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.