Dorothea Sophie Buck-Zerchin
Dorothea S. Buck-Zerchin, born 1917, sculptor. Victim of forced sterilization during the Nazi-area.
After free artistic activity, taught art and handicraft at the Technical College for Social Pedagogy in Hamburg from 1969-1982. Since 1970, active in the self-help movement. In 1992, co-founder of the German Bundesverband Psychiatrie-Erfahrener (BPE; Federal Association of [ex-] Users and Survivors of Psychiatry), now Honorary Chair. In 1989, co-founder of the "Psychosis-seminars". Countless lectures in Germany and abroad and contributions in specialised journals and anthologies.
In 1997, awarded with the "Bundesverdienstkreuz erster Klasse" (decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany for service to the community). On February 19, 2008, awarded with the Großes Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the greatest decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany for service to the community.
Publications include, Auf der Spur des Morgensterns – Psychose als Selbstfindung (On the Trail of the Morning Star: Psychosis as Self-discovery, 1990) / Lasst euch nicht entmutigen. Texte 1968-2001 (Don’t Give up: Texts 1968-2001, 2002) / 70 Jahre Zwang in deutschen Psychiatrien – erlebt und miterlebt (Seventy Years of Coercion in German Psychiatric Hospitals, Experienced and Witnessed, 2006); The Sky and Beyond – On the Trail of Dorothea Buck, film by Alexandra Pohlmeier in the English language, 2008.
Lectures in English & German • Films & DVD in English & German • Biography • German Books & CD • Articles about D .S. Buck-Zerchin
• "Seventy Years of Coercion in German Psychiatric Institutions, Experienced and Witnessed". Keynote lecture from June 7, 2007 to the congress "Coercive Treatment in Psychiatry: A Comprehensive Review", run by the World Psychiatric Association in Dresden, Germany, June 6-8, 2007. In: Peter Stastny & Peter Lehmann (Eds.), Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry. (pp. 19-28). Berlin / Eugene / Shrewsbury: Peter Lehmann Publishing 2007 (ebook edition 2014)
• Abstract: Dorothea Buck was born in Germany in 1917 and can therefore be called a contemporary witness. She had 5 stays in psychiatric hospitals in the period from 1936 to 1959 and was subjected to various forms of coercion, such as forced sterilization, cold wet sheet packs and forced injections and was never granted a single talk about the origin or meaning of her psychotic episodes. Facing the historical development of psychiatry and its effects on today's mental health system, she challenges biological psychiatry, which rejects communication with patients, and demands a paradigm shift toward a psychosocial system based on the wealth of patients' experiences and provides alternatives to psychiatry, such as the therapeutic principles of "Soteria" and Yrjö Alanen's "Need-Adapted Treatment."
Films & DVD
• The Sky and Beyond – On the Trail of Dorothea Buck, film by Alexandra Pohlmeier, 2008
• Seventy Years of Coercion in German Psychiatric Institutions, Experienced and Witnessed. Keynote speech from June 7, 2007 to the congress "Coercive Treatment in Psychiatry: A Comprehensive Review", run by the World Psychiatric Association in Dresden, Germany, June 6-8, 2007
Born April 5, 1917, the fourth child of five, of Hermann Buck and his wife Anna Buck, nee Lahusen, I spent my first 19 years in a cosmopolitan parsonage in Naumburg/Saale, in Oldenburg/ Niedersachsen and on the island of Wangerooge (Northern Sea).
Five weeks after a mental jolt, my first psychosis broke out the morning of March 2, 1936, with the disturbing certainty of a coming dreadful war. In the asylum of Bethel near Bielefeld, being kept there for nine months, I was confronted with a psychiatry which left us unoccupied and only kept, enforced sterilization included, without any chance of a dialogue with a physician. This disciplinary action included the prohibition to marry and various rigorous restrictions regarding education and career. I had to give up my vocation to become a nursery school teacher and was only allowed to accept a freelance job. Starting with pottery, I became a sculpturer. My first episode was followed by four more: 1938, 1943, 1946 and 1959. I then began to think of my psychosis, labelled as schizophrenia, as a break-through of my own subconscious, in order to solve former mental jolts or conflicts the same way night dreams do, in form of awakenings of symbols, identifications, with a different feel for the world and otherwise not felt connections of sense. Ever since I began to live by my inner impulses, which came to the top in my five psychoses, and receded with them to a weak instinct, in order not to let them stop and reappear in new episodes. From 1959 on, I have been healthy. My early suggestions to prominent psychiatrists of introducing group discussions for a mutually gained understanding of psychosis and of a conception the way one sees him- or herself. in psychiatry, was neglected by them.
A severe hiatus in my life after my enforced sterilization in 1936 has been the hidden medical patient-murders of so-called Euthanasia. During the Eichmann trial in 1961, I first heard numbers of psychiatric victims named for the first time. Except a minor chapter in Medical Science Without Humanity by A. Mitscherlich und F. Mielke, nothing could be found about these crimes in those days. I researched archives. In a record of the Military Court of Nürnberg of 1946, the number of the murdered inhabitants of asylums and homes rose to at least 275,000. These hidden medical crimes and the unchanged degrading and inhuman German asylums disturbed me deeply, although I could have used my concentration for my artistic work. As a sculptor, I lived on public commissions in Hamburg, which could only be gained through competition. When in 1965, my last bronze objects were placed, I stopped this work. As long as there was no elementary humanity, art seemed less important. I revised the researched facts of euthanasia in a play with a followed satirical theatre play for a patient drama group. As the long-prepared big euthanasia trial did not take place, because of the suicide of the main prisoner at the bar/defender Professor Heyde, I would have preferred the announcement of these crimes on stage from the view of the patient.
In 1970, we founded our Club 70 with people who experienced psychiatry and were lonely. In 1971, Aktionskreis '71 (Action circle '71) followed as the first self-help group of people who experienced psychiatry in Hamburg.
If we want psychiatry to be based on our experiences rather than on theory, we are asked to defeat its dogma of physical and genetic incurable, endogenous psychosis, as this psychiatric dogma prevents any dialogue about the contents and early history of our psychosis and its meanings. Without any dialogue, psychiatrists could not get to know and meet us as human beings. This is why they could transport hundreds of their patients to the gas chambers of the six death camps and poison them by overdosed medication and starve them to death after the official gas stop in August 1941.
In my manuscript following my Euthanasia play, I examined psychiatric theories and confronted them with my own experiences with psychosis. Hans Krieger, contributor to the big German magazine DIE ZEIT, advised me, to make my experiences the main substance for my book. I wrote during the mornings, and from 11:30 on, since 1969, I taught as a lecturer, and from 1974 on, as a teacher of art and handcraft at the College for Social Pedagogics of Hamburg. In 1990, my report about schizophrenia and self-healing, On The Track Of The Morning Star: Psychosis as self-realization, was published under the anagram of schizophrenia = Sophie Zerchin by List Publishers. The book was reviewed in many newspapers as a self-healing process.
A year before – 50 years after the beginning of euthanasia – Prof. Dr. Dr. Dörner offered me the opening lecture for the 41st training week of Gütersloh: Now it's getting serious – the reform of psychiatry begins! To understand schizophrenia as an attempt in solving a problem was new to the audience. From then on, I got invitations for lectures and readings.
The first and only hearing that those of us who were survivors of forced sterilized and psychiatric death camps got was at the Deutsche Bundestag in June 1987. I was asked to write down my criticism on today's still suppressing psychiatric methods of medication for the Federal Health Department. In June 1988, I handed my 22 page petition for a working group for more participation of those from self-help groups in psychiatry to Ms. Rita Süssmuth, the German Health Minister. Its assembly should be by (ex-) users and survivors of psychiatry, relatives, psychiatric staff members of all occupational groups and both theological leaders of a catholic or Lutheran clinic. All in all, 30 members, meeting monthly in the department, should initiate the foundation of further working groups within Germany. A better understanding of psychosis taught by people who are experienced in psychosis would also help to improve the social circumstances of the (ex-) users and survivors of psychiatry, for people burden only those they do not understand and thus regard inferior with things unbearable themselves.
The Federal Health Department placated us with the advice to form the petition locally. In the summer term of 1989, I suggested, as a guest student in a regular psychosis seminary, initiated by the psychologist Dr. Thomas Bock for students and professionals, not just to talk about psychotic people, but to talk with us, the (ex-) users and survivors of psychiatry. In winter term of 1989/90, the psychosis seminar was opened for people who experienced psychosis, and for relatives. In the meantime, about 80 psychosis seminars exist in Germany at universities, colleges, evening classes etc., and since October '96, also in Zurich, Berne, Basel and Vienna, in which people who are experienced in psychosis and depression, relatives and psychiatric staff members exchange their experiences. Our first psychosis seminar in Hamburg brought about two books as a consequence, in 1992 and 1994. Our third project: A Guidance Aid – Psychosis Seminars – Aid For a Dialogue, we have just finished for the Psychiatry Publishing House.
During the last seven years, I have written articles for many books and magazines. Year by year, I get more invitations to conferences and trainings (lectures, work groups, readings, psychosis groups as an exchange of experiences).
Our Hamburg psychosis seminar was the initiator of the Initiative Group of People Who Experienced Psychiatry (as patients). Together with the work group of (ex-) users and survivors of psychiatry within the holding-organization of psychosocial aid organizations and many individual fighters, we founded our registered association Bundesverband Psychiatrie-Erfahrener (Federal Association of [ex-] Users and Survivors of Psychiatry) in October 9-11, 1992, now, in 1997, with 650 members.
Since May 1996, in cooperation with my sister, the publisher Dr. Anne Fischer-Buck, I have been working on information and on a collection of signatures against medical research on persons who have not the ability to consent – even when the research is not for their personal benefit – which is being planned by the Bioethic-Convention of the European Council. We keep collecting signatures till April 30, 1997. In January 1, 1997 we have gained 30.000 signatures.
We experienced the fate and life-destroying psychiatric interventions of forced sterilization and medical mass murder on patients, its missing insight and knowledge because of their withheld dialogue with us. Now we demand an empirical psychiatry, based on the experiences of the (ex-) users and survivors of psychiatry. As we all – the psychiatrists included – can only know for sure, what we have experienced personally.
Translation: Brigitte Siebrasse, Bielefeld (Germany)
Articles about Dorothea Sophie Buck-Zerchin
Woman's harrowing account of forced sterilisation when a psychiatric patient. Article in PsychMinded on November 14, 2007, by Adam JamesThis site is administered by Peter Lehmann. Last update on April 28, 2015
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