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Erwin Ringel; Austrian Social Critic, Psychiatrist and Author

August 02, 1994| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

VIENNA — Psychiatrist Erwin Ringel, a prominent Austrian social critic, author of a best-selling book on anti-Semitism who also once wrote that nearly half of Austrians seeking medical help do so for imagined ills, has died of a heart attack.

Ringel, who was 73 when he died Thursday in Bad Kleinkirchheim in southern Austria, denounced Adolf Hitler during World War II and drew attention late in life as an opponent of Kurt Waldheim, who was elected president in 1986 despite having served in Hitler's army.

"In Erwin Ringel, Austria has lost a particularly important voice of its conscience," said Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, a friend of Ringel.

Ringel, who became a psychiatrist in Vienna in 1946, specialized in the problems of suicide and its prevention and set up a crisis center for potential suicides in Vienna in 1948.

"I love life," he once said. "For me, suicides were the most hapless of people."

Ringel believed in both individual and collective psychiatry and therapy and in his later years wrote several books analyzing the "Austrian soul" and expressing his views on events and Austrian reactions to them.

A staunch anti-Nazi, Ringel was briefly arrested by the Gestapo in 1939 before being drafted into the German army where he served in the medical corps, mainly in Vienna.

In 1943, Ringel publicly called Hitler a psychopath. A doctor working with the Resistance movement helped Ringel avoid persecution, and had the army discharge him by claiming he had a thyroid problem.

"The Austrian Soul," published in 1984, became a bestseller. It included a controversial analysis of anti-Semitism while charging that his homeland was "a breeding ground of neurotics."

Ringel used a wheelchair in later life after he was found to have multiple sclerosis.

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