How Freud fled to freedom
Saving Freud: A Life in Vienna and an Escape to Freedom in London by Andrew Nagorski (Icon £20, 336pp)
With enemies like these, you need friends. This was the life lesson – and indeed the life-saving lesson – that Sigmund Freud learned in 1938, when the Nazis entered his beloved hometown of Vienna and began terrorizing the Jewish population.
When your enemies are the Nazis, you don’t need just any friends, but friends in high places who will spring into action, pull strings with the Gestapo, negotiate the exorbitant “flight taxes” and sort out the paperwork. complicated administrative procedures in two countries that allow you to escape in complete safety.
In his fascinating new book Saving Freud, American author Andrew Nagorski piece together the story of an eccentric group of friends and admirers of Freud, who did just that for the man they revered. Through their determined efforts, not only Freud himself, but 24 members of his extended family managed to emigrate to England in June 1938.
Freud comes across as infinitely more sympathetic than when he was torn down in 2017 by Frederick Crews, who portrayed him (as I have summarized in these pages) as “the most vile, medically useless, misogynistic, snobby, petulant, jealous, crazy, sex-obsessed moron you might hope not look up from a couch.
Nagorski strikes the balance here, portraying him as a good old cigar addict with oral cancer, a family man with regular habits, who savored his fame and success but never took them for granted. The love of his life appears not to have been his wife Martha (mother of their six children), but his daughter Anna, who cared for him like a tireless nurse and angel.
In people who fell under his spell from 1905, Freud inspired a fierce and permanent devotion. His followers, who would eventually play their part in saving his life, were all damaged in various ways. One has the impression that Freud was a magnet for the wounded.
Here is the motley crowd. Ernest Jones, a Welsh psychoanalyst, met Freud through Jung in 1908 and was enchanted by his theories. Jones had been accused of indecent behavior by two students at a school for the “mentally retarded” and then was accused by a “severe hysteric” of having had sex with her. He fights to save his reputation, becomes president of the British Psychoanalytical Society and marries his Viennese secretary, who was introduced to him by Freud.
Marie Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-grand-niece, came to Vienna to be treated by Freud in 1925, when she was unfortunately married to Prince George of Greece and unable to reach orgasm. She and Freud instantly fell in love with each other. She called him “my dear father” in the many letters she had written to him from her big house in Paris. Freud failed to solve her orgasm problem, however, and she performed a crazy operation to bring her clitoris closer to her vagina – which also didn’t work.
William Bullitt, US Ambassador to Moscow, 35 years younger than Freud, fell under his spell during his visit to Vienna in the mid-1920s, and the two men firmly agreed that the Treaty of Versailles was a disaster. : not a recipe for peace but a recipe for continued war. The two men co-wrote a book on the psychoanalysis of Woodrow Wilson, which was not published until 1967. It was Bullitt’s recommendation that led to the appointment of his former number 2 in Moscow, John Wiley , to the post of American consul general in Vienna in 1937, with the special mission of keeping a protective eye on Freud’s family.
Then there was Max Schur, Freud’s personal physician, who saw danger approaching and arranged for his own family to emigrate to the United States. But, courageously, he remained in Austria to take care of Freud. And it was Schur who would inject him with the doses of morphine that would help him die on September 23, 1939, when his mouth cancer became unbearable.
Why hadn’t Freud emigrated earlier in the 1930s? His son Ernst (father of Clement, Lucian and Stephen) had foreseen the danger ahead and came out in 1933. But Sigmund was in a deep, almost pathological state of denial. When the Nazis burned his books in 1933—one of them declaimed, just before throwing them into the fire: “Against the soul-destroying overstatement of sexual life, and in the name of the nobility of the human soul, I offer to the flames the writings of a certain Sigmund Freud! — Freud remarked naively: “In the Middle Ages, I would have been burned; today they just burn my books.
It was a reversal of Heinrich Heine’s astute remark on the same subject: “Where they burn books, they will also end up burning people.”
Freud may have been a world expert on the human psyche, but he was far from the Mystic Meg of the present day. “The brutalities in Germany seem to be diminishing,” he said cheerfully in mid-1933, as thousands of people were transported to Dachau. And, ‘A nation that produced Goethe cannot go wrong.’ Fake, fake, fake.
But his mind would finally change his mind, just days after the Nazis entered Vienna, when a gang of armed Nazi brownshirts burst into his apartment. His wife Martha politely asked them to put their guns in the lobby umbrella stand. She took all the money from the house and said, “Would these gentlemen like to help themselves?” They did and left saying, “Herr Professor, we’ll be back.
That same day, Nazi thugs entered Freud’s publishing house a few doors down and held his son Martin at gunpoint while raiding the office for incriminating evidence. A few days later, Anna is taken away by the Gestapo for a day of interrogation. Freud knew the family had to leave, and quickly.
“Operation Freud” has moved up a gear. In Britain, Ernest Jones went straight to the top, getting an introduction to Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, who gave carte blanche for entry permits to the entire extended Freud family. John Wiley ensured that an American diplomatic car draped in the American flag was parked all day outside Freud’s apartment, fending off the Nazis, who still did not want to make enemies of the Americans. Marie Bonaparte paid the full theft tax, amounting to the value of a quarter of Freud’s assets.
And they were taken, first to Paris in two private compartments of the Orient Express, then to London – together with Freud’s beloved chow dog, Lün, who had to go straight to quarantine in Dover.
And Freud could die in the freedom of the country he called “This England.” . . a blessed and happy country inhabited by well-meaning and hospitable people.
His four younger sisters, who did not manage to get out of it, will die in concentration camps. Without these friends, such would certainly have been the fate of Freud and the majority of this happy group who boarded the Orient Express on June 5, 1938.
If only six million other Jews had such friends in high places.