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Margarete Mitscherlich (1917–2012)

Author of The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior

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Margarete Mitscherlich, née Nielsen, was born in Gråsten, Denmark, the youngest daughter of a Danish doctor and a German teacher. She spent most of her childhood in Denmark before moving with her family to Germany. There she studied literature and graduated from a private school in Flensburg. She then decided to become a doctor and studied medicine at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg during World War II. In 1950, she received a doctoral degree from the University of Tübingen. She began psychoanalyst training at a clinic in Ticino, Switzerland, where she met her future husband, Alexander Mitscherlich; they married in 1955 and had a son. She completed her training in London at the Institute of Psychoanalysis under Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and Michael Balint. Back in Germany, she worked at her husband's clinic in Heidelberg, before moving to Frankfurt. In 1960, the couple became co-founders of the Sigmund-Freud-Institut of psychoanalytic research. In 1967, they published Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern (The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior), in which they applied Freudian principles to explain Germany’s failure to face its wartime crimes. The book was an instant bestseller and led to a wave of a "culture of remembrance" of the Holocaust and the Nazi era and the overhaul of the German educational system to make the teaching of these events compulsory in schools. As a result Germany came to be regarded as providing a model for how societies should confront painful truths about the past. In her later years, Margaret Mitscherlich was known as the grande dame of German psychoanalysis. She became involved in the feminist movement and fought legal actions against degrading portrayals of women in the media. Other books included The Peaceable Sex: On Aggression in Women and Men (1985), The Future is Feminine (1987), and a memoir, Radical Age: Insights of a Psychoanalyst.
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