A personal farewell

(Written by Gábor Pintér, Budapest)

The entire psychodramatist community was deeply affected when Zerka Moreno died on the19th of September 2016. She was almost a 100 years old.

„My work as an „auxiliary ego” was essentially important for Moreno. He said I was the best auxuiliary he had ever worked with. And not only in work, I’ve become his auxiliary in real life, too. We have formed a team. Yes. We made it happen. It was possible for him to have a partner he was happy to work with, but also, someone who has her own work to focus on” (Interview with Zerka, excerps).

Zerka had been working with Moreno from 1941, first as an aid, then as a partner, a wife and ultimately as the mother of Jonathan, their child together. But Zerka took upon a lot more and she kept working and creating throughout her life: a real match for Moreno’s immense achievements. She was a true „co-creator” of psychodrama and after Moreno died in 1974 she kept the work up as chief elaborator of the method, thus becoming the leading power of the international dramatic movement. Drama today around the world would not be the same without her knowledge, experience and inspiration or without her charismatic personality. Tens of thousands of people from all continents saw her working with psychodrama during her 70 years of activity and thousands of her disceples were lucky to have her as their trainer. Her way of  working was tough but coherent and also, immensely responsive and supportive at the same time. Her motto was „healing others” and she never got tired of teaching others how to be a dramatist leader and a therapist as well. She kept in touch with many of us from all over the world, managing to retain a very special relationship: that of the professional tutor, mentor, partner and that of a certain kind of very intimate friend at the same time. As far as experiences with Hungary are concerned, our Judith Teszáry had learnt psychodrama from Zerka as trainer and she went on to become an important  figure in psychodrama in Hungary.

We would need a much larger forum to discuss her curriculum full of achievements and I don’t even attempt to make a list of her accomplishments. There are two books compiled by her that show both her bonds to Moreno as a collaborator as well as her professional works in her own right. „The Quintessential Zerka: Writings by Zerka Toeman Moreno on Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy" was published in 2006 and contains some 40 articles written in all sorts of subjects over the years. It is interesting to see how she put all pieces into prespective by adding a short introduction to each particular item. Her other book called "To Dream Again: A Memoir" was the result of her work of at least of five years as far as I know.

When you talked to Zerka it could only have been done with a very intimate feel to it and your way of bonding with her was the „I and Thou” type encounter described by Buber.

When I am planning to say my good-byes it can only be done through memories that I cherish about and with her. I was first introduced to her in Amsterdam by Gretel Leutz at the IAGP Conference in 1989. The three of us were sitting in the tea-room of the conference center and were in a lengthy discussion about the future of psychodrama in Europe. We established that there was a greater need of uniting our efforts and a more meaningful application of psychodrama in psychotherapy. At the time I felt really uneasy in her company but she was great and tactful in helping me relax about it. Then I remember meeting her again in Montreal three years later in a packed little conference room where we decided to form FEPTO. She was highly supportive of the idea and she never stopped helping it happen.  FEPTO was actually created a year later. In 1994 we were busy organizing the second meeting of  FEPTO with Pierre Fontaine in Oxford and we also invited Zerka, who has attended there on the BPA Conference organized by Marcia Karp and  her collegues. She gave us the pleasure of not only attending but being very active, and by doing so she really gave a boost to the official European collaboration of dramatists which was just taking its first baby steps at the time. However she kept reminding us not to abandon IAGP (the Psychodrama section) since it was founded by Moreno himself (along with others) in 1954.

In 1993 I was invited by Zerka to attend the „Zerka Moreno Intensive” trianing course which was meant to give further practice to those who were already instructors themselves. It was held in the Moreno Theater which is about 40 km-s off from the original site. I remember the round stage of many different levels, covered in-oak wood and I recall how very intense it was. I had this play led by her where I was the protagonist and it seemed endless. I also remember her standing on one level below the scene itself most of the time but she came very close to me in the most critical moments.

She was working really hard but we also heard her laughing a lot, reciting her own poems or singing burlesque songs. Zerka arrived by car every morining to the trainings and a number of times she took me over to Beacon, to the house she used to share with Moreno. So we did get to spend some special time together, travelling in the car, sitting in the house or in the garden. I later returned to that house again when she urged me to research Moreno’s work in the Library of Medicine at Harvard and in the Moreno Collection. I was also present in Beacon when Moreno’s remains were prepared to be transferred to Vienna. When I think back of all the times I had spent in Beacon what comes to mind  is her simplicity and her being so naturally herself. I was amazed to witness her doing the simplest things like driving her car, telling me about her life, offering me to sit in Moreno’s favourite armchair or feeding us dinner. And it was so overwhelming for me to be able to chat with her about Moreno, about mankind and about other subjects of cosmical perspective while she was just going around her business as usual.

J. L. Moreno, Zerka and their son Jonathan who was ten at the time first visited Budapest in 1963 upon invitation of Moreno’s friend Pető András. Thirty-five years later, in autumn 1998 Zerka came to Budapest again, invited by the MPE and also by the Pető Institute. When I met her at the airport she asked me not to take her to her hotel but to go that the very terrace of Hotel Gellért where she and Moreno went all those years ago. She remembered clearly which table they were sitting at with Moreno, Mérei, Pető and Hári Mária while discussing the latest developments of the Pető method and talking about psyichodrama. I was truly taken aback how she managed to recall all the details of that meeting and she was even ale to inverse the roles. Her drama workshops in Budapest were a great success and will always be dearly remembered by those who attended. I remember one time when she had let the protagonist lead her, instead of the other way round. I invite everyone who attended her workshops then to share their memories in this special moment.

Zerka went on to visit the Pető Institute and met Hári Mária. Since I was a professor of the Institute I was preparing her visit. Hári Mária was the closest collaborator of Pető András and she was also good friends with Zerka. They kept their friendship for 50 years, long after Moreno and Pető, the two good friends were gone. There was some apprehension at first but after that they really started to enjoy each other’s company. They used to have long conversations and we also took a tour of the children’s groups of the Institute. Zerka was really taking in all the details and asked questions as if she had been always familiar with the place. She immediately understood perfectly what was going on. Her favourite place was the group where the mothers are also in there with their children, since „they are also part of the team”. Maybe she liked it so much beacuse it happened the same way as it did in Beacon, too…

Zerka came to my home for dinner that night and I had my young children around too. Zerka suddenly addressed them: „I saw you kids realized that there is someting wrong about my arm. Yes, I lost my right arm to an illness but it never stopped me from becoming the right hand for Moreno!”.

We met at other times, too, we were in correspondence and she kept sending us professional books. American dramatists came to visit us. I am sure I was not the only one who wrote a letter to Zerka after a certain time and got an immediate response. In addition she was always up to date about everyone although I think she kept in touch this way with hundreds of people. We shared our views on the professional aspects of psychodrama and I always informed her how things went  with FEPTO. She knew what was going on, we discussed some of the issues and she was really pleased about the achievements of drama in Europe and those of the MPE in Hungary. She was happy about the growing volume of drama work and about how drama evolved in psychotherapy.

She took interest and care in our work together with my wife Barbara and she gave us a lot of support. We had long talks about it and she often gave us examples how she became part of Moreno’s dramas, whether it was in Beacon or in other different workshops abroad. Every now and then she also acted as a supervisor for us. As a result of this work together we managed to establish our little venture for combining psychotherapy and drama, called the „Moreno Centrum”. It happened almost at the same time as my friend Jörg Burmeister created „Centro Moreno” in Granada with the same prospective in mind and with the participation of family. That’s why we also feel it is our duty to keep the Morenos’ legacy alive, to show their ideas, to demonstrate their work and to represent the values so important for them.

At the end of my recollection let me put here what Zerka actually told me. In one of my interviews I asked her: „So what is it that you most like about psychodrama?” And her answer was: „It has a deep effect on you, on me, on everyone. It gives you sense and hope and it makes our lives better. How could you possibly not love it? It is beautiful and it helps people know themselves better, to arrive to a greater understanding of why we are here and what our purpose in life is.”

Zerka messaged to the Hungarian psychodramatists in 2009. For the opening ceremony of our congress she wrote: „ My late husband, J.L. Moreno would really feel honoured that his 120th birthday is celebrated in Hungary. In a country where we could spend some time together with Pető András back in the marxist regime. Pető and Moreno were at the same University in Vienna and Moreno loved your country and he really appreciated Pető’s  efforts to try to bypass the dictatorship. Moreno and I visited a lot of countries in marxist times where the bells were silent in the churches. Budapest was the first city where we heard the bells toll. We are not catholic but these bells were telling us that there is a fight for freedom and that freedom eventually arrived to your country too. So keep those bells ringing and fight for your inner freedom with the tools Moreno left you as his legacy”.

* * * * *

Zerka, thanks for everything!
We sincerely hope you will still find pleasure

in the bells that keep ringing here!


Gábor Pintér PhD., CSc.

Univ. and College Professor

Psychodramatist in Budapest

Hungary 1124 Fodor u.46.

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