Today’s peer professional in Mental Health systems of care share a similar psychological bend with the Jewish Ghetto Police or Jüdische Ghetto-Polizei. This unit was an auxiliary police force organized within the Jewish ghettos of Nazi occupied Eastern Europe. Members of the police force were appointed by the Judennat, local offices operated by high ranking members of the Jewish community under the auspices of the Nazi Office for Jewish Affairs.
Inside the Ghetto, the Jüdische & the Judennat:
As the war raged on, conditions in the ghettos worsened. Before the ultimate liquidation of the ghetto was a rich history of complicity, resistance, crime, & the instinctual survival of the Jewish people. Conditions in the Ghetto, similar to the first U.S operated state run hospitals were deplorable. Calories were reduced to the basic human requirements to maintain metabolic processes aka life. Disease, rape, medical experimentation and the confinement of an entire population fated to be locked away & isolated from the world at large was only the beginning of the nightmares shared by the Jews & Psychiatric survivors of the past.
The Ghetto, home to millions of Jews during the war, was in fact, no more than a tiny section of carved out areas of Eastern Europes impoverished urban centers which, like many state hospitals, were grossly overcrowded and usually, on architectural level, poorly built and maintained. The birth of the ghetto spawned, in turn, the Jewish police. A unit that ultimately helped to facilitate the carrying out of the final solution: the extermination of the Jewish people of Europe. Before the end of the war, and before the evacuation of the ghetto is history which pits the survival of the Jewish people with the complicity of Nazi oppression & genocide.
The Survival of the Jews versus Complicity with Nazi Genocide:
What would you do to survive in a reality that has condemned you to death? The psychology of survival has been studied by psychologists and psychiatrists for almost a century now. The 1930’s & 40’s point towards the inexhaustible & transcendental drive of oppressed people to survive in un-live-able conditions. The ghetto signals that the Jewish people & psychiatric survivors are no stranger to this phenomenon. Complicity with inhuman systems of care and governments designed to oppress populations, even kill them, if not with medical experimentation than with living conditions incapable of supporting basic life functions is an ethical slippery slope.
How far would you go to be complicit with evil & the oppression of your fellow peers if it meant their ultimate survival in a world or from organization that mistreats them? This is the question that so many Jewish ghetto police dealt with when accepting appointment by the Judenrat and the struggle of the modern peer when taking positions in mental health agencies in the U.S. People will ultimately internalize oppression to survive. Changing this paradigm will mean harnessing a deeper understanding of our history and the shared oppression of all populations subjugated and marginalized people by evil regimes and those that abuse power everywhere.
In the U.S, similar to Nazi occupied Germany & Eastern Europe; state run mental health departments have a long way to go before their barbaric history is overshadowed by humane treatment. In the 1944 propaganda film: The Fuhrer Gives A City to the Jews, shot in a functional concentration camp, Jews are portrayed in a cinematic hoax to be happy in the Nazi death factory. There is an old expression: working the system despite the system. It gestures to the notion that people can work within a system that requires change & reform for the very purpose of transforming it. The Jewish people during the age of the ghetto had very little choice but to be complicit to survive during the holocaust. Today’s peers have been given programs from their respective state mental health offices. What will be the fate of the peer movement & these programs be? Will today’s peer, similar to the Jewish police, make ethical concessions to survive in mental health systems of care or will their fate be different?