ‘Aryan’ unconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish; that is both the advantage and the disadvantage of a youthfulness not yet fully weaned from barbarism.”
Much in this article offended his Jewish supporters, and other troubling writings followed during the 1930s. Nevertheless, while many Jewish Jungians were and are offended by Jung’s insensitivity to the plight of Jews during that decade, and disappointed by his failure to speak out against anti-Semitism, they generally do not consider Jung anti-Semitic on a personal level — especially given the many instances in which he helped Jewish people with money and other forms of support. Regarding the 1934 article, Jung would write later in his life to Dr. Sigmund Hurwitz — a good friend and at one time Jung’s dentist, who ultimately became a Jungian analyst — that “I have written in my long life many books, and I have also written nonsense. Unfortunately, that [article] was nonsense.”
My own active involvement on the question of Jung and anti-Semitism was propelled when I was given a copy of a secret document from the archives of the Psychological Club of Zurich, which I made public (to the chagrin of many in the Jungian community). This club, originally organized and always strongly influenced by Jung, had adopted a 10 percent quota on Jewish membership (up to 25 percent were permitted to be “guests,” i.e., attend lectures). In 1944, this policy was actually put into writing by C.A. Meier and two other signatories. I was deeply offended as a Jew and deeply disappointed as a Jungian by the fact that a psychological club, ostensibly dedicated to openness and exploration of the psyche, was relegating Jews to the role of outsiders and was capable of such prejudice.
One must also understand that during this same period, and for years afterward, quotas limiting the number of Jews were enforced by leading universities in the United States. These U.S. quotas had been made public and condemned, however, while the claim of the Psychological Club, after the quota policy became known, was that it was the secret of the executive committee and unknown to members. This was clearly false: Several older Club members with whom I spoke acknowledged that there existed all along an unwritten understanding among members limiting Jewish participation — a policy justified as a means of protecting Jung should the Nazis invade Switzerland. The quota, however, was put into writing in 1944, by which time the greatest danger of Nazi invasion had passed — which casts doubt on the true intention of the quota.
In evaluating Jung’s attitudes towards Jews, one must consider the culture of anti-Semitism that was pervasive in Europe at the time. Jews were widely depicted as lacking spirituality and being materialistic by nature. This stereotype not only made open hostility towards Jews acceptable, but also gave it social respectability. The negative depiction of Jews was widespread and existed among all layers of European society. It crossed cultural and geographic boundaries, and it is not far-fetched to think that Jung held similar views at one time. Indeed, in Freud’s History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, Freud notes that Jung “seemed to give up certain racial prejudices which he had previously permitted himself.” Possibly after his break with Freud, confronted with hostility from many Jewish Freudians, Jung’s prejudices resurfaced.
What has troubled me and many Jungians all along has been the absence of a clear, distinct public statement by Jung dealing with his actions and more questionable pronouncements during the 1930s. While he did disassociate himself from Nazism, and by the late 1930s was writing scathing and incisive articles interpreting the mass hysteria that had taken hold in Germany, even in later years he did not unequivocally express regrets regarding his own naive attitudes. Jung personally admitted to Rabbi Leo Baeck that he had “slipped up,” but he never said anything that would lead us to believe that he had come to terms with his own “Jewish shadow” issue of earlier years. C.A. Meier told me that this was attributable to Jung’s own personal “wooden-headed” stubbornness, which, on this and other issues that Jung knew he had handled badly, prevented him from admitting he was at fault. Whatever the cause, Jung did himself and the Jungian community — including Jewish Jungians — a huge disservice by not speaking or writing about the cloud surrounding his alleged anti-Semitism. Private statements, even to Jewish leaders, that he “slipped up” were not enough, and criticism of him in this context is deserved.
Jung damaged his credibility and set back acceptance of his own magnificent contributions to the field of depth psychology by picking an inappropriate moment in history to discuss the Jewish psyche or, as he put it, “cultural form.” The fact that many continue to denigrate these contributions, attributing and using the accusations of anti-Semitism as an excuse, is testament to the fact that the shadows still linger — which, to my mind, is a disservice to the genuine contributions he made to the field of depth psychology.
Aryeh Maidenbaum, Ph.D., co-director of the New York Center for Jungian Studies, is a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York City. He is the editor of Lingering Shadows: Jungians, Freudians, and Anti-Semitism (1991) and Jung and the Shadow of Anti-Semitism (2002), and was a contributing author to Current Theories of Psychoanalysis (Robert Langs, editor, 1998). He is currently working on a book, Judaism through a Jungian Lens.