Esther Lamm was a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst who worked within the refugee centres during and following the Second World War.
Esther Lamm was born in 1913. Her intellectual Jewish-Swedish family lived in Stockholm. Her father, Martin Lamm, was a member of Svenska Akademien (the Swedish academy) and of Samfundet De Nio (The Nine Society) and was a well-known and very popular public speaker. Esther Lamm’s mother was a housewife who was actively involved in refugee support and social welfare provisions for refugees during and after the Second World War.
During the 1930s Esther Lamm studied medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. She specialised in psychiatry and received laudable testimonials upon gaining her medical qualification in 1945. Whilst studying she worked as a locum at the psychiatric department of the Långholmen central prison. Immediately after the Second World War, in the autumn of 1945, she was called up by the civil defence to work at a medical site in Sigtuna which had taken in former concentration-camp inmates who required care and had to be quarantined. Esther Lamm was one of the doctors who cared for the survivors taken in by Sigtunastiftelsen (the Sigtuna trust) which for nine months of the 1945–1946 period was transformed into a refugee centre. The Lamm family also cared for Jewish refugees at her parents’ home at Skeppsbron in Gamla stan (Stockholm) as well as at their own home on Kungsholmen.
For the remainder of the 1940s Esther Lamm worked as a child psychiatrist whilst also training as a psychoanalyst. She was one of the early champions of Freud’s work, which in itself was a radical stance to take at that time. From 1950 onwards she had her own practice as a psychoanalyst but also worked as a consultant, teacher, and tutor in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy at Psykoanalytiska föreningen (the psychoanalytical association). She also intermittently worked in the field of children’s and youth psychological care (PBU), at the family advice bureau, the mental health bureau, as well as with groups from the psychiatric clinic at the Karolinska hospital, Långbro hospital, and Beckomberga hospital.
In 1936 Esther Lamm married the child psychiatrist Gustav Jonsson, who himself was an early champion of anti-authoritarian child-rearing methods. Both Esther Lamm and her husband were members of the network of socialist doctors who all campaigned for sexual enlightenment and on behalf of the reception of refugees from Nazi Germany. Esther Lamm was present at the Karolinska hospital on 9 February 1939 and was one of those who voted for the right of ten Jewish doctors to come to Sweden and practise medicine. However, she was forbidden from expressing herself at the meeting; the fact that she was Jewish herself meant that she was considered biased.
Esther Lamm’s and Gustav Jonsson’s son Staffan was born in 1937, followed by the birth of their daughter, Annika, the next year. The family lived in the first cooperative apartment building at John Ericssonsgatan 6 on Kungsholmen. Their neighbours included many of the socially aware doctors and social scientists who sought to help build a new Swedish welfare state according to radical ideals. The building comprised a central kitchen from which a food lift connected to each apartment. There was a cleaner available for those who wanted one, while the ground floor housed a day-care centre led by the Danish child psychologist Nancy Bratt. In 1943 Esther Lamm and Gustav Jonsson got divorced. Staffan Lamm has, in his 2000 autobiography entitled Boken Om Mig, described his childhood as an unhappy one, despite his parents’ best intentions. In 1950 Esther Lamm got married for the second time. Her new husband was Rudolf Holmdahl, an engineer. Their son named Martin Holmdahl-Lamm was born in 1951. Esther Lamm continued practising as a qualified psychoanalyst for children and adults until she died. She used to receive her patients at her consulting-room in her own home.
Esther Lamm died in Stockholm in 1989.