Article | Fabulous Women


Posted on 16/12/2013

Death in the Consulting Room: Memories of the Holocaust and questions of past lives


I am now fifty-five years young! At the age of four I had a dream which remained with me for the rest of my life and eventually led to a Masters Dissertation on the subject of reincarnation and the Holocaust and most recently a book (as yet unpublished).

Im starting to fall asleep. I can hear footsteps, rhythmic footsteps and start to get frightened. I say to my mother, dont make me go the Sandmans coming, I dont want to go. He comes and in the dream he has a cart or a wheelbarrow and I have to get in. He takes me away and Im very frightened. Then Im in some kind of bathhouse or shower room. Its not a big room and its full of women. We have no clothes on. Its all yellowy or sepia colouredIm a young child; a girl of about eight years of age. I wake up in a cold sweat terrified..

The dream was recurrent for many months if not years and then as life progressed, the memory retreated and did not return until adolescence, the start of Grammar School, communal showers and being bullied and beaten as a dirty Jew. My first overdose was taken after being asked to leave my school where I had been so desperately unhappy that I had failed to live up to the academic expectation of the institution and so clinically obese that I was unable to achieve the required standard in any sport. Thus began my ambivalent relationship with life and death.

Memories of the Holocaust

As a counsellor and psychotherapist untrained in hypnotherapy or past life regression, I remain a little sceptical of the process of what is deemed to be a journey into a former incarnation. My scepticism exists despite the research I have undertaken on the question of working therapeutically with clients (like myself and many others) who believe that they have lived through the Holocaust in a previous life-time. My academic research examines the topic from both psychodynamic and transpersonal perspectives taking into account aspects of the theory of reincarnation and transmission of memory.

When one studies the many ideas associated with memory, the questions arising become too many to be discussed in one academic thesis let alone a two thousand word article. However, the theories of the collective unconscious, archaic and genetic memory, Akashic Records, the morphogenetic field, false memory syndrome and the possibility of cryptoamnesia (a record of overheard conversations, pictures, stories and forgotten television programmes[i]) have been considered whilst researching the possibility of past life memory. All research undertaken for my thesis specifically relates to second and third generation survivors of the Holocaust, Jew and non-Jew, but may be equally applicable to any persecuted race or ethnic minority, whether holding a memory of a past life or those who suffer survivors guilt. This applies also to those who may have descended from those who were perpetrators as well as the generations following the victims.

Having attended several workshops with Roger Woolger (1947-2011) on Deep Memory Process and Voices of the Ancestors[ii], two or three individuals within each group of approximately twenty held memories of the Holocaust. In one group of twenty-one, six recalled Holocaust trauma. In every case the age group of the individuals concerned fell into the category of second or third generation survivor, either victim or perpetrator.

As an illustration I offer two case studies, Leah (myself) and Peter (pseudonym), both of whom, through dreams and visions, believe that they lived a previous life as either victim or perpetrator during the Holocaust. The memories they hold have had a profound effect on their personal and spiritual development throughout their lives. Many others with whom I have now corresponded through various groups, and several whose stories have been published by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom discuss their profound psychological and somatic issues which have deeply affected their state of being in this lifetime.

Gershom, found compelling evidence of many souls who had returned, both as Jews and non-Jews.[iii] When questioned as to how to determine whether a story is actually a case of reincarnation, he claims that there are no ways to prove it. What he does tell us is that regardless of the truth of the story, it offers an indication of how deeply the Holocaust has affected our collective consciousness and that for those experiencing flash-backs, the [psychological] effects are very real.[iv]

In terms of genetic memory, neither myself nor Peter lost any known relative during the Holocaust. At four years of age, I had experienced no exposure consciously, nor discussion about the war. My father was a radio engineer with the RAF based in Egypt during the war. His father came to the UK in 1913 to marry my paternal grandmother. My mothers family were British, her paternal grandfather arriving from Vienna long before the first world war. Peter was born to parents of British origin (three grandparents English) and Native American ancestry on his fathers side, raised in Canada with no Jewish or German connection. We have both experienced vivid flashbacks in one form or another throughout our lives, me as a Jewish victim, Peter as Nazi perpetrator. One may therefore wish to question the source and depth of where memory originates and how much is held by the individual within the depth of the psyche.

Hans TenDam defines the explanation of genetic memory as speculation as the research into the physical basis of memory does not indicate genetic coding and transfer of memories.[v] It may also be questionable that, due to the nature of the regression therapy undertaken, that part of what emerges is a product of False Memory Syndrome, a suggestion of the therapist, as opposed to a genuine recollection by the client. In his article, The False False Memory Syndrome Syndrome, (1999), Hans TenDam comments: It is sometimes said that if memories from childhood may be false, memories from a previous life must be even more unreliable[vi]

Alternatively, one may consider Rupert Sheldrakes theory that morphic resonance may provide an interpretation for the memory of past-lives. He hypothesises that memories held are the result of tuning in to a collective memory thus making it possible to tune in to the memories of specific people.[vii]  This would then indicate that the memory held does not actually belong to the individual who experiences it as if it were their own, but is the memory which has been picked up from the morphogenetic field.[viii]Consideration may also be given to the possibility of a spirit attachment, a soul who has been unable to move on and lives with his host as part of an individuals psychic make-up.

If the collective as defined by Daryl Sharp, contains the psychic contents that belong not to one individual but to a society, a people, or the human race in general[ix], then it follows that we may all have access to a far greater memory than that inherited genetically.

In all cases, the memories held by these individuals are believed to be from a different lifetime. In this vein Stanislav Grof comments:

elements of ancestral, racial, and phylogenetic memories, conscious intelligence of the DNA molecule and metaphysics of the genetic code, dynamics of archetypal structures, and the fact of reincarnation with the law of karma must now be incorporated into the subjects thinking[x]

Considerations for Therapists

Regardless of the origin of the contents of dream, vision, or as Woolger refers to it the spiritual imagination[xi], it is as Jung defines it, the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is. Jung held that before dealing with the material of the collective unconscious the personal unconscious must be dealt with first.[xii] Unless the client is able to enter the deepest levels of the psyche and has already explored in therapy issues from his present life, it may be unwise to consider any form of major regression on a transpersonal and spiritual basis.

Other questions arising are the number of sessions which may be necessary in order to facilitate a healing for the client, the orientation and training of the therapist, and whether or not a therapist needs to be trained in past life regression. This is based on, for instance, a Jungian or transpersonal psychotherapist who is experienced in working with archetypes, visions, dreams and active imagination. Such a therapist may well hold the necessary tools in his toolbox in order to work with the client bringing past-life material, which for others may seem too far away from any form of reality within their own understanding or belief system.

As in any form of therapy, each individual case is absolutely unique and must be treated accordingly. This then raises a question, again, as to how each individual therapist, if and when confronted with questions of past lives, deems it best in terms of facilitating a healing for the client, to work with his clients belief system within the therapeutic relationship.



I question within my dissertation the possibility of my case studies death instinct, i.e. the wish to revert to the non-existent state, the state of Thanatos in Freudian terms. As I own here my part within my dissertation, I discuss the initial dream, the end result of which, regardless of which type of therapy I have undertaken is always the same; I die as an eight year old child screaming in a gas chamber. As the middle of three daughters, I struggled to maintain any kind of existence within my middle-class Jewish upbringing, feeling unseen, unheard and misunderstood and question the reality of any of my memories. Peter had a traumatic childhood and suffered abusive parents; his memory recall was that of a Nazi, his childhood spent with an obsession with anything military which leads to the question of whether the life he remembers may be the impact and implication for the creative aspect of the unconscious to contain or release the experience of a deeper psychic affect. Are we simply seeking a reason to explain why we have experienced the psychological difficulties we have encountered on our life journey?

Whatever the truth is, the purpose of my research was an attempt to find a way of coming to terms not only with my own memories but also to offer comment to those therapists who find themselves working with an individual who believes that their issues stem from a former incarnation. Although, due to the nature of the subject, what appears to emerge is that there can be no real conclusion, it is suggested that a clients memories are accepted as if they are real and accept our clients story for what it is, a psychic reality to be respected and treated accordingly.

Elise Wardle is in private practice as a counsellor, psychotherapist and supervisor in Surrey. She holds a diploma in integrative counselling, Masters in Psychotherapy and Healing Practice, Certificate in Hypnotherapy and Diploma in Supervision (June 2013).



[i] Woolger, R.J., (1990) Other Lives, Other Selves, Bantam, 1990, New York, pp.64-65


[iii] Gershom, Y., (1992) Beyond the Ashes, ARE Press, Virginia Beach, VA, p.ix

[iv] Gershom, Y., (1992) Beyond the Ashes, ARE Press, Virginia Beach, VA. p.37

[v] TenDam, H., (2003) Exploring Reincarnation, Rider Books, London, p. 168

[vi] TenDam, H., The False False Memory Syndrome Syndrome, The Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol.XIII

No.1, Dec.1999, IARRT, New York, p.78

[vii] Sheldrake, R., (1988) Morphic Resonance & The Presence of the Past, the Habits of Nature, Park Street Press, Vermont, p.221

[viii] Sheldrake, R., (1988) Morphic Resonance & The Presence of the Past, the Habits of Nature, 1988, Park

Street Press, Vermont. p.371

[ix] Sharp, D., (2009) The Jung Lexicon,

[x] Grof, S., (1985) Beyond the Brain, State University of New York Press, p.50

[xi] Woolger, R.J., (1998) Death, Transition, and the Spirit Realms: Insights from Past-life Therapy and Tibetan Buddhism, (based on lecture 6.11.1998 Conference of the Association of Humanistic Psychology (Britain), The Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol.XIII No.1, IARRT, New York, p.51

[xii] Jung, C.G., (1934) Practical Use of Dream Analysis, The, in CW16 in Jacobi, J., C G Jung:Psychological Reflections, (1953) Routledge & KeganPaul (1971), London, p.57

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