MEHRU JAFFER | 4 JUNE, 2017
Why Am I Now in Lucknow Thinking of Freud in Vienna?
I lived for nearly three decades at the bottom of a meadow in Vienna, Austria. On the same meadow a cottage had once stood where the secret of dreams was first revealed to Freud. And I used the time spent there to also find out a bit more about Freud, the father of psychoanalysis.
On a plaque placed by the Austrian Sigmund Freud Society on the Bellevue meadow where Freud's weekend cottage had once stood it says:
Do you suppose that some day a marble tablet will be placed on the house, inscribed with these words: 'In this house on July 24, 1895, the secret of dreams was revealed to Dr. Sigm. Freud'? At the moment I see little prospect of it.
The Bellevue cottage has since burnt down and the text above isfrom a letter Freud wrote to a friend in 1900.
Freud was born to a Jewish family in Austria in 1856. He was a proud Austrian and a practicing neurologist. He was deeply engaged in the community he lived in and specialised in nervous disorders. He was disliked by the political powers of his time for his interest in science, and because he was Jewish. Freud's books were burnt by Adolf Hitlers's Nazi Party sympathisers in 1933.
It was the policy of the Nazi Party to look down upon even century old residents who were not ethnic Germans like Jews, Gypsies and people of colour as enemy and the other, and had thought it alright to even officially punch these citizens around.
After Hitler occupied Austria to include the country into German territory in 1938, Nazi officials had walked into Freud's Vienna home to take away his money. His publishing house was appropriated. It became difficult for Freud to live in Vienna even though he insisted that he was a proud citizen of Austria!
In 1925 Freud wrote that his language is German. His culture, his attainments are German. He considered himself German intellectually, until he noticed the growth of anti-Semitic prejudice in Germany and German Austria. Since that time, he preferred to call himself a Jew.
To a nephew who wanted to whisk him away to the United States of America Freud said no, as he felt that America was a gigantic mistake.
For Freud Vienna was home. But finally Freud was forced to leave Vienna and migrate to London. Freud was more than 80 years old at that time and a cancer patient. Princess Marie Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-granddaughter was a dear friend and she was worried about Freud's safety in Vienna.
She organised Freud's safe passage to London and made sure that many of his papers and the famous couch used by Freud's patients to talk to the father of psychoanalysis in his Vienna clinic were also transported safely. Marie got permission from the Nazis to let Freud travel out of Vienna. In return, the Nazis asked for a declaration to say that Freud was treated well by the police.
In his last years in life Freud may have been ailing but his wit was intact. He signed the declaration full of lies for the Nazis, adding that he highly recommends the Gestapo to everyone!
Gestapo was the name of Germany's secret state police during the days of the Nazis.
Freud left Vienna in 1938. Once in London he wrote:
The triumphant feeling of liberation is mingled too strongly with mourning, for one had still very much loved the prison from which one has been released.
Freud lived in exile in London near the Regent's Park for a year. In 1939 he died without ever seeing any of his four sisters left behind in Vienna.
During this time Europe's Jewish population was first discriminated against, then Jews were separated from the community. At first they were imprisoned and eventually exterminated. Like millions of other Jewish people the sisters of Freud were also murdered by the Nazis.
Does the comparison of now to then sound like the fantasies of an irrational drama queen, or is there a hint here of Freud's possible self fulfilling prophecy?