BEHIND THE WALL by Hans-Joachim Maaz

BEHIND THE WALL

The Inner Life of Communist Germany

KIRKUS REVIEW

 An East German psychotherapist explores, in an occasionally affecting way, the experience of living within a totalitarian system. It was a system in which a citizen had to guard his utterances not only outside but inside the home, because parents could not speak too freely in front of children, who might themselves be indiscreet or inadvertently betray them. The individual was required not merely to conform but to show enthusiasm for the system. It was not possible, Maaz writes, ``to escape this personality deformation.'' The East German system used overt force, including torture and arrest, as well as the indirect force of legal insecurity, reprisals, intimidation, indoctrination, and fear. It required one to ``sacrifice emotional spontaneity, all frankness and honesty, as well as [one's] critical faculty,'' even to preserve a ``relatively safe life of subservience.'' Few were able to resist the pressure. Millions participated regularly in huge ``jubilation marches,'' and an estimated half a million citizens were informants of the Stasi, the secret police. It was little wonder that the capacity for independent thought and action became increasingly rare. In describing this process, Maaz is persuasive and, in a book published originally in 1990 in Germany, prescient regarding the difficulties that East Germans would face in adjusting to democracy. When dealing with the more theoretical foundations of a controlled psychological environment he is less convincing, as when he complains about the authoritarian technique of ``forcing children to sit on the potty''; he is even self- contradictory when, discussing his therapeutic work with patients, he describes the act of emigration from East Germany as a ``sadomasochistic defense of their dammed-up aggression.'' And when he fears for a new economic expansion that will ``exacerbate the ecological crisis'' and ``step up the armaments business,'' he is venturing beyond his area of expertise. Like the curate's egg, good in parts.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-393-03364-3
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994




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