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  • Cited by 7
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: October 2009

7 - From Traumatic Neurosis to Male Hysteria: The Decline and Fall of Hermann Oppenheim, 1889–1919

Summary

Hysteria has now overflowed all banks, and nothing is safe from it.

Hermann Oppenheim, 1916

I feel sorry for Oppenheim, a good, inept man.

Sigmund Freud, 1910

In the waning months of the Great War, Tübingen psychiatrist Robert Gaupp was alarmed by the widespread belief that “war is a source of severe nervous or mental illnesses.” This view, he protested, “[is] for God's sake, incorrect.” “Even doctors,” added Gaupp's Berlin colleague Ewald Stier, “frequently succumb to the erroneous assumption that attributes to war a ‘damaging’ effect on the nerves.”

Gaupp and Stier were not unaware of the numerous cases of nervous and mental breakdowns observed during the World War – both were, in fact, actively involved in the diagnosis, treatment, and administration of Germany's nearly 200,000 “war neurotics.” However, like the majority of the nation's neurologists and psychiatrists, they attributed these numbers neither to the intense psychic and nervous demands of prolonged combat nor to the resounding impact of modern weaponry. Rather, both men looked within the psyche, blaming the wishes and fears of those soldiers who, they argued, lacked the strength of will and patriotic conviction to resist fleeing from the unpleasant conditions of war into the “comfortable bed of neurotic symptoms.”

As Stier wrote shortly after the war, “compensation for nervous disorders is not just the most difficult part of pensioning, but is, in short, the central problem of the whole war pension issue. It is impossible to overestimate its significance for the national economy.”