Today, the personal and professional intersected when I had the opportunity to honor my grandfather, Fritz Perls. With his wife Lore, he invented Gestalt Therapy, a dramatic departure from traditional Freudian therapy, and revolutionized the field of psychology. On October 12, they and their work were honored at my grandfather's childhood home in Berlin. The Deutsche Vereinigung fur Gestalttherapie, which is the German Gestalt Therapy Association, organized the memorial event. Though many in the field of psychology consider my grandfather a transformative figure, he had never been honored in Germany. He observed the rise of Nazi power and left the country just in time, never to return. The Gestalt associations in Germany and throughout the world keep the body of his work alive and train new generations of psychotherapists in this newer, existentialist approach to the therapeutic process.
It was an honor to represent the Perls family at this wonderful occasion and to welcome the Deputy Chief of Mission, James Melville, to the event. As Embassy Berlin continues to build bridges with the Jewish community in Germany and observes the rapid pace with which the German government successfully builds relationships with German-Jewish organizations, it seemed fitting that I wore two hats today. I was a member of the Perls family, and I was a U.S. diplomat representing my country at an event recognizing an outstanding Jewish thinker who saved his family and flourished in the United States.
My grandparents would be very surprised, maybe shocked, that their grandson was in Berlin, speaking German and greeting their former colleagues and current supporters. Fritz and Lore, along with their youngest daughter, Renate, fled Germany in 1933, shortly after Hitler's ascension to power. Their journey took them from Germany to Holland to South Africa, where my father was born, and then to America. They had the foresight to get out before it would be impossible to do so. Many of their closest family, who were also my relatives, were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Half of my family tree was cut off.
Now, I am in Germany as a U.S. diplomat after a first career as an entrepreneur in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I spent nine months learning German at the Foreign Service Institute, and I have lived in Frankfurt with my wife for nearly two years.
Only in the Foreign Service could an assignment bring an officer across an ocean to face his history and confront his roots. I had never imagined that while representing my country I would also end up representing my family. How surprised would Fritz be if he knew his grandson was in Berlin, a recent German-speaker, representing the United States of America and loving the experience of being in Germany. I love it, in spite of the history, because I see that most Germans care about what happened and are deeply committed to ensuring that it never happens again.
The recognition of my grandfather at the event today symbolized for me what I love about Germany. There were local elected officials recognizing the world-wide contribution a native Berliner made to the world, and it seemed natural. It was not about him being Jewish and fleeing persecution, but about an outstanding German who lived in Berlin, received his M.D. and Ph.D. in Germany and changed the world of psychology.