Heimler, Eugene

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Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Szombathely, 27 March 1922. Education: Academy of Social Science, Budapest, diploma in social science 1947; London School of Economics; Manchester University, diploma in psychiatric social work 1953; University of London. Family: First wife killed at Auschwitz; married Livia Salgo in 1946, one son and one daughter. Career: Prisoner, German concentration camps, World War II. Journalist, Hungary, following World War II. Moved to England, 1947. Psychiatric social worker, London, 1953-60; psychiatric social work organizer, 1960-65; director, Hounslow Project, England, beginning in 1965. Since 1970 professor of human social functioning, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Director of community care course, University of London, 1960-80; speaker on mental health, U.S. tour, 1964; consultant to World Health Organization and to United States government, 1964; adviser to ministry of social security of England, 1965-67. Also contributor to newspapers and professional journals. Affiliated with Heimler Foundation, Buckinghamshire, England.



Eternal Dawn. 1939.

Confession to the World. 1943.


Night of the Mist. 1959.

A Link in the Chain. 1962.


Prison. 1964.

Mental Illness and Social Work. 1967.

Survival in Society. 1975.

The Storm: The Tragedy of Sinai. 1976.

The Healing Echo. 1985.

Editor, Resistance against Tyranny: A Symposium. 1966.

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Eugene Heimler belonged to a distinguished group of Holocaust survivors who gained international fame when they published their memoirs and also when they engaged in high-profile humanitarian causes. Born in 1922 in the little town of Szombathely in western Hungary and educated at the Jewish Gymnasium in Budapest, Heimler spent the last year of the war (between the summer of 1944 and May 1945) as a prisoner in the camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Tröglitz, and Berga-Elster. After the war he returned briefly to Hungary, and, as new forms of anti-Semitism and tyranny forced him to emigrate, he made England his new homeland.

Heimler's first major work (if one does not count his two poetry books that came out in 1939 and 1943), Night of the Mist, translated from Hungarian and published in English in 1959, has brought its author enormous popularity. It is often mentioned in one breath with and compared to Primo Levi 's Survival in Auschwitz,Elie Wiesel 's Night, Micheline Maurel'sAn Ordinary Camp, and Viktor E. Frankl 's Man's Search for Meaning. With these other autobiographical works it shares some common rhetorical strategies employed by the narrators in order to transcend the physical and mental abuse to which they were subjected. While describing an environment where the prisoners' acts, behavior, and identity are totally controlled by the oppressors, Heimler, like other Holocaust survivors, adopts what some scholars have called a symbolic and mystical "purpose-centered orientation" that enables him to redefine and thereby cope with the situation in the camps. Heimler defines two types of survivors: those who believed that their unwavering faith in God had protected them and those who were able to find a "personal meaning in living." He found himself in the second category and admits that the task of "chronicler of our times," "an eye witness and writer without a pen" in the hell of Auschwitz, has become a bridge between his past dreams of becoming a poet and his future, post-Holocaust life.

Although he is most famous for the memoir Night of the Mist, in the years after World War II Heimler also made a name for himself as a poet, writer, journalist, social worker, and political activist who relied on his own experiences during the Holocaust to develop methods of coping with various other forms of personal crisis, social discrimination, and political oppression. His second memoir, A Link in the Chain (1962), is a revealing, unusually sincere and very detailed account of his life in the immediate postwar years up until 1960, a period in which the Holocaust survivor struggled to adjust to life after the trauma, to life in a new land speaking a new language. Upon returning to his hometown in western Hungary in 1945, he became a journalist and began to write regularly on the persecution and mass murder of Jews in Hungary of the most recent past. As a result of his articles, however, he received numerous abusive and threatening letters whose content was openly nationalistic and anti-Semitic. When Heimler published an article on the British general election in 1945, he was accused of high treason by the attorney general (the same person on whose order Heimler's father had been deported in 1943) and was arrested.

In the course of the year after his release from prison, the rise of nationalism and the imminent Stalinist terror forced him to leave his beloved Hungary. After 1947 Heimler studied at the London School of Economics and Manchester University and became a psychiatric social worker. Similarly to another famous survivor, the Austrian psychiatrist Victor E. Frankl, Heimler was able to draw upon his camp experiences in the process of creating his own methods of autogenic therapy called Human Social Functioning. Numerous English psychiatrists and counselors have been taught and trained in the Heimler Interview Technique and in Heimler's methods. Heimler was engaged in a variety of local community care projects as well as international human rights projects. He edited the 1966 symposium Resistance against Tyranny, to which he contributed a thoughtful essay on Jewish resistance before and during the Holocaust, and he was also known for his studies on social work in prisons as documented in his 1963 essay "Children of Auschwitz" (included in the volume Prison edited by George Mikes). Heimler's book Mental Illness and Social Work (1967) still remains a standard work in its field.

—Mila Ganeva

See the essay on Night of the Mist.