I started reading this piece in the New Yorker yesterday and only finished it today. It tells a shocking story about a renowned German sexologist named Helmut Kentler who, as part of an anti-authoritarian experiment set up foster homes for street children run by pedophiles. So renowned and respected was Kentler at the time that the Berlin Senate approved of and helped fund this experiment which continued into the early 2000s.
Kentler lived through World War II and had specific memories of Kristallnacht and his father’s support for the Nazis. He eventually became convinced that sexual repression was a key factor in the fascist personality type and sought to remake German society by revamping the country’s sexual education.
In 1960, Kentler got a degree in psychology, a field that allowed him to be “an engineer in the realm of the . . . manipulatable soul,” he said at a lecture. He became involved in the student movement, and at a meeting of the Republican Club, a group established by left-wing intellectuals, he publicly identified himself as gay for the first time…He was inspired by the Marxist psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who had argued that the free flow of sexual energy was essential to building a new kind of society. Kentler’s dissertation urged parents to teach their children that they should never be ashamed of their desires. “Once the first feelings of shame exist, they multiply easily and expand into all areas of life,” he wrote…
Kentler’s goal was to develop a child-rearing philosophy for a new kind of German man. Sexual liberation, he wrote, was the best way to “prevent another Auschwitz.”…
In the late sixties, educators in more than thirty German cities and towns began establishing experimental day-care centers, where children were encouraged to be naked and to explore one another’s bodies. “There is no question that they were trying (in a desperate sort of neo-Rousseauian authoritarian antiauthoritarianism) to remake German/human nature,” Herzog writes. Kentler inserted himself into a movement that was urgently working to undo the sexual legacy of Fascism but struggling to differentiate among various taboos. In 1976, the magazine Das Blatt argued that forbidden sexual desire, such as that for children, was the “revolutionary event that turns our everyday life on its head, that lets feelings break out and that shatters the basis of our thinking.” A few years later, Germany’s newly established Green Party, which brought together antiwar protesters, environmental activists, and veterans of the student movement, tried to address the “oppression of children’s sexuality.” Members of the Party advocated abolishing the age of consent for sex between children and adults.
In this environment, Kentler became a kind of rock star. He was the director of a department at a research institute in Berlin called the Pedagogical Center. There he was tasked with dealing with the problem of runaway children and child prostitutes. In the course of that work he befriended a 13-year-old prostitute named Ulrich. And that experience gave him an idea for foster homes run by pedophiles:
When Kentler asked Ulrich where he wanted to stay at night, Ulrich told him about a man he called Mother Winter, who fed boys from the Zoo Station and did their laundry. In exchange, they slept with him. “I said to myself: if the prostitutes call this man ‘mother,’ he can’t be bad,” Kentler wrote…
Kentler formalized Ulrich’s arrangement. “I managed to get the Senate officer responsible to approve it,” he wrote in “Borrowed Fathers, Children Need Fathers.” Kentler found several other pedophiles who lived nearby, and he helped them set up foster homes, too. At the time, the Berlin Senate, which governs the city—one of sixteen states in the country—was eager to find new solutions to the “life problems of our society,” in order to “confirm and maintain Berlin’s reputation as an outpost of freedom and humanity,” Kentler wrote.
In a speech before the German Parliament in 1981, Kentler was blunt about the transactional nature of these foster homes. “These people only put up with these feeble-minded boys because they were in love with them,” he said.
More than half of the New Yorker piece is devoted to a boy named Marco who grew up in one of these homes with two other boys, all of whom were sexually abused by their foster father whose name was Fritz Henkel. Henkel was monitored by Kentler and the two would regularly talk on the phone.
Kentler also had his own adopted and foster children and in a letter to a fellow sex researcher he confessed that he and one of his sons, who was 30 years younger, had a longstanding secret relationship:
When Kentler was fifty-seven, he wrote Schmidt a letter explaining why he was aging happily, rather than becoming lonely and resigned: he and his twenty-six-year-old son were “part of a very fulfilling love story” that had lasted thirteen years and still felt fresh. To understand his state of mind, Kentler wrote, his friend should know his secret.
Kentler’s professional opinon for most of his life was that pedophiles could act as caretakers for troubled kids but he gradually changed his mind after his own situation with his “son” ended in tragedy.
For much of his career, Kentler spoke of pedophiles as benefactors. They offered neglected children “a possibility of therapy,” he told Der Spiegel, in 1980. When the Berlin Senate commissioned him to prepare an expert report on the subject of “Homosexuals as caregivers and educators,” in 1988, he explained that there was no need to worry that children would be harmed by sexual contact with caretakers, as long as the interaction was not “forced.” The consequences can be “very positive, especially when the sexual relationship can be characterized as mutual love,” he wrote.
But in 1991 he seemed to rethink his opinion, after his youngest adopted son, the one he praised in the letter to Schmidt, committed suicide. Then he read the paper “Confusion of the Tongues Between Adults and the Child (The Language of Tenderness and of Passion),” by Sándor Ferenczi, a Hungarian psychoanalyst and a student of Freud. The paper describes how sexualized relationships between adults and children are always asymmetrical, exploitative, and destructive. Ferenczi warns that to give children “more love or love of a different kind” than they seek “will have just as pathogenic consequences as denying them love.” Children’s “personalities are not sufficiently consolidated in order to be able to protest,” he writes. They will “subordinate themselves like automata.” They become oblivious of their own needs and “identify themselves with the aggressor.”…
By the late nineties, Kentler had stopped seeing Henkel’s foster sons, or involving himself in their upbringing. In what was likely his last recorded public statement about pedophilia, in an interview in 1999, he referred to it as a “sexual disorder,” and alluded to the impossibility of an adult and a child sharing an understanding of sexual contact. The problem, he said, is that the adult will always have “the monopoly on definition.”
Kentler learned but only after decades of pushing a terrible ideology.
There’s a whole political side angle to the story which involves the far-right German AfD party. The author suggests that the party was helping victims of Kentler’s experiment, including Marco, as a way to politicize the issue and punish the liberal parties that had approved of what he did. But the more interesting partisan aspect of this story, to me at least, is that the researcher who uncovered much of this information for her Ph.D. thesis has left academia. She told the author of the piece, “I have no future in the university, because it is very hard to have success with this sort of subject. I am criticizing the academic world.”
More than anything, that seems to be the real lesson inherent in this story and one that I think is still relevant now. Far left ideologues had grand ideas for reimagining society in a way that would be anti-fascist. Because they were so confident and so well respected among other like-minded academics the government went along with these plans and even helped fund an experiment where pedophiles became foster parents. No one, apparently, ever stopped to say this seemed like a terrible idea because, after all, the experts know best.
In this case, the practical result was children being raped for years by their caretakers with the approval of the sexologist overseeing them. Only many years later do people look back and wonder how this could ever have been allowed to happen. Even last year, the student who uncovered the details was shut out of a career in academia because this story reflects badly on the experts. If Jeffrey Epstein had gotten a Ph.D. he’d still be a respected member of the elite.
It’s not hard to see a parallel to our own moment in time when another group of far left ideologues, this time experts on anti-racism, are badmouthing anyone who dares to question their social experiments with other people’s children. They will also be allowed to wreak havoc and repent at leisure in their old age.