"Paul Ornstein, who died at 92 on Jan. 19 in Brookline, Mass., could recall digging trenches for German troops as part of a forced labor battalion in Ukraine during World War II. After managing to escape, he hid for months in 1944 in the basement of the Swiss Embassy annex in Budapest.
Once the Red Army routed the Germans, he returned to his hometown in Hungary to search for his parents, his four siblings and his girlfriend, Anna Brunn, a distant cousin with whom he had fallen in love before the war, when he was 17 and she was barely a teenager.None appeared to have survived the Holocaust; he assumed they had been killed in death camps or in forced labor. Alone, he considered leaving his homeland behind and moving to Palestine. But with no way to get there, he instead enrolled in medical school in Hungary to pursue a career in psychoanalysis, inspired by his curiosity about what had motivated the anti-Semitism he experienced.
Six months later, he learned that his father and Anna were still alive, liberated from separate concentration camps.
“As it happened, Anna returned from Auschwitz with her mother, and my father returned from Mauthausen during the same week,” Dr. Ornstein recalled in a memoir.
Reunited, he and Anna, who had lost two brothers and her father in the Holocaust, enrolled in the Heidelberg University School of Medicine in Germany, where their classmates included former Nazis.
They married in 1946 and moved to the United States, where they became major figures in the self-psychology movement, a provocative and evolving theory that challenged traditional Freudian analysis.
Dr. Ornstein embraced and advanced the theory, which encourages therapists to be more empathetic — “vicarious introspection,” Dr. Kohut called it. Instead of dealing primarily with individual guilt, sex and aggression, as Freudians do, self-psychology postulates that parents’ failure to support a child’s sense of self leads to later personality disorders.
Dr. Anna Ornstein said in an interview on Monday that she believed that her husband’s self-esteem, and hers, enabled them to survive and that it shaped their outlook on the academic discipline they chose.
“It was never easy to be a Jew in Hungary, but when the ultimate hell broke loose, we were extra fortunate in terms of the parenting, the care and love we had as children,” she said. “We had very sturdy self-esteem. As much as we were humiliated, we never felt demeaned because we came from a culture and emotional environment that we could be proud of. We were called ‘dirty Jews,’ but we knew who we really were.”