For 30 years, Yehiel De-Nur, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who wrote under the pseudonym “Ka-Tzetnik,” was tormented by horrific nightmares. Every night, Auschwitz would visit him in his sleep, and he would wake up screaming, drenched in perspiration. His wife, Nina, heard about a Dutch psychiatrist who healed trauma using LSD, and over a period of two years urged her husband to see him. Finally he agreed, and in the summer of 1976 the couple traveled to the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands from Israel, where they lived. They spent a year there.
Ka-Tzetnik’s encounter with Jan Bastiaans was apparently the most meaningful experience of his life, following Auschwitz. “My mind goes numb at the mere thought of Prof. Bastiaans,” he wrote a decade later in his book “Shivitti: A Vision,” first published in full in the weekly newsmagazine Ha’olam Hazeh.
In the book, published in English in 1989 in a translation by Eliyah Nike De-Nur and Lisa Herman, Ka-Tzetnik (the Yiddish acronym used to describe a concentration camp inmate) describes how Bastiaans injected him with the drug and how he was abruptly catapulted from the spacious, pleasant therapy room back into hell, entering the ghetto behind Vevke, the cobbler, when suddenly the cobbler’s bench changes colors “from blinding yellow-green to ultraviolet… elongating like that clock of Salvador Dali’s.” Then, before his eyes, Vevke’s face transmutes into the face of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. The whole of Auschwitz is illuminated by the flames of the bold colors, he writes.
The entire process of treatment is recorded. During the trance, Bastiaans sits next to Ka-Tzetnik and urges him to describe in detail the hallucinations racing through his mind. He also sees to it that the patient does not drown under the horror. Bastiaans tells him that if he hadn’t wakened him he would not have been able to bring him back. You would have remained there, lost in limbo, the psychiatrist tells him.
Five LSD treatments sufficed for Ka-Tzetnik, before he announced that he wanted to go home. The nightmares vanished, and for the first time in 30 years he was able to sleep peacefully. After Leiden, he said, he was no longer the same person he had been before. Under the influence of the treatments, he retracted his famous comment – made when he gave testimony in the Eichmann trial, in 1961 – that Auschwitz was another planet. In an interview to journalist Ram Evron in 1988, he said, “Neither Satan nor God built Auschwitz, but I and you.” In that room in Leiden, he grasped that Auschwitz was the handiwork of human beings, “and it’s Hitler, it wasn’t Satan. He was a person.”
People who met Prof. Jan Bastiaans recall a man of mythic proportions, a broad-bodied individual who towered to a height of two meters (6.5 feet). At times, the physical descriptions seemed to have been influenced by his legendary personality. “He was a obese, very fat and very tall,” a journalist who met him in his last years said, adding, “When he sat on a chair, you couldn’t see the chair. And he was still taller than some of the people who were standing.”
For years, Bastiaans, who died at the age of 80 in 1997, was the personification of psychiatry in Holland. Far more than an academic authority, he was a cultural icon who stirred admiration and loathing alike. He appeared regularly in parliament and on television, he was the subject of books and documentaries, and a one-man show reconstructed his revolutionary treatments on the stage.
In Bastiaans' clinic, Ka-Tzetnik grasped that Auschwitz was the handiwork of human beings, 'and it’s Hitler, it wasn’t Satan. He was a person.'
For Dutch survivors of the Holocaust, resistance fighters and POWs, he was a father figure. Imbued with a sense of mission and blindly self-confident, Bastiaans was convinced that he and he alone could help the Nazis’ "transparent" victims: i.e., people who returned from the war sound of body but not of mind. Some saw him as a messiah who would deliver them from years-long agonies. Thanks to him, they received public acknowledgment of their suffering and the aftereffects of the war’s horrors. They also received financial compensation because of his work. They remained loyal to him in later years, when his career deteriorated and finally crashed in a case of death under his supervision. His experimental LSD treatments alienated him from the medical establishment in Holland. It was claimed that his research was not serious and that his methods were dangerous. Numberless attempts were made to have him fired from his position and discontinue his treatment, but Bastiaans went on working nonstop. He was a star.
Tears, anxiety, panic
Since first opening in 1902, the Jelgersma clinic has been located on a rural estate in the town of Oegstgeest, adjacent to the northern part of Leiden. Officially, it was the psychiatric clinic of the University of Leiden, but in practice, between the 1960s and 1980s, it was largely the private bastion of Prof. Bastiaans. His beige Mercedes would be parked in its regular spot, to the right of the entrance, for 16 to 18 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. The clinic had a large treatment room with a couch on which patients could sit or recline, and a thick carpet on which they could sprawl. There was also a separate room where patients slept after each session. Many patients were treated with traditional psychiatric methods, but in the difficult cases Bastiaans would explain that the way to a breakthrough lay through LSD.
An individual treatment consisted of two parts. In the first meeting, the patient would receive an LSD injection and under its influence would relive the traumatic event of his life. Bastiaans prodded the patients, provoked them and tried to understand what they had experienced. This went on for five to eight hours, until the effects of the drug wore off. In the second meeting, a day or two later, doctor and patient would listen together to the recording of the prior session and analyze it. Patients underwent an average of seven LSD experiences, though there also cases of more than 20.
Dr. Adeline Van Waning worked as an assistant to Bastiaans from 1972 to 1974. She relates, by phone, that the LSD treatments took place on weekends, on Saturday or Sunday. “It was not every week. The assistants were part of the preparations, so we got to know the patients who were involved.”
Did you take part in the treatment itself?
“Definitely. Bastiaans accompanied the patients. Sometimes he was present for the whole session, sometimes for just part, and then he withdrew to his study. In his absence it was our task as resident assistants to comfort the patients and take care of drink and food for them and be present in all kinds of ways.”
What do you mean by “comforting”? Were they in a mental state that required calming?
“Sometimes, certainly. Sometimes during the sessions, they were in tears, anxious, fearful, in panic, [with a] feeling of losing ground. When it was serious, it was important that Bastiaans himself would be present. Bastiaans would come and invite the patients to bring up memories and go into active dialogue with them.”
Was provoking these feelings part of the therapy?
“Any emotions could come up. The approach of drug-assisted therapy was a last resort for people who had tried all kinds of therapies before – talking therapies and medicines that didn’t help.”
Were there patients for whom this kind of treatment was not suitable?
“Certainly. It required a certain resilience to be able to go through such an exposure, to the imagining of the original traumatic situations in the past and to relive them. There are people who from the beginning don’t want that; some people felt that they did not have the ability to cope or the motivation to carry this heavy load.”
Would Bastiaans try to persuade them?
“Well, you probably know by now that he was quite fierce in his way of wanting to invite people to think that this is the best treatment. So there were times that he thought it would be better for a patient to have more sessions, but when the patient refused, of course it was not going to happen.”
While the patient was under the influence of the drug, Bastiaans and the clinic staff invoked techniques of psychodrama to stimulate memories and flood the patient emotionally. Bastiaans played Nazi march music for the patients and exposed them to S.S. symbols and effigies of Nazis. He also played roles of characters in situations that the patients had experienced.
“Bastiaans took the role of authority, often it was the role of the caring father but also he might be the camp commander, the person who was feared,” Van Waning explains. “There was always someone supervising in the room, usually a woman. So I might get the role of a mother or sister or a more supporting person. The script wrote itself during the session.”
'The aim is to live through what happened but also to see it in a larger context, become a ‘witness’ and see that now it was safe.'
So it was a form of improvisation?
“Yes. It all depended on what the patient would reveal. The patient could suddenly say to Bastiaans, ‘You hate me, I can see it in your eyes, you are going to destroy me.’ So within the hallucination, it felt real to him. But the patient might also say, “The way you are looking at me reminds me of the camp commander.’ In that case Bastiaans would not join in ‘being’ that person but ask the patient in what way he was like that person and what kind of feelings that generated. I think that it’s not very fruitful to let the patient identify with these positions completely and for a long time; the aim is to live through what happened but also to see it in a larger context, become a ‘witness’ and see that now it was safe. There is a great risk of re-traumatizing the patient when the patient is taken back into this hell and relives it in that deep, direct sense. It can aggravate the problems, the suffering. So it is important to touch on what happened just enough so that we can be a witness.
“It was most important to create a safe atmosphere, for the patient to feel safe, for instance, by being able to choose where to sit,” she continues. “Entering this treatment meant being ready to give up the defenses that people built with so much care. That by itself – not knowing where to go, giving up control – was already a very fearful perspective. The thought was that there was no choice, they had tried everything and this was the last resort.”
How long after each LSD session would the tapes be analyzed with the patient?
“It depended on the state the patient was in. Sometimes they needed an adaptation phase after the LSD session. So sometimes a person would still completely identify with the position of the LSD session and wanted just to be in bed and not talk and feel safe. So it could take some time until a person would open up again and be in communication and look back on what had arisen and what was relived in the session. Bastiaans always said that the difference between this situation and going back to hell is that you are not alone, I am with you, we are with you.”
Van Waning describes Bastiaans as an impressive, charismatic and very formal person who always wore a three-piece suit and smoked cigars.
Was he a strict person?
“I think so. He was reserved in his communication, but in the sessions he could be quite warm and caring and fatherly.”
Did he have a sense of humor?
“Some, but he was mainly a very serious person. What was most impressive was that he was so dedicated and so fiercely committed. That was in the forefront for me. He was very driven. I knew him at the beginning of the 1970s, in a more relaxed stage of his life when there was still the pioneer spirit, the interest and the good hopes. With the commitment to help people for a better future.”
Although these descriptions of the procedure sound stressful, there’s no indication that there were unsatisfied clients. Jason is a Dutch citizen who as a child lived under Japanese occupation in the Dutch East Indies (part of modern-day Indonesia) during the war. At the age of 40 he began developing symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts. He was referred to Bastiaans, who initially treated him with sodium pentothal, so-called truth serum. That proved ineffective, and Jason agreed to try LSD therapy. In an interview he gave for a research project in the late 1990s, he related that he underwent 13 LSD sessions with Bastiaans. “The professor succeeded in finding an opening for me,” he said, adding that he was very pleased with the treatment. “I am here, I’m here for my wife and the children.”
Nelson is a Jew who survived a concentration camp. In his 60s, he began suffering from nightmares, and to engage in aggressive behavior that led to his arrest. After three years of futile psychiatric treatment, he was referred to Bastiaans sometime in the late 1970s. He underwent one LSD session, during which he reconstructed his experiences from the camp in a controlled environment. After that treatment he met with a psychologist weekly for eight months. During this period he began painting again and also wrote a book. Interviewed for the research project, he said that following Bastiaans’ treatment his aggressiveness disappeared and he was able to go back to being an integral member of society.
The German invasion of the Netherlands, in May 1940, found 23-year-old Jan Bastiaans with dreams of a brilliant medical future. He was from a Christian family from Rotterdam; his father was a school principal who was active in the League of Nations. In 1941, when he was a fledgling medical student at the University of Amsterdam, Bastiaans published an article in the student newspaper in which he protested against the expulsion of Jewish lecturers and students from the university. He was suspended from the institution together with his Jewish classmates and went into the underground.
An injection he received during a medical procedure in 1941 affected a nerve in his leg and caused him lifelong damage. The injury forced him not only to forgo his dream of being a surgeon, but also the possibility of taking an active part in the Dutch Resistance. The permanent limp he was left with in his left leg in a sense symbolized the bitter disappointment that plagued him until his death, at not having done more in the war against the Nazis. He spent the final years of the war hiding on a farm near the city of Gröningen in northern Holland, from where he made radio broadcasts to the fighters of the underground.
In the winter of 1944, after his father’s death, Bastiaans returned with his young wife and their newborn twins to the family home in Rotterdam. There, in the attic, the family hid a Jewish couple in a large closet. For meals, the two would emerge from their place of hiding and eat with the family. Bastiaans’ brothers and their partners also returned home, so 14 souls resided in the house until the end of the war.
During the great famine that gripped Holland in the winter of 1944-45, one of Bastiaans’ twin babies sustaining brain damage from malnutrition; she was disabled her whole life and died recently. Some maintain that this tragedy intensified Bastiaans’ lifelong abhorrence of the Germans.
The immediate postwar years were a time of collective repression of the period of the German occupation. After years of siege, the Dutch breathed a sigh of relief and busied themselves rebuilding the nation. Of the 140,000 Jews who had lived in the country on the eve of the war (including refugees from Germany), only 20,000 returned home. Of some 45,000 Dutch men and women who took part in the Resistance, all but 5,000 survived the war and resumed their lives. Many, however, didn’t know that they were suffering from what was starting to be called “KZ [concentration camp] syndrome.” Bastiaans, whose 1957 graduation thesis for his medical degree at the University of Amsterdam was on “psychosomatic consequences of suppression and resistance,” identified clear symptoms among people who underwent lacerating experiences in German captivity. People suffering from concentration camp syndrome (also known as “survivor’s guilt”) have feelings of helplessness, insensitivity, irascibility and anxiety. In many cases, the phenomenon has physical manifestations.
Patients underwent an average of seven LSD experiences, though there also cases of more than 20.
In the 1950s, when the public in Holland started to confront the burden that weighed down on so many survivors, Bastiaans was there in order to explain the phenomenon, and became the person most identified with it. In a period before the term “posttraumatic stress syndrome” came into use, and knowledge of psychotraumatic reactions was limited, Bastiaans insisted that Holland was teeming with shattered individuals and was able to demonstrate a connection between the mental injuries they suffered during war and the medical problems that arose years later.
Bastiaans believed in psychoanalysis, but thought the process took too long and was intolerable for people suffering from daily torments. He searched for a chemical solution. At first he used sodium pentothal and pentobarbital, a substance that in high dosages is used in executions in the United States.
“One of the side effects of pentobarbital is that it slows the heart rate,” says Dr. Bram Enning, a Dutch psychologist who published a book about Bastiaans. “There were several near-accidents in the Jelgersma clinic, and patients were rushed to the hospital.”
In 1961, Bastiaans discovered LSD and believed it to be a perfect solution. Did he try the drug on himself? He told some people that he had, but denied it to others. A relative of the psychiatrist says that the only reason he refrained from trying it on himself is that he suffered from a cardiological problem. Be that as it may, he certainly used it on others, after obtaining the substance from Switzerland. In 1962, when appointed a professor at the University of Leiden, he became director of the Jelgersma clinic and made it his LSD center. Everything went well until 1966, when the Opium Law in Holland – which covered nearly all psychotropic drugs in the country – was broadened, and LSD was outlawed. The “Bastiaans method,” as it was known, was in danger of becoming extinct. Until an unexpected ally came to his aid.
Prince Bernhard Lippe-Biesterfeld, the German-born consort of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, was a dubious character, a hedonistic, corrupt playboy, but above all he was not forgiven for having been born on the wrong side of the border. He remained a staunchly proud German throughout his life, and for a brief period after Hitler’s rise to power, was a member of the Nazi Party and joined the S.S. When the war broke out he was already a member of the Dutch royal family, and he did all he could in exile to bolster his occupied country, but he wasn’t trusted. In later years his tainted past was not forgotten; he was dubbed the “Nazi prince.”
“There was a problem in the palace,” recalls a relative of Bastiaans. “Holland was perceived as sympathetic to Jews, but the queen’s husband was seen as a problematic element.”
How is all this tied to Bastiaans?
“The prince came to his house to talk to him [in the mid-1960s]. He wanted to be linked with him as a symbol of the underground and of help to the Jews after the war. That was his way of trying to clear his name. Bastiaans agreed to shake hands with the prince and to be seen with him in public if he were exempted from the Opium Law.”
Bastiaans thus became the only person in Holland who was permitted to use LSD in therapy. For his part, Prince Bernhard sponsored charities and events for sufferers of war traumas.
Bastiaans achieved his greatest glory in 1972, when the three last German war criminals still incarcerated in Holland were scheduled to be amnestied and released. The psychiatrist’s opinion was unequivocal: They must remain in prison, because if they were freed, survivors were liable to suffer a new round of trauma.
About this time, Dutch television broadcast a documentary titled “Now Do You Get It Why I Am Crying?” by filmmaker Louis van Gasteren. In it, Bastiaans describes the concentration camp syndrome and there is footage of him treating a tormented former member of the Dutch underground using LSD. This marked the first time that the agonies of the war’s survivors were brought home to the general public in the country. The film made Bastiaans a superstar. In the end, his view was accepted and the three war criminals remained in prison. Former members of the Resistance and Holocaust survivors viewed Bastiaans as a hero. He now had both royal and popular backing.
Work was Bastiaans’ whole life. He was married to Helena; they met in a hospital in The Hague in 1944 when he was a resident and she was a nurse. They had three children, but he was rarely home. Patients in distress called him at all hours of the day and night, and he responded. For him they were never “patients” – they were “my people.”
In 1973, after years in which Bastiaans urged the establishment of a national center to treat victims of concentration camp syndrome, Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard dedicated Centrum 45, an institute located in Oegstgeest, within walking distance of Bastiaans’ clinic. But he did not enter the promised land. Contrary to his expectations, he was not appointed the director of Centrum 45, which was a severe blow. According to Dr. Enning, a decision had been made to try out therapeutic methods at the center that went beyond LSD treatment.
Bastiaans continued to pursue his method. Physicians and psychiatrists in the health system demanded a stop to his treatments because they saw them as dangerous and ineffective, but encountered fierce opposition: Holocaust survivors and former members of the resistance demonstrated in support of Bastiaans. His status was secure, but he was also isolated. Increasingly, he entrenched himself in his small clinic.
Bastiaans turned 65 in 1982, and pressure began to mount on him to retire. By now he had broadened the description of “concentration camp syndrome” to encompass former hostages, survivors of road accidents and victims of incest. He refused to consider retirement. Opposition to him in the academic and medical spheres was heightened by fear of the drug culture. LSD had a bad reputation as a hallucinogenic drug.
In 1985, Bastiaans was forced to retire from teaching psychiatry at the University of Leiden, but the House of Representatives (the lower house of the Dutch parliament) allowed him to go on treating patients in his clinic. A special investigation by health authorities concluded that Bastiaans was indeed achieving results with LSD but that there was no scientific proof of the substance’s medical benefits and, accordingly, recommended that it not be used. The authorities discovered that Bastiaans had maintained orderly records for only nine out of the hundreds of treatments he had administered. “A small part of what he did was well established [medically],” says a relative. “He really was not a person of papers, but he had a phenomenal memory. Medical files and documentation were not his strong side.”
Adeline Van Waning ran into him at a professional conference in the late 1980s. She recalls meeting a withdrawn, bitter man, very different from the brilliant and optimistic professor she had known in the vibrant period of the Jelgersma clinic in the early 1970s.
“It was painful to see in the end that he isolated himself more and more from the psychiatric community,” she says, adding, “Stopping the allowance to use LSD in The Netherlands – for him it was a personal tragedy.”
Bastiaans eventually resigned from the clinic in 1988 but continued to receive patients at home. However, it would be a mistake to think that he had accepted the termination of his experimental form of therapy then: He was ready for the next big project – but just didn’t imagine that it would bury him.
About that time, Bastiaans was approached by a scientific researcher from America named Howard Lotsof, who was using ibogaine to treat drug addicts. Ibogaine is the active substance in iboga, a psychedelic plant that grows in West Africa and is used, for example, in certain rituals in Gabon and in the Republic of the Congo. One of Lotsof’s two partners at the time was an Israeli, Boaz Wachtel, who would later go on to found the Green Leaf party and become a successful businessman thanks to the cannabis revolution.
“He was an avant-garde psychiatrist,” Wachtel, 62, says of Bastiaans. “He was a very deep person, it took him time to be persuaded. He read about ibogaine and then came to see us in Rotterdam. He was the first physician who was receptive enough to come and see treatment using ibogaine, and he was our supportive and supervisory doctor.”
The group moved its underground activity to a hotel in Oegstgeest called the White House, Wachtel recounts. Addicts were treated with ibogaine by Lotsof under Bastiaans’ supervision. In early 1994, an heroin-addicted couple from Germany, Nicola and Marcel, arrived for rehab. Nicola was going to celebrate her 25th birthday that week. The two brought five grams of heroin with them, a farewell present to themselves. The next morning they began treatment separately, but that night, gurgling was heard from Nicola’s room. She was found in bed, having trouble breathing. Bastiaans was at home at the time.
Today psychiatry is returning big-time to psychedelic substances, particularly for the treatment of psychotrauma.
“Because I had been a combat paramedic in the army, I was the supposed medical authority there,” Wachtel recalls. “It took the ambulance a long time to arrive. I began resuscitation immediately, but she went cold in my hands.” Bastiaans was called and arrived very quickly, but there was nothing left to do. The medical team pronounced her dead.
People close to Bastiaans accused Wachtel and Lotsof of exploiting the aging professor and of leaving him in the lurch by boarding the first flight out of Holland the next day. Wachtel insists that their were no suspicions against them and that they left only after the conclusion of the police investigation. Bastiaans, as the makeshift clinic’s medical authority, bore the responsibility.
Did he show signs of dementia at that stage?
Wachtel: “No. He was elderly, but he had an active practice at the time. He was as sharp as a razor.”
As fate would have it, a reporter from The New York Times was on hand during that tragic episode. Alexis Jetter, who today teaches in the English department of Dartmouth University, remembers Bastiaans at age 77 as a very unimpressive person. “He was clearly past his prime. He looked like someone who was no longer sharp, he was petulant and he would drowse when he was supposed to be supervising Nicola and Marcel,” she says by telephone. “He often simply slept when he was supposed to be looking for signs of discomfort or breathing problems. He was useless.”
Jetter says she wonders to this day whether her presence perhaps distracted the team and caused a fatal mistake of judgment.
After Bastiaans arrived, she says, he called the patient a “heroin whore” and didn’t look upset. “It was disgusting,” she recalls. “I saw a person with no empathy, with no sense that he had a part in the tragedy. It was clear to everyone there that each of us would carry this tragedy with them, and Bastiaans simply walked away.”
No criminal proceedings were launched against Bastiaans. At this stage his first signs of Alzheimer’s had already appeared. The Dutch health authorities asked him for clarifications concerning Nicola's death, but his health deteriorated and he could not fully understand what was wanted of him. Finally it was decided to revoke his license to practice medicine and to put a general stop to all of the types of treatments he administered. People who were close to him at the time say that the humiliating end killed him.
“Before he entered a home for the aged,” a relative recalls, “he would ask his wife, who had also been his secretary, ‘Are more people waiting for me?’ She would get irritated: ‘There are no more people.’”
Jan Bastiaans died on October 31, 1997, alone and alienated from the Dutch medical establishment. But today psychiatry is returning big-time to psychedelic substances, particularly for the treatment of psychotrauma. At Centrum 45, the institute created at Bastiaans’ urging although he was denied the opportunity to run it, experiments are being conducted that use MDMA to treat mentally afflicted war veterans. Leading the experiments is Prof. Eric Vermetten, who heads research at the Dutch Defense Ministry’s Military Mental Health Service, and now holds Bastiaans’ old position at the University of Leiden. In many senses he is also continuing on his predecessor’s path.
“Today his legacy as a scientist is largely anecdotal,” Vermetten acknowledges. “It’s unfortunate that this is how he is evaluated. For me, Bastiaans’ primary legacy is his pioneering, his breakthrough approach and his vision for the use of psychotherapy. When people remember mainly that he continued unfounded treatments in hotel rooms, they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
Bastiaans’ family emphasizes his legacy as a “guardian of the Jewish people" – a person who lived the horrors of the Holocaust every day and devoted his life to helping Jews. In an interview a few years ago, his son Roland, a psychologist, said that in his view his father also suffered from the syndrome that he himself had tried to eradicate in so many patients. “Father was in trauma. Not only from the disappearance of his friends, but also because of the fact that he was unable to do anything active in the war. My feeling was that he suffered from survivor’s guilt – it’s not only the survivors who felt guilt, so did those whose lives continued normally despite the war. He threw himself into his work in order to overcome that, or at least not to feel it.”
Bastiaans’ funeral was held in the Green Church in Oegstgeest. The chief rabbi of the Dutch army recited verses from Psalms, and Bastiaans’ son, who had converted to Judaism and moved to Israel in 1972, recited the Kaddish. When the mourners emerged from the church, they found a large crowd for whom there hadn’t been room inside. It was a very cold day. They removed their hats and stood in silence.