18 November 2019

Tales of the Viennese Jews:
4, portrait of Sigmund Freud,
founder of psychoanalysis

A portrait of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) in the Jewish Museum in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Tales from the Vienna Woods is a waltz by the composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), written just over a century and a half ago, in 1868. Although Strauss was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, he was born into a prominent Jewish family. Because the Nazis had a particular penchant for Strauss’s music, they tried to conceal and even deny the Jewish identity of the Strauss family.

However, the stories of Vienna’s Jews cannot be hidden, and many of those stories from Vienna are told in the exhibits in the Jewish Museum in its two locations, at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse and in the Misrachi-Haus in Judenplatz.

Rather than describe both museums in detail in one or two blog postings, I have decided over the next few days or week to re-tell some of these stories, celebrating a culture and a community whose stories should never be forgotten.

A portrait in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse is a reminder that Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, lived for most of his life in Vienna, that as a Jew he was forced by the Nazis to flee Vienna the year before he died of cancer.

Sigmund Freud was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud on 6 May 1856 to Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austrian Empire. Both his parents were from Galicia, a province straddling modern-day West Ukraine and Poland.

His father, Jakob Freud (1815-1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833-1914) and Philipp (1836-1911), by his first marriage. Jakob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and although Jakob had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study.

Sigmund Freud’s mother, Amalia Nathansohn, was 20 years younger than his father and was his third wife. They were married by Rabbi Isaac Noah Mannheimer on 29 July 1855. They struggled financially, living in a rented room in a locksmith’s house when their son Sigmund was born.

The Freud family left Freiberg in 1859. Sigmund Freud’s half-brothers emigrated to Manchester, while Jakob Freud took his wife, Sigmund daughter Anna first to Leipzig and then to Vienna in 1860. Four sisters and a brother were born in Vienna: Rosa (born 1860), Marie (1861), Adolfine (1862), Paula (1864) and Alexander (1866).

Sigmund Freud entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school, at the age of 9 in 1865. He was an outstanding pupil, loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

Freud was 17 when he entered the University of Vienna at the age of 17 and qualified as a doctor of medicine in 1881 at the University of Vienna. He began his medical career at the Vienna General Hospital in 1882, and when he completed his habilitation in 1885 he was appointed a docent in neuropathology.

Freud lived and worked in Vienna for most of his life, until the year before his death. He set up his clinical practice there in 1886, and he became an affiliated professor in 1902.

When the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, Freud’s books were among those they burned and destroyed. He remarked to Ernest Jones: ‘What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.’

Freud underestimated the growing Nazi threat and was determined to stay in Vienna, even after the Anschluss of 13 March 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and the outbreaks of violent antisemitism that ensued.

Ernest Jones, then president of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), flew to Vienna from London on 15 March determined to get Freud to change his mind and go into exile in Britain. This prospect and the shock of the arrest and interrogation of his daughter Anna by the Gestapo finally convinced Freud it was time to leave Austria.

Jones left for London with a list provided by Freud of émigrés who needed immigration permits. Jones used his friendship with the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, to secure the 17 permits. Jones also persuaded the president of the Royal Society, Sir William Bragg, to write to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, asking for diplomatic pressure to be used in Berlin and Vienna to help Freud. Meanwhile, the US consul-general in Vienna, John Cooper Wiley, intervened when the Gestapo was interrogating Anna Freud.

The Freud family’s departure from Vienna began in stages, with the first family members leaving for Parish and London in April and May 1938. But by the end of May, Freud’s own departure for London was stalled as the Nazis made extortionate demands in the form of ‘flight’ taxes’ and appointed a Kommissar to control Freud’s assets. His bank accounts were frozen and his library was moved to the Austrian National Library.

Unable to access his own bank accounts, Freud turned to Princess Marie Bonaparte, the most eminent and wealthy of his French followers, who had travelled to Vienna to offer her support. She made the necessary funds available, and exit visas were issued for Sigmund Freud, his wife Martha and their daughter Anna.

They left Vienna on the Orient Express on 4 June, accompanied by their housekeeper and a doctor. They arrived in Paris the following day and were guests of Princess Bonaparte before travelling overnight to London, arriving at Victoria Station on 6 June. Among the first people to call on Freud were Salvador Dalí, Stefan Zweig, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf and HG Wells.

Freud recreated his Vienna consulting room at his new home at 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead. There he continued to see patients until the terminal stages of his illness, and worked on his last books, Moses and Monotheism published in 1938 and An Outline of Psychoanalysis, published posthumously.

By mid-September 1939, Freud’s cancer of the jaw was declared inoperable. His doctor, friend and fellow refugee, Max Schur, convinced Anna Freud it was pointless to keep her father. On 21 and 22 September, he administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud’s death around 3 am on 23 September 1939.

Freud’s body was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium in North London. The funeral orations were delivered by Ernest Jones and the Austrian author Stefan Zweig. Freud’s four elderly sisters who were left behind in Vienna would all die in Nazi concentration camps. Freud’s widow Martha died in 1951.

His grandchildren included the British painter Lucian Michael Freud (1922-2011) and Sir Clement Raphael Freud (1924-2009), broadcaster, writer, politician and chef. Lucien Freud’s daughter, the artist and poet Annie Freud, joins Christina Kennedy, Head of Collections at IMMA, for an intimate conversation that explores the intersections of poetry, art and painting at IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, next Saturday [23 November 2019] from 1 to 2 p.m.

This is part of the unique five-year project until 2021, in which IMMA presents a series of different and exclusive Lucian Freud related exhibitions, with a new programme of events and openings each year.

The entrance to the Jewish Museum at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other postings in this series:

1, the chief rabbi and a French artist’s ‘pogrom’

2, a ‘positively rabbinic’ portrait of an Anglican dean

3, portraits of two imperial court financiers

4, portrait of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis

5, Lily Renée, from Holocaust Survivor to Escape Artist

6, Sir Moses Montefiore and a decorative Torah Mantle

7, Theodor Herzl and the cycle of contradictions

8, Simon Wiesenthal and the café in Mauthausen

9, Leonard Cohen and ‘The Spice-Box of Earth’

10, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his Jewish grandparents

11, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his Jewish librettist

12, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild and the railways in Vienna

13, Gustav Mahler and the ‘thrice homeless’ Jew

14, Beethoven at 250 and his Jewish connections in Vienna

15, Martin Buber and the idea of the ‘I-Thou’ relationship

16, Three Holocaust survivors who lived in Northern Ireland.

17, Schubert’s setting of Psalm 92 for the synagogue.

18, Bert Linder and his campaign against the Swiss banks.

19, Adele Bloch-Bauer and Gustav Klimt’s ‘Lady in Gold’.

20, Max Perutz, Nobel laureate and ‘the godfather of molecular biology’.

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