Hella Adler (1907 – 2009)

Hella Adler (1907-2009)

Hella Adler (nee Fromholz) was born in Berlin 21 May 1907, and died in London 19 August 2009, at the age of 102. Her long life was marked by trauma, confrontation and change. In a rare personal statement, which she read out at a meeting of the Association of Jungian Analysts (AJA) in the late Eighties in London, she described her childhood as ‘devastating’. At the same gathering she recounted how Erich Neumann had advised against publishing an account of the blows of those early years. Perhaps as a result of his counsel little detail is available, except that both her parents died early in her life. She had a younger sister, who died some years before her.

Hella married young, lived in Paris, and tried to write a novel. The marriage came to an amicable end and she returned to Berlin in the Thirties, where she met her second husband, Dr Gerhard Adler. They both travelled to Zurich, where she analysed with Emma Jung, from whom she ‘learnt simplicity and feeling’. Her work with Emma Jung, and her meetings with Toni Woolf, Aniela Jaffe, and Jung in these years shaped the rest of her life. At the age of twenty nine, in 1936, she left Berlin with Gerhard to avoid Nazi persecution.

They travelled to London, where their son Michael was born in 1939. During the war they moved to Oxford, staying at first with the anthropologist and Jungian analyst John Layard, whom they had met in Zurich. Hella continued to live in Oxford through the war years, where she gave birth to her daughter Miriam in 1944. She brought up the family while Gerhard commuted to London to continue his work in child guidance. After the war they moved to the North London suburb of Golders Green, and later bought a large, bomb-damaged house on the edges of Hampstead, which they renovated and where they spent the rest of their lives, bringing up their family and seeing patients.

Hella and Gerhard were founding members of the Society of Analytical Psychology (SAP) in 1945. When Hella later participated in the Transference Group from 1953-54, a supervision project led by Dr Michael Fordham, her independence was already evident. She was described by Dr Fred Plaut as the only woman participant who was not a ‘symbolic daughter’ of Fordham, and he thought of her as a representative of the ‘Zurich school’. Jealousies over contact with Jung and differences over the psychoanalytic influence in London intensified over the years and created a rift between the Adlers and Fordham and some of his followers.

During the twenty five years when Gerhard was working on the English translation of Jung’s Collected Works with R.F.C. Hull, Dr Michael Fordham and Sir Herbert Read, Hella and Gerhard became friends with Read, who advised them on their growing collection of fine art, which included works by Braque, Degas, Rodin and Henry Moore. Hella and Gerhard continued to visit Zurich to sustain their contact with Jung, Toni Woolf, and Emma Jung. Hella remained an indispensable personal and professional support to Gerhard in the years when he was an active and influential figure in the international Jungian movement. She was among the founding members of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) in 1955.

Hella was a leading member of a group of analysts who grew concerned with the increasingly psychoanalytic orientation and the politics of the SAP and the consequences for candidate selection. The continuing professional differences between Hella and Gerhard and Michael Fordham contributed to the ensuing split. Hella, Gerhard and others established an alternative training group, AJA, in 1976. The seed of this endeavour, which took a long time to come to fruition, had been planted by Jung many years earlier, when he had asked E. A. Bennett to consider setting up a training in London that had a more singular focus on his ideas than he saw in the SAP.

Though Hella was now in her seventies she was deeply committed to this project, as it placed the ego’s relation to the Self, and the recognition of the numinous, at the centre of analytic work. Gerhard’s and her own increasing age resulted in her feeling under particular pressure to ensure the new group’s survival, which received a serious blow when a number of significant senior members left to establish the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists (IGAP) in 1982.

Hella was an intuitive, robust and creative analyst. Like many of her generation of analytical psychologists working in the classical tradition, she handled boundaries differently from today’s practitioners. Many who worked with her describe her with a mixture of affection, criticism and gratitude. She did not always keep group politics out of her work with trainees, and most remember her indiscretions as well as her analytic depth.

Hella was widowed in 1989, and continued to work for many years with notable resilience. She said she had internalised Gerhard and did not idealise him. Although some members of AJA encouraged her to leave a record of her work and ideas she did not publish. She continued to mull over the project of writing a childhood memoir but her lifelong hesitation persisted and she chose to let her story fade unrecorded. In her last decades she mused with friends and colleagues on why she was living so long, and speculated ironically it was because she still had something to learn. What she learnt, what she knew, and much of what she experienced will remain untold, at least in any public space.

But there are other spaces. In their own way, Hella and Gerhard were connected to their Judaism. At the end, both chose to keep the religious observance of entrusting their life stories to their rabbi, who listened under a vow of sacred confidence to each in turn as death approached, in keeping with the tradition they both shared.

Damien Doorley (with thanks to Jack Bierschenk, Antonia Boll, Catherine Bygott, Ann Casement, Adele Davide, Moira Duckworth, David Freeman, Carl Silverman, Shayne Spitzer, Martin Stone, Miriam Stone, and Susan Williams)


Hella Adler obituary

Michael Adler

From the Guardian – Thursday 19 November 2009

My mother, Hella Adler, who has died aged 102, was one of the last of the generation of German refugees who were rightly called “Hitler’s gift” to Britain. In 1936 she followed my father, Gerhard Adler, from Berlin to London, where they established our family and successful professional lives.

Hella became a Jungian analyst and, after an unhappy start in her own life, which had led to her being fostered at a very early age, came to represent through her work the Jungian archetype of the wounded person turned healer. With my father and other analysts, she founded the Association of Jungian Analysts in 1977, and also developed a flourishing personal practice.

She seemed able to juggle patients, children and household with skill, particularly when it came to cooking. Her traditional German meals gave me alifelong taste for oxtail, red cabbage and sticky cakes. Passover was always a tense occasion, as Hella felt that my father’s lengthy recitation of the Seder service threatened the perfection of her matzo balls and chicken soup.

But although Jewish customs were preserved at home, my sister Miriam and I were sent to very English schools. Hella did not always appreciate the nuances of our school life. I remember being horrified and embarrassed when she appeared late at an important school cricket match just as I, the batsman, was clean bowled. Hella vociferously demanded that I be allowed to bat again.

Even though she may not have understood the rules of cricket, she was always enormously sympathetic and encouraged all our early ambitions. What more can a child ask than to have a loving parent who stimulates and nurtures self-belief and helps her children sustain their dreams? She did all of these things, and, with my father, introduced us to art and music, as well as the enjoyment of life through travel and exploration.

For many years Hella was a formidable intellectual leader of the Jungian professional group in this country and carried on her career well into old age. The family was amazed when she continued to see patients in her 90s.

My mother was a survivor of the worst holocaust in history, but also lived through profound cultural, linguistic and financial changes. Ialways admired how my parents tackled this together. They never felt they were owed anything. They worked hard, learned a new language, lifestyle and culture. They never ceased to be touched by the way they were received, acccepted and helped when they settled in Britain.

Hella was a woman of tremendous grit and bravery. Shortly before she died, she looked at me and, in her still noticeable German accent, said: “Michael, you won’t live as long as me. You don’t have my steel.” She was probably right. She was bedridden for the last few years of her life, but enjoyed her four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

They survive him, along with Miriam and myself. Our father died in 1989.


Remembering the Adlers

Remembering the Adlers – Antonia Boll contribution

Remembering the Adlers – Martin Stonecontribution

Remembering the Adlers  -JulienneMcLean contribution

Remembering the Adlers – Jack Bierschenk contribution

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