Friday, September 2, 2022

Freud and Closing Frontiers

Letter from Stekel to LondonEighty-three years ago this month Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist known globally for the foundation of psychoanalysis, died in London of oral cancer that had first appeared as a benign tumor on his jaw. Freud had been initially diagnosed with the disease in 1923, which was likely a result of his incessant cigar smoking. His earnest desire was to die in Vienna, where he had lived for most of his life after relocating there with his family at the age of four. Because of this, Freud narrowly escaped capture and confinement by the Nazis in 1938. His sons, who had previously lived in Berlin, fled to England and France in 1933, while his daughter Anna stayed in Vienna with him and his wife Martha.

In March 1938, Hitler arrived in Vienna. Soon after, Freud's house and office were ransacked, his passport was confiscated and Anna was taken in for interrogation by the Gestapo. After a significant amount of international pressure, the Freuds were allowed to leave Austria for London in June of 1938. Four of Freud's sisters were not so lucky; unable to secure exit visas, one sister died in the Theresienstadt ghetto and the remaining three were put to death at the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland.

Rumors about the fate of the Freuds spread quickly during the initial days of the Nazi's Austrian occupation, to such an extent that Wilhelm Stekel, one of his former pupils, wrote to a Dr. L. J. London in New Hampshire to ask if he had heard the news about Freud's imprisonment. The real purpose of the letter, however, was to beg London to send him an invitation to come to New Hampshire under the pretenses of participating a medical conference. As Stekel says in his letter, "Please act as quickly as possible because frontiers could be closed at any time."

To see this letter, and correspondence from other noteworthy psychoanalysts like Carl Jung or Fritz Wittels, come to Special Collections and ask to see the L. J. London Papers (MS-1062).