Where books are burnt...
Freud's passage from Vienna to Hampstead
by Zsuzsanna Ardó
December 3rd, the birthday of Anna, Freud's favourite daughter, seemed like a particularly appropriate date for the 150th Freud Anniversary event of the Hampstead Author's Society at the Screen on the Hill.
One can agree or disagree with his views, but it is clear that Freud, along with other trailblazers of modern Western thinking such as Marx, Darwin and Einstein, has left his powerful imprints on our consciousness, both in the arts and the sciences. They have redefined in complex ways how we think about ourselves as human beings and our relationship with the world both within and outside us. Freud's insights captured the imagination of Sam Goldwyn (of MGM as in Metro Goldwyn Mayer) as early as 1924 when he decided to recruit Freud, "the greatest love specialist in the world," as his scriptwriter. Goldwyn's wish to get Freud to "commercialize his study and write a story for the screen" was met by Freud's succinct response, which may well qualify as the shortest letter in history: "I do not intend to see Mr. Goldwyn." (Then again, Darwin refused to read the copy of Das Capital Marx sent him, and Einstein would not support Freud's nomination for Nobel Prize.)
Freud was also a local, a Hampsteadite: the Hampstead Authors' Society held its first-ever meeting in his house ten years ago. He was a Hampstead resident for a while. Though not for long, and not entirely out of his own volition.
The twists and turns of his journey to Hampstead started with his first visit to England when he was just 19. As much later, in 1939, he confessed to H G Wells, he had lived with a "phantasy wish" to become an Englishman. He was not an anglophile per se: he did not feel the same way about America. "America is a mistake, admittedly a gigantic mistake, but a mistake nevertheless", he wrote to Ernest Jones.
Freud's home and consulting room, Vienna, Berggasse 19, exterior with Nazi flag.
In 1930, he, who was born in Moravia (Czech Republic), was the fourth to have received the prestigious Goethe Prize for his contribution in writing in the German language. "My language is German. My culture, my attainments are German. I considered myself German intellectually, until I noticed the growth of anti-Semitic prejudice in Germany and German Austria. Since that time, I prefer to call myself a Jew." he wrote as early as 1925.
The next narrative twist comes only three years after he was awarded the Goethe Prize. In 1933, the same books that earned him the coveted German literary prize were burnt publicly in 50 cities across Germany.
The 10,000 or so books books with "unGerman" ideas included the works of Einstein, Marx, H.G. Wells, Thomas Mann, Heinrich Heine, Bertold Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, Hemingway, Arnold Zweig, Stephan Zweig, Engels, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, John Don Passos – the list goes on. The books of "evil spirit of the past" (Goebbels, Nazi Minister) were thrown on the pyre not by an uneducated mob of hooligans. Supposedly intelligent, educated, the elite of German education, university students burnt the books, while their professors stood by to support them. They were singing, as they carried out this act of "strong, great and symbolic deed" (Goebbels, in his speech to the students).
Freud remarked at the time: "What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me. Now they are content with burning my books." He could not have been more wrong. About a century earlier, the German Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine (whose books joined Freud's in the flames), had clearer insight into the highly symbolic act of book-burning than the father of psychoanalysis, the researcher of the human psyche and its dark undercurrents. In Almansor (1821), his play about the barbaric Spanish Inquisition, Christians burn the Koran, and it is a Moor who anticipates the Shoah by saying: "This is but the prologue. Where books are burnt, people in the end are burnt too."
It took only a few years, less than two decades, for the Nazis to prove Freud wrong and Heine right in their respective reading of book-burning, interpreting its social symbolism, along with its underlying motives. Ideas can be dangerous things. Albeit neither a social scientist, nor a prophet, Heine recognized that burning books and burning people are interconnected by the same primal urge to eliminate ideas perceived as threat to an ideology. The question is, how come Freud did not seem to see this profound connection, anticipated a 100 years earlier, with no Nazis in sight at the time, by Heine, a 'mere' poet? The degree of threat implied in Heine's uncanny insight is demonstrated by Hitler's order to erase Heine's grave in the Montmartre cemetery in Paris, 85 years after Heine's death, in 1941. Heine was but a handful of dust – but still a threat, still not dead enough.
May 10, 1933 Berlin.
"Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.", Freud wrote to Wilhelm Fliess in 1897. Sensible enough in principle – not always so straightforward in practice. Easier said than done, it seems, even for Freud. He was urged to leave the country, but Freud continued to misjudge what was to come, just as he had misjudged the book-burning and its symbolic significance a few years earlier. He stayed in Vienna. What was he thinking, you may well ask. On the one hand, his view was that "The hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity itself." On the other hand, he also thought that "Only this Catholicism protects us against Naziism." (Freud, 1935). So even though he hated the Catholic Church more intensely than the Nazis, he thought it would and could stop the Nazi project to redefine the global map and history. He put his trust to find safety in the shelter of the Catholic Church. “The Nazis? I’m not afraid of them. Help me rather to combat my true enemy...Religion, the Roman Catholic Church.” (Freud, 1937).
Just a year later, 12th March 1938, the Nazis occupied the not- so-unwilling Austria. In the plebiscite held within a month of the Anschluss, 99.73% of the Austrian population voted in support of the Nazi takeover of Austria. Schüssel, the Austrian Chancellor 2000-2006, Tony Blair's successor as the European President since 2006, is not bothered by facts, and has attempted to reconstruct history differently. He stated in 2000 that Austria was the "first victim" of Nazi Germany.
The Freud household, however, was indeed the victim of the
Anschluss: it was searched and under surveillance. Anna, his favourite daughter, was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. This brutal fact woke up Freud, at last, from his
Austrians welcome the occupying German police by 'Heil Hitler', 1938, Tyrol.
Hampstead Authors’ Society HASNotes No. 60 Issue 10 January 2007 www.hasweb.org
wishful thinking. It lurched him into the uneasy convention of the present. He had to abandon his comforting illusion of finding a safe haven in the very Catholic Church that he hated so much, and in religion, which he considered to be a harmful mental disorder, a neurosis and an "illusion" (as in "delusion" in Dawkins, and "opium" in Marx) to start with. Repression of the factual evidence, the sleep of reason, was over. Now he could go through the exercise of being entirely (?) honest with himself, and snap out of denial: reality burst into his home and ripped out his favourite daughter. Finally, he allowed himself to get the message: it was time to go, and go quickly.
The resolution to the crisis in the story of Freud's passage to Hampstead comes in the form of money offered by Princess Marie Bonaparte, therapist and Freud's pupil and friend, to whom Freud famously wrote "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is What does a woman want?". Bonaparte offered to pay the huge ransom – 'refugee tax' in Nazi terminology – to get the Freud family to England. In preparation for story-spinning, the Gestapo made Freud sign a paper to confirm he was treated properly. “I most warmly recommend the Gestapo to everybody.” Freud is said to have offered to add to the statement.
Dolfi, Mitzi, Rosa and Pauli Freud – all four of Freud's sisters who stayed in Vienna were soon murdered in the death camps
The negotiated deal included his large library, extensive sculpture collection, his furniture and paraphernalia, including the famous couch. The deal did not include a safe passage for his four sisters.
Freud was 82 when, on 3rd June 1938, he finally escaped from Austria. Driven away from his home in Vienna, he arrived in Hampstead. He loved the place. "The enchantment of the new surroundings make one want to shout `Heil Hitler!'", he wrote. And he was able to finish his provocative Moses and Monotheism, outraging Jews and Christians alike.
Over the summer H G Wells tried to secure British citizenship for Freud, with the help of Oliver Locker-Lampson MP. But his proposal in Parliament was rejected. Freud committed assisted suicide on 23rd of September 1939, three weeks after World War II
broke out. He could not tolerate the pain caused by the cancer brought on by his lifelong indulgence: smoking cigars. (He smoked an entire box of cigars even after his jaw was removed, until his death.) Freud died in in Hampstead, in freedom, but as a stateless refugee not as the Englishman of his “intense wish phantasy” (Freud to H G Wells, July, 1939)
The centre piece of The Third Man, the film we screened at the HAS Freud Anniversary event, is Vienna – the city that nourished and banished Freud. The film is also the best British Film of the 20th century, at least voted so by the British Film Institute. We can all make up our own mind. But the number of times people are willing to view this particular film repeatedly is remarkable.
Appropriately, albeit not without a hint of irony, the best British film was conceived and engineered by another refugee from antisemitism: Sándor Kellner. He was born in Pusztatúrpásztó, a poor village in Hungary, not so far from Moravia, Freud's birthplace. Sándor Kellner became the first-ever film personality to be knighted in 1942 in London as Sir Alexander Korda.
© Zsuzsanna Ardó