FATHERS AND SONS
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1998:
CHICAGO––Part of the basis for
suspecting U.S. gun lobby involvement in
orchestrating the massive Countryside March
was the American background of march organizer
Eric Bettelheim, 46, whose Countryside
Business Group and the Countryside
Movement Ltd., formed by Lord Steel of
Aikwood, joined the British Field Sports
Society to create the Countryside Alliance.
Born in Chicago, raised in nearby
Hyde Park, Bettelheim took his first degree
at the University of Rochester, attended law
school at Oxford during the Vietnam War
years, earned a second law degree at the
University of Chicago in 1976, practiced law
in San Francisco for three years, and has
practiced in London ever since.
Bettelheim told media he learned to
shoot and fish as a child, at a summer camp
in The Dells, Wisconsin. He took up birdshooting
and fox hunting at Oxford. Not married,
according to Neil Steinberg of the
Chicago Sun-Times, Bettelheim “hunts foxes
five or six times a year, and goes shooting
(bird-hunting) about 30 days a year, usually
with friends or at country pubs and inns.”
Whether Eric Bettelheim has any
actual links to the U.S. gun lobby is unclear.
But Eric Bettelheim’s father was child psychologist
Bruno Bettelheim, 1903-1990.
That alone could explain the compulsions
driving an inveterate hunter and
defender of hunting. Bruno founded his reputation
on an alleged association with Sigmund
Freud in Vienna. Imprisoned by the Nazis at
Dachau and Buchenwald during 1938-1939,
he emigrated to America when released, he
claimed later as result of tricking his captors,
and based later accounts of the psychology of
Holocaust victims on his own experience.
Joining the University of Chicago
during the World War II teacher shortage,
Bruno directed the university’s Sonia Shankman
Orthogenic School for mentally and/or
psychologically handicapped children from
1944 until he retired in 1973. Bruno meanwhile
produced a series of much cited and
praised studies of autism, fairy tales, and
male/female psychological differentiation.
But in 1990 Bruno downed an overdose
of sleeping pills with whiskey, pulled a
plastic bag over his head, and killed himself.
Biographers Nora Sutton and
Richard Pollak were already independently
investigating Bruno Bettelheim’s actual
record. Sutton, who never met Bruno, beat
Pollak into print, suggesting in 1995 that
there were significant discrepancies between
the self-constructed Bruno image and reality.
Pollak knew Bruno Bettelheim, and
thus dug deeper. When Pollack was nine,
Pollak’s younger brother Stephen, age 6,
was entrusted to Bruno’s care for alleged
autism––of which Pollak recalls no symptoms.
Failing to improve in four years at the
Shankman School, Stephen was allowed to
visit a Michigan farm with Richard in 1948.
There they fell through a hayloft floor.
Richard caught something and escaped a 35-
foot drop. Stephen died of a fractured skull.
Still trying to make sense of the accident,
Richard visited Bruno in 1969, who told him
Stephen had committed suicide and blamed
the whole episode on the Pollak parents.
Already a nationally reputed investigative
reporter, Pollak went on to document
that Bruno had no verifiable contact with
Freud; spent 12 years in Vienna not studying
psychology but working at a family lumberyard
after his father died of syphillis; earned
a Ph.D. in philosophy, not psychology; was
ransomed from the Nazis by his first wife,
Gina Alstadt, who had worked with autistic
children and whose experience he later
claimed as his own; and built his writing
career on falsifications and plagiarism.
Advocating in public that children should
never be beaten, Bruno at the Shankman
School routinely beat children with a belt, as
well as habitually verbally abusing them,
sexually molested female children, and generally
ran the hospital much like a prison
camp––all according to first-hand testimony
Pollak collected from a long roster of victims
Pollak’s revelations were so shocking
to so many people that other investigative
reporters including Fred Bruning of Newsday
extensively checked the claims with other
sources before reviews of the Pollak book
were published. Each allegation stood up.
At that, they all may have missed
another clue to the character of Bruno
Bettelheim: an ANIMAL PEOPLE s e a r c h
of literature references suggests Bruno compared
notes on autism and psychological
deprivation with the notorious vivisector
Harry Harlow, whose maternal deprivation
experiments at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison, not far from the Shankman School,
were conducted 1930-1971.
To what extent Bruno and Harry
Harlow influenced each other might make a
good dissertation topic.
To what extent Bruno created Eric
Bettelheim can only be guessed, but according
to Bruno’s theories, parental attitudes
form the basis of behavior.