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  • Four Unknown Freud Anecdotes
  • Brett Kahr

"In psychoanalysis details are often of supreme importance for conveying understanding and conviction."

—J. C. Flügel, "Psychoanalysis: Its Status and Promise" (1930)

The British journal Psychoanalysis and History recently published a brief communication written by the late Dr. Lydia Marinelli (2009), the distinguished Austrian Freud scholar, about the actual tweed cap that Sigmund Freud wore during his flight from the Nazis. Marinelli reported that, after Freud's death, Anna Freud donated this item from her father's wardrobe to the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, where it remained until 1977, when an American visitor stole the priceless headgear. Extraordinarily, some years later, the thief in question actually posted the cap back to the Berggasse, full of contrition, perhaps having had some psychoanalysis in the meanwhile!

Marinelli's little pièce d'occasion, though charming and evocative, also serves as a potent reminder that, for those of us interested in the life of the founder of psychoanalysis, no biographical detail seems too insignificant. In fact, we greatly enjoy reading stories about Freud's cap, fascinated with every single aspect of his life. Perhaps a genius deserves such detailed attention. Perhaps his life remains so inspirational that we owe it to Freud and to posterity to capture every piece of minutiae. Perhaps our preoccupation with Freud represents no more than a sublimation of our primordial wish to know the bodies of our archaic caretakers, "mummy" and "daddy."

Whatever our motivation for researching Freud minutiae—however useful these vignettes may or may not be—they do continue to delight those of us who work within the psychoanalytic domain. So naturally, when the late Professor Margaret [End Page 301] Brenman-Gibson, a distinguished psychoanalyst from the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, told me that the late Professor Erik Erikson had told her an unpublished story about Freud, I listened attentively, and then I wrote it down in a notebook so that I would remember it accurately. Similarly, when I met a woman at a social gathering who told me that back in the 1930s, her uncle—a sex offender—had travelled to Vienna for treatment with Freud, I also listened carefully, and jotted down the story, in spite of the lack of more detail. And when one of my former students, the late Mrs. Hilde Schoenfeld, invited me to tea with her nonagenarian aunt, Frau Olga Rosenberg, whose husband had once sold Freud a carpet, I accepted the kind offer to meet her with eagerness. And then, when I discovered a book written by the American socialite, Miss Elsa Maxwell, which mentions a meeting with Freud—a meeting not otherwise known to Freud historians—I became slightly excited, and thought that colleagues might wish to read this memoir for themselves.

More dogged historians than I may perhaps still manage to locate some voluble centenarians who had intimate relationships with Freud and his circle; and if so, we await the accounts of these meetings with interest. Meanwhile, I have four very marginal anecdotes to share, and I do so unapologetically, safe in the knowledge that fellow Freudophiles are likely to enjoy these as well, but also because each vignette, however slight, conveys something about the character of Freud—a character that continues to inform us and often serves as a model of wisdom and guidance.

Sigmund Freud and the Sickly Child

During the latter months of 1985, I had the opportunity to hear a lovely story about Sigmund Freud from Professor Margaret Brenman-Gibson, who had heard this story from her great mentor and friend, Professor Erik Erikson. Many Freud stories become repeated so often, and written about so incessantly, that one often discovers multiple renderings in a variety of printed sources; but I have not heard this particular story spoken elsewhere, or seen it published in the literature. [End Page 302] Although one can so very easily fetishize every single vignette about Freud, and hasten into print, I regard this anecdote, especially, as very heart-warming and instructive; and I hope that it will provide some stimulation to readers with an interest in the history of psychoanalysis.

Erikson of course knew Freud somewhat, as he and...


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