Review of the book:
"Soul Murder: Presecution in the Family"
Feltrinelli, Milan 1973
In 1973 the American psychiatrist, Morton Schatzman, wrote a book entitled "Soul Murder", which was published the same year in Italy by Feltrinelli under the title "La famiglia che uccide".
In this book, Schatzman describes and interprets the case of Daniel Paul Schreber (1842 - 1911), a famous German judge, President of the Court of Appeals in Dresden, and a patient of Sigmund Freud's.
Judge Schreber, at the age of 42, went insane, was cured, improved, but eight years later had a serious crisis and never really recovered, so much so that it was impossible to call him a "normal" person.
Schreber's insanity was classified as "a case of paranoia and schizophrenia". The illness also presented, among other things, a form of very complex delirium, which the judicial authorities that Schreber had consulted asking to be demitted, described as follows, "He believes he has been called to redeem the world and restore his lost holiness...".
He believed he was illuminated, inspired directly by God, he constantly lived through "miracles" and, as often happens with psychosis, outside of these ideas, he still had all his intellectual capabilities and had not lost his ability in the legal and jurisdictional field. He spent thirteen years of his life in psychiatric hospitals and died in one. He published a book "Memoires of a Neurotic Man", in which he described his ideas; he wrote about himself, "When my neurotic disease seemed almost incurable, I came to the conclusion that my soul had been murdered by someone."
By digging just a bit more, we can see Daniel Paul Schreber's elder brother named Daniel Gustav, who was also mentally ill and committed suicide by shooting himself at the age of thirty-eight. At the time it was said that he suffered from "melancholy".
One wonders then, what type of family these two men (one insane, the other suicidal) grew up in and what could have possibly happened during their childhood.
Let's begin by saying that in certain families suffering from illness, the conditions in which children grow up in are unsupportable. In these situations, the child's personality is trodden upon every day, every single instinct of his/hers is repressed, the lack of respect becomes the rule. In other cases, there is also violence and sexual abuse. So, it can happen that the child, who cannot escape or get away from the situation in which s/he lives, invents a fantasy world that s/he can escape to, and then simply loses the way back to reality.
Going back to the Schreber family, we can see the father, Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber (1808 - 1861), a famous German doctor and expert in pedagogy. His theories were very successful in Germany; even after his death they were considered a valid reference for parents for decades. His ideas nowadays, as examined by Alice Miller, a Swiss psychoanalyst, have been defines "Black Pedagogy".
Dottor Schreber Sr wrote many books on child education, starting with the idea that the German society of the time was "weak" and "decaying", and that this was mostly caused by the weakness and lack of discipline with which children were raised. He expanded on the subject by describing "special educational methods" which would lead the children to being blindly obedient and completely submissive to their parents and adults in general. He treated his own children as the subjects of a cruel dictator. He thought that in this way the society and the "German race" would improve.
Dottor Schreber's ideas reflected, and amplified, the shared ideology of the European bourgeois in the 1800s. With this reference in mind, adult men have the right (even God is a man) to command their wives and children; children must be educated and disciplined already at four months; any sign of autonomy in the child must be eliminated; all have to believe in the Catholic God.
Schreber Sr wrote, "A child's bad behaviour will lead to an adult with a weak character and will open the road to vice and lowliness".
Through Schreber's educational methods, a child would grow into an adult who was capable and self-determined. The result that had on his son was described by the director of the insane asylum that was taking care of him, "The patient was completely under the power of oppressive pathological influences".
Schreber Sr's education was supposed to lead to "subconscious and unconditioned obedience", meaning immediate, automatic, without criticism or contradictions.
Shatzman described it as "infantile persecution".
The aim of Schreber Sr's education was to "Become the child's master forever." From the first few months of life, if the child did something "wrong" (for example eating a sweet) the parents were supposed to "distract and remove", which meant taking the sweet away from the child and distract him/her by making him/her do something else.
Every time the child disobeyed, the disobedience was annotated in a blackboard in his/her room, along with the punishment which, at the end of the day, would be carried out.
The father was supposed to speak "with contempt" to the child that did not obey and look at him "menacingly and disapprovingly".
Schreber Sr's philosophy can be summarized by this proverb: "A stitch in time saves nine", meaning that with early, immediate and repressive educational intervention, as he wrote, " All the ignoble or immoral emotions will be stopped as soon as they appear".
Every single thing that the child did had to be controlled and corrected. Schreber Sr had invented a series of instruments to control the position of the child's body. So the "Headholder" was a band that was attached on one end to the child's hair and on the other to his/her belt, therefore making it impossible for the child to bend his/her head. The "Back Straightener" was a metallic, sharp structure that was connected to the table so that the child was forced to stay straight, so as not to hit the metal structure.
Children always had to sleep belly up, to avoid that the pressure from the mattress on the genitals could excite them; so Schreber Sr created a series of tethers used to keep the children still in bed. And if children kept their shoulders low, then there was the "Shoulder Straightener" which was a series of leather bands and metal springs tied around the arms and then behind the back so as to provoke pain if the shoulders were lowered.
In order to avoid "weakness and the temptations of sexuality", it was better that children sleep in unheated rooms. Children's personal hygiene always had to be done with cold water. Starting from six months, "in order to make the child robust" even bath water had to be cold. Remember we are in Germany, not the Carribbean.
Parents had to be careful that children used all their body parts in the same way; they had to do "visual exercises" to learn how to observe as their parents wanted them to; they had to use a toy for a long time before having another one; children were not to be exposed to art because they could have developed too much sensitivity and emotion, therefore distracting them from their duties; even how children went up the steps had to be controlled, to make sure that they used their body symmetrically.
In order to avoid "the damages of unhealthy and debilitating night pollution" and the temptation of masturbation, along with cold baths, if a child was agitated at night, a long enema of cold water was to be carried out before bed.
At the same time the child was invited to pray so that he was "excited by the presence of God" and felt "voluptuousness of the soul" rather than of the body.
These are just a few examples of the education and type of family where Daniel Paul Schreber grew up. A sex phobic, unhealthy, sadistic, morbid environment soaked in religious fanaticism. And considering that people tend to compulsively repeat for their entire lives the forms of human relations that they learned in their childhood, we can fully understand how this "soul murder" could have taken place.