The Escape of Sig­mund Freud

David Cohen
  • Review
By – May 22, 2012

Ignore the title! This is actu­al­ly a very quirky, high­ly enter­tain­ing biog­ra­phy of Sig­mund Freud that only pre­tends to focus on his escape” from Vien­na with the assis­tance of Nazi Anton Sauer­wald. Sto­ries of Freud’s fam­i­ly mem­bers and his feuds with var­i­ous col­leagues min­gle with gos­sip about what the great man ate, how he dirt­ied his bed­sheets, and which women he adored. At times, the back­sto­ry — how Vien­na and the psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic estab­lish­ment accom­mo­dat­ed the Nazis, how the Nazis extract­ed the max­i­mum rev­enue from Jew­ish tar­gets, how Vien­nese Jews coped until they could not any longer — takes cen­ter stage, but the brood­ing Freud is nev­er far from our thoughts. What will it take to make this old man real­ize he has to flee? By the time he final­ly decid­ed he could not live at 19 Berggasse any­more, Freud and his extend­ed fam­i­ly were already liv­ing under a form of self-house arrest, his daugh­ter Anna had been inter­ro­gat­ed by the Gestapo, and the family’s assets were being con­fis­cat­ed. Freud could look out his win­dow and watch Jew­ish shops being loot­ed by respectable” Vien­nese; he could see Jews being beat­en and shot dead by thugs. Freud’s deci­sion, final­ly, to leave Vien­na is the real nail-biter here — the escape” itself is some­thing of an anti­cli­max. Cohen tries to stir up some sym­pa­thy for Sauer­wald, Freud’s Nazi min­der” who cov­ered up some of Freud’s assets and orches­trat­ed his exit, but the man’s role was too ambigu­ous and too mar­gin­al to keep our atten­tion. No mat­ter — this is a book about Freud, not Sauer­wald — and it’s sur­pris­ing­ly engross­ing. Appen­dices, bib­li­og­ra­phy, index.

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

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