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The friends who saved Freud from the Nazis were deeply damaged – and completely loyal

BOOK OF THE WEEK

FREUD SAVE

by Andrew Nagorski (Icon £20, 336pp)

With such enemies you need friends. This was the life lesson – and indeed the life-saving lesson – that Sigmund Freud learned in 1938, when the Nazis walked into his beloved home city of Vienna and began terrorizing the Jewish population.

When your enemies are the Nazis, you don’t need just any friends, but those in high places who spring into action, pull the strings at the Gestapo, negotiate the excessive “flight taxes” and sort out the complicated paperwork in two countries around you. escape to safety.

Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna arrive in Paris in 1938, just after fleeing Austria from the Nazis

Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna arrive in Paris in 1938, just after fleeing Austria from the Nazis

In his fascinating new book Saving Freud, American author Andrew Nagorski brings together the story of an eccentric group of Freud’s friends and admirers who did just this for the man they revered. Thanks to their determined efforts, not only Freud himself, but also 24 members of his extended family managed to emigrate to England in June 1938.

Freud comes across as much more sympathetic than in the 2017 scrapping of him by Frederick Crews, who portrayed him (as I summed it up on these pages) as “the most despicable, medically useless, misogynistic, snobbish, petulant, jealous, crazy, sex-obsessed creep.” who you could never look up to from a couch.’

Nagorski restores the balance here and introduces him as a friendly old cigar addict with oral cancer, a family man with regular habits, who enjoyed his fame and success, but never took them for granted. The love of his life does not seem to have been his wife Martha (mother of their six children), but his daughter Anna, who served him as a tireless nurse and angel.

Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (center), accompanied by Marie Bonaparte (Princess Marie of Greece), a French psychoanalyst and wife of Prince George of Greece, and by US Ambassador to France William Bullitt, shortly after arriving in Paris after traveling through Vienna had left for London

Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (center), accompanied by Marie Bonaparte (Princess Marie of Greece), a French psychoanalyst and wife of Prince George of Greece, and by US Ambassador to France William Bullitt, shortly after arriving in Paris after traveling through Vienna had left for London

Among the people who came under his spell from 1905 onward, Freud inspired a fierce and lifelong devotion. His disciples, who would eventually play their part in saving his life, were all damaged in different ways. You get the feeling that Freud was a magnet for the damaged.

Here is the motley crowd. Welsh psychoanalyst Ernest Jones met Freud through Jung in 1908 and was enchanted by his theories. Jones had been charged with indecent behavior by two students at a school for ‘mental infirmities’, then was accused of having sex with her by a ‘severe hysterical’. He fought to save his reputation, became president of the British Psychoanalytical Society and married his Viennese secretary, who had been introduced to him by Freud.

Marie Bonaparte, Napoleon’s grandniece, came to Vienna to be treated by Freud in 1925, when she was unhappily married to Prince George of Greece and could not reach orgasm. She and Freud fell in love instantly. She referred to him as “dear father” in her profuse letters written to him from her grand home in Paris.

However, Freud failed to cure her orgasm problem, and she went through some crazy surgery to get her clitoris closer to her vagina — which also didn’t work.

American author Andrew Nagorski brings together the story of an eccentric group of friends and admirers of Freud

American author Andrew Nagorski brings together the story of an eccentric group of friends and admirers of Freud

William Bullitt, the US ambassador to Moscow, 35 years younger than Freud, became captivated when he visited Vienna in the mid-1920s, and both men strongly 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 Woodrow Wilson’s psychoanalysis, which was not published until 1967.

It was Bullitt’s recommendation that led to the appointment of his former No. 2 in Moscow, John Wiley, as the American Consul General in Vienna in 1937, with the special assignment of keeping an eye on Freud’s family.

Then there was Max Schur, Freud’s personal physician, who saw the impending danger and arranged for his own family to emigrate to the US. But bravely he stayed in Austria to take care of Freud. And it was Schur who would inject him with the doses of morphine that would alleviate his death on September 23, 1939, when his oral cancer became unbearable.

Why hadn’t Freud emigrated earlier in the 1930s? His son Ernst (father of Clement, Lucian and Stephen) had foreseen the coming danger and got out in 1933. But Sigmund was in a state of deep, almost pathological denial. When the Nazis burned his books in 1933 – one of them declaimed, just before they were thrown on the fire: “Against the soul-destroying overestimation of sex life, and on behalf of the nobility of the human soul, I offer to the flames the writings of one Sigmund Freud!’ — Freud naively remarked: ‘In the Middle Ages they would have burned me; these days they are content to burn my books.’

FREUD SAVE by Andrew Nagorski (Icon £20,336pp)

FREUD SAVE by Andrew Nagorski (Icon £20,336pp)

That was a reversal of Heinrich Heine’s astute remark on the same subject: “Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people too.”

Freud may have been a world expert on the human psyche, but he was far from the Mystical Meg of current events.

“Atrocities in Germany seem to be easing,” he said gleefully in mid-1933, as thousands were deported to Dachau. And: “A nation that Goethe has produced cannot possibly go to harm.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. But he would finally change his mind just days after the Nazis invaded Vienna, when a gang of armed Nazi brownshirts burst into his apartment.

His wife Martha politely asked them to put their weapons in the umbrella stand in the hall. She got all the money and said, “Would the gentlemen help themselves?” They did and they left saying, “Herr Professor, we’ll be back.”

That same day, Nazi thugs marched into Freud’s publishing house a few doors down, holding his son Martin at gunpoint as they barged into the office over incriminating evidence. A few days later, Anna was taken by the Gestapo for a day of interrogation. Freud knew the family had to leave, and quickly.

‘Operation Freud’ got underway. In Britain, Ernest Jones went straight to the top and arranged an introduction to Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, who gave carte blanche for entrance tickets for the entire extended Freud family. John Wiley arranged for an American diplomatic car draped in the American flag to be parked outside Freud’s apartment all day to deter the Nazis, who were not yet ready to make enemies of the Americans. Marie Bonaparte paid the full air passenger tax, worth a quarter of Freud’s fortune.

And there they were transported, first to Paris in two private carriages of the Orient Express and then to London – with Freud’s beloved feed dog Lün, who had to be quarantined immediately in Dover.

And Freud could die in the freedom of the land he called “This England…a blessed, a happy land inhabited by well-meaning, hospitable people.”

His four younger sisters, who failed to get out, would die in concentration camps. Without those friends, this would almost certainly have been the fate of Freud and the majority of that lucky party who had boarded the Orient Express on June 5, 1938.

If only six million other Jews had had such close friends.

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