Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud

Larry Holzwarth - December 5, 2019

To some, Sigmund Freud was a nearly godlike figure who delved deeply into the human mind and in so doing discovered many of the secrets of the human condition. To others, he was a fraud who understood little, explained less, and created a new science which has since done more harm than good. There is little doubt that Freud changed the way childhood is regarded by adults, including how they look back on their own. Some subscribe to Freud’s ideas and philosophies religiously, some include portions of Freud in their own ideas, and still, others hold him firmly at a distance, disavowing his beliefs completely.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud as he appeared in 1905. Wikimedia

But all must agree that his influence on humanity was and remains substantial. Virtually everyone refers to the ego, usually someone else’s, in everyday conversation. Freud was controversial in life, remains so after death, and his theories remain the basis of the practice of psychoanalysis, itself controversial to some. A Jewish theorist who developed his views in late 18th and early 19th Vienna, in a time and place rampant with antisemitism, Freud remains as complicated as the mind he struggled to reveal. Here are some lesser-known facts and anecdotes about Sigmund Freud.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia in the house in the background of this photograph. Wikimedia

1. Sigmund Freud was born with a caul, interpreted as an omen by his mother

Being born with a caul (a thin membrane over the head and face) was considered an omen of good luck since medieval times in Europe. The presence of the caul was of no harm to mother and infant, and the midwife or doctor in attendance simply removed it, though it was seldom disposed of. They were often sold for good luck. Being born with a caul was extremely rare, as it remains, occurring in about 1 in 80,000 births. Not all superstitions about the caul are positive, Romanian folklore claimed it to be a sign that a vampire had been born. Sailors once purchased them as a charm against being drowned.

Freud’s mother, Amalia, viewed the omen as a positive one for her first-born son (she would bear another seven children, one of whom died in infancy). She believed that the caul indicated that her son was destined for greatness, and the story was repeated within the family circle during Sigmund’s childhood. Freud later questioned whether the story and his mother’s belief, instilled within him what he called his own “thirst for grandeur”. Amalia was 20 years younger than her struggling husband, Jakob Freud, who brought to their marriage two sons by his deceased first wife. Freud was thus the first son of his mother, the third of his father.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Amalia Freud (seated) believed her son Sigmund was destined for greatness, and reminded him of it often. Wikimedia

2. Freud developed a proficiency for languages in grammar and secondary school

Freud was born in Frieberg, in what was then Moravia in 1856. By 1860 the family was living in Vienna, though his half-brothers from Jakob’s first marriage had moved to England. He completed his early schooling there, proving to be an enthusiastic student. He developed both a life-long love of classic literature and was adept with languages. By the time he completed secondary school he was able to read and write in German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Freud finished his secondary school training intending to study law at the University of Vienna.

Instead, once he entered school there (he was 17) he chose to study medicine. His studies took him to other locations in Europe as part of his research work, and in the late 1870s, he was forced to take a year off in order to comply with compulsory military service in Austria. He finally received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Vienna in 1881. The following year Freud joined the staff at Vienna General Hospital, conducting extensive research into the anatomy of the brain. In 1884 Freud began conducting research into a freely available drug – freely in that it was available over the counter – synthesized from the coca leaves of the Andes.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud as he appeared at the time of his early experiments with cocaine in the 1880s. Wikimedia

3. Freud studied cocaine extensively, including its recreational use

Freud’s research into the effects of cocaine was based on his own personal use and reactions to the drug. He wrote of the “lasting euphoria” offered by ingestion of the drug, while observing that it tended to suppress the desire for food. He was also impressed with the drug’s ability to stimulate physical activity. Freud was supported in his research by two manufacturers and distributors of the drug and other patent medicines which contained it, Parke-Davis and Merck. In other words, Freud was endorsing the use of drugs which he was receiving free from the manufacturers.

His research did not address the issue of cocaine’s addictive properties other than to deny them. “It seems to me noteworthy—and I discovered this in myself and in other observers who were capable of judging such things—that a first dose or even repeated doses of coca produce no compulsive desire to use the stimulant further…” he wrote, adding that the drug actually produced an “aversion” to using more. Freud began to distribute the drug to colleagues, with his recommendations and observations regarding its use. Among the other uses he recommended, Freud believed the judicious use of cocaine would cure alcoholism, and addiction to morphine and opium.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Wilhelm Fliess, with whom Freud communicated often regarding cocaine and its properties. Wikimedia

4. Freud prescribed cocaine to cure a close friend’s morphine addiction

Dr. Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow was a Viennese physician and friend of Freud’s, who accidentally cut his thumb with a scalpel when dissecting a cadaver. The wound failed to heal, became infected, and led to the amputation of his thumb. When that wound also failed to heal properly, the doctor was forced to endure continuous and agonizing pain in the area where his thumb had once been. The doctor began controlling the pain using morphine, and gradually fell into an expensive and debilitating addiction to the drug. Freud told his friend of his belief that cocaine could control and ultimately end his addiction to morphine, as it had no addictive properties itself.

Dr. von Fleischl-Marxow agreed to try the cure recommended by his friend in May, 1884. Two months later Freud published his findings from his experimentation with cocaine in a paper titled Uber Coca (About Cocaine). It was his first scientific publication of note, and in it, he failed to note the anesthetic qualities of the drug, other than in a postscript. Dr. von Fleischl-Marxow failed to cure his morphine addiction, added to it an expensive cocaine habit, and died at the age of 45. Another friend of Freud’s, Karl Koller, an ophthalmologist, discovered cocaine’s usefulness as an anesthetic for eye surgery, and published his findings to great acclaim in Europe.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
The Freud family including Martha and Minna, in 1898. Wikimedia

5. Freud entered private practice in 1886, the year he married

When Freud left the Vienna hospital to enter private practice it was after he had developed a reputation as being an emerging expert in the field of “nervous disorders”. He had lectured at the University of Vienna and at other institutions on his studies in the field, which had developed as an extension of his research into cocaine. He married the granddaughter of a prominent Viennese rabbi, Martha Bernays, and began to emerge as socially prominent within the Jewish community of Vienna. He also by then was seldom seen without a cigar, smoking 20 or more per day.

Freud began to use the emerging science of hypnosis as part of his treatment of patients suffering from “nervous disorders”, a technique he had observed in Paris. In Freud’s hands, the patient was allowed to answer questions, but Freud did not induce suggestions as treatment. He developed the means of allowing the patient, under hypnosis, to revisit buried memories of past trauma, until they were revealed and found to be troubling no more. His results were inconsistent, with some taking longer than others, but the Vienna medical community were soon discussing the “talking cures” being realized by Freud.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Josef Breuer was the first to used the technique of free association during analysis, sharing his work with Freud. Wikimedia

6. The beginning of the technique known as psychoanalysis

Freud had a colleague and collaborator named Josef Breuer, who also used non-suggestive hypnosis in the treatment of a patient whom they identified in a subsequent paper as Anna O. Anna presented several symptoms, both physical and psychological, and after some time treating her through hypnosis Breuer suggested he dispense with placing her in a hypnotic state, with her simply talking to him, saying whatever came to mind. The treatment was the beginning of what came to be known as “free association”. Ultimately the treatment was unsuccessful, and Anna – whose real name was Berth Pappenheim – was placed in a sanitarium.

Despite placing the patient in a sanitarium, and confiding to Freud that she was “deranged”, Breuer later claimed the treatment had been a success, and Freud and Breuer noted the treatment had been successful in published papers. Carl Jung ridiculed the claim, stating in a seminar, “So the famous first case he treated together with Breuer and which was vastly praised as an outstanding therapeutic success was nothing of the sort”. Modern investigators of the case have stated that Breuer (and Freud) misdiagnosed the case entirely, and that Anna O. had suffered from neurological, rather than psychological problems.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Jakob Freud with Sigmund when he was a young boy. Wikimedia

7. The death of Freud’s father disturbed him deeply

Freud was still developing the concepts and theories of what he termed psychotherapy when his father died in October, 1896. “The old man’s death has affected me profoundly…I now feel quite uprooted”, he wrote at the time. His studies had by then left within him a belief that his childhood had been one of abusiveness at the hands of his father, of him and of his siblings. Freud had already begun an intensive self-analysis, believing that he had been his mother’s favorite as a child, and that his father had been a rival for his mother’s affection, a rivalry in which he, Sigmund, had prevailed.

Freud’s continued analysis of himself following the death of his father led him to exonerate the latter and determine that it was he who desired the attentions of his mother at the expense of his father. He came to believe that such was a desire shared by all young boys, in all societies and levels of society, and which he came to call the Oedipal complex. He extended the complex to females in reverse, with girls rivaling their mothers for their fathers’ affection. He continued his studies of the complex without publishing them as he increased his research into the meaning and importance of dreams and the imagery within them.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud with his daughter Anna at the Hague in 1920. Wikimedia

8. Freud had a large family in Vienna before the end of the 19th century

Freud and his wife Martha had six children during their marriage, born between 1887 and 1895. In 1891 the family, then consisting of three children, moved to an apartment in a historical neighborhood of Vienna, which would remain Freud’s home until 1938. In 1896, as Freud’s published papers began to generate extensive controversy within the medical community, Martha’s sister, Minna Bernays moved into the apartment as well, becoming a permanent member of the household after her fiancé died. Freud and Minna became close, leading to rumors of an affair between the two.

The rumor of an affair between Freud and his wife’s sister began with one-time Freud protégé Carl Jung, long after Jung had broken up with his mentor. Jung mentioned the affair as a matter of historical fact during an interview in 1957, claiming that Minna had confessed it to him when he visited the Freud home in 1907. He met Minna just a few days earlier, or so Jung claimed. In 2006 a hotel log in Switzerland was found which confirmed Freud and Minna had stayed there in 1898, registering as Freud and his wife. While the discovery confirmed the affair for many, others continue to doubt that Freud and his sister-in-law had an illicit affair.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Cover of the first German edition of the work The Interpretation of Dreams. Library of Congress

9. The Interpretation of Dreams

Freud began working on the book The Interpretation of Dreams about 1895, and more actively following the death of his father. Though he was attempting to solidify his understanding of the unconscious processes of the mind, he was also motivated by his desire to achieve something great, not only in the medical world, but throughout the entire world. “Do you think that one day there will be a marble tablet on the house, saying: ‘In this house on July 24, 1895, the Secret of Dreams was revealed to Dr. Sigmund Freud’?”, he wrote to a friend. Public approbation was always in his mind, driven as he was to accomplish “great things”.

The initial printing of the book was 600 copies, and years later not all of them had been sold. Freud wrote a condensed version, On Dreams, to make it more reachable to the public, and revised the original eight times. Originally published in 1900, it was still considered a largely professional textbook for decades, though it gradually gained popularity in the second half of the 20th century. It remains popular in the 21st. Many of Freud’s assertions and theories expressed in the work remain controversial, as do nearly all aspects of his career.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
A dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali and filmed by Alfred Hitchcock based on Freud’s theories. Wikimedia

10. Freud argued that dreams are examples of wish fulfillment

Freud presented dreams as a form of wish fulfillment, expressed in pictures by the unconscious. For a wish to be fulfilled, there must be a want which has been denied, followed by the wish for the denial to be overturned. Freud postulated that dreams contain two separate messages. One is conveyed by what is remembered of the dream, which he called the manifest content. The other Freud called the latent content, the thoughts beneath the images presented in the dream. To Freud, the images were censored by the mind to disguise their true meaning, and interpretation required the understanding of what the images represented.

To Freud, all dreams have latent meanings, though they differ for every individual based on their own experiences and memories. Thus, dreaming of a house cannot mean the same thing for everyone, as is posited by dream dictionaries. “I must affirm that dreams really have a meaning and that a scientific procedure for interpreting them is possible”, Freud wrote. The interpretation was based on his principle of free association, in which the dreamer speaks whatever comes to mind when considering the dream, without criticism, and without another telling them what they believed the dream to mean.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
As he expounded on his theories Freud found himself under increased attack by scientists and doctors over his methods. Wikimedia

11. Freud claimed dreams contained connections with the present and the infantile past

Both happenings of the preceding day and from the infantile past are included in every dream, according to Freud, who used this interpretation to explain what he called the Oedipal complex, now known primarily as the Oedipus complex. The development of the Oedipus complex is in essence a compromise, in which some infantile impulses of affection and hostility are surrendered as a result of certain taboos, such as incest and the killing of one’s parent or sibling. When using dreams during free association, Freud discovered the same issues present while one was awake, which were often seen in symptoms such as anxieties and phobias.

To Freud, waking events reflected the same activity as occurs during dreaming in several ways. The accidental misspeaking known today as the Freudian slip was one. Thoughts which seemingly pop up from nowhere were another, and temporary memory lapses, such as the inability to remember a name or word, were yet another. To Freud, many actions considered to be mistaken were in fact deliberately chosen, not in error, but in the impulses resulting from the conflict between the infantile and present day wants. “To our surprise, we find the child, with its impulses, living on in the dream,” he wrote.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud disciple Carl Jung broke with Freud and became one of his harshest critics. Wikimedia

12. Freud and the development of the pleasure principle

Through the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams and for several years after, Freud attributed human behavior as driven by the libido, a term which he defined as it is known in modern usage. To Freud, the libido was focused on pleasure. To Freud, the libido went through a series of stages as an individual went through physical and psychological development. Each stage presented different demands on the person, and failure of the libido to adapt to the changes necessary for each stage was the source of pathological traits in adulthood. An improperly adapted individual was, to Freud, an immature individual, fixated on an earlier stage of the libido.

In 1920 Freud published a paper titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which broke with his earlier work, and introduced three terms which are most often connected with him, the id, superego, and ego. Freud discarded the term libido as the primary driving force and described the Eros as seeking pleasure and Thanatos – death wish – as the forces of the mind, which are in a constant struggle. Freud used the speculation which he described in his paper to reconstruct his idea of the human psyche. The paper was not received well by colleagues, many of whom considered the idea of a death wish in the psyche to be absurd.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud smoked twenty or more cigars per day, crediting them with giving him energy. Wikimedia

13. Sigmund Freud loved the cigars he is so often pictured with

Freud began smoking about the age of 24, enjoying at first the newly popular cigarettes. He switched to cigars shortly after, and for the rest of his life, he smoked them heavily. He was known to regularly consume about twenty per day, an extraordinarily large number. He once told a nephew, “Smoking is one of the greatest and cheapest enjoyments in life, and if you decide in advance not to smoke, I can only feel sorry for you”. Freud began hosting weekly meetings of colleagues in his Vienna home, which his son Martin later recalled as being “so thick with smoke it seemed a wonder that human beings had been able to live in it for hours”.

Freud attributed cigars an ability to help him in his work. Late in life, he claimed that cigars provided him, “a great intensification of my capacity to work and a facilitation of my self-control”. Toward the end of his life, after he had been beset with several cancers which he steadfastly denied had been caused by his smoking, he defended the practice and his friends continued to send him his favorite cigars, which were often difficult to obtain in Vienna. He also began to consider the possibility that smoking, as well as other behaviors, were what he called “secondary substitutes” to lost childhood addictions of an emotional or physical nature.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud, with grandson, remained devoted to his family his entire life. Wikimedia

14. Freud and telepathy in dreams

In the early 1920s, Freud prepared a paper which he intended to deliver as a lecture on the subject of telepathic dreams. The paper was never delivered to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society as he intended, but was discussed among his colleagues and enemies in Vienna and elsewhere. His paper was eventually published. He presented the argument that although the possibility of telepathic communication in dreams had not been proven, nor had it been disproven, arguing that it was possible. Freud argued that though he had not personally seen evidence of dream telepathy, while sleeping the mind was uniquely configured for the phenomenon.

His position was widely disregarded by colleagues, who argued that the absence of evidence for the ability was scientific proof that it could not be accomplished. Still, Freud studied the possibility of telepathic communication for the rest of his life. Freud later claimed to have no opinion on the subject one way or the other, writing to a colleague, “In reality, however, I was anxious to be strictly impartial”, in an attempt to distance himself from the minor scandal which arose over his comments on the subject. Freud accepted telepathy, particularly in dreams, as linked to psychoanalytical theory, rather than to the occult, which was the widely held opinion of the time.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud’s ubiquitous cigar was far more than a prop, he smoked over 20 every day. Wikimedia

15. Freud’s daily schedule in Vienna was almost obsessive

Freud maintained a daily schedule in Vienna which was unvarying when he was in the city. He rose at 7 AM, breakfasted, and his beard was trimmed by a barber. During workdays, he saw patients from 8 AM until noon. After lunch, frequently with those of his family who were in residence, he walked about the Vienna streets, often using the time to visit his tobacconist and replenish his stock of cigars, the purchases of which were recorded in his diary. Returning to his office in the early afternoon, he saw patients, consulted with other practitioners, and worked on his research. Dinner was at 7 PM, after which he amused himself with cards, or walked to a local café for yet another cigar or the evening paper.

Freud usually returned to his home around 9, retiring to his study to write, correct papers, or read the papers sent to him by colleagues for his consideration. He usually continued with this work until the wee hours, retiring for sleep around 2 AM. He preferred to spend his evenings in such pursuits because he had unfettered access to his cigars throughout. His first cigar of the day was lighted upon rising in the morning, and he did not retire for sleep until he had completely smoked his last.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Adolf Hitler painted this scene as a struggling street artist in Freud’s Vienna. Wikimedia

16. Sigmund Freud and religion

Freud was the descendent of Orthodox Jews, who lived most of his life in antisemitic Vienna, which for a period following the First World War was also the home of Adolf Hitler, who struggled to survive by selling his paintings on the street. His thoughts on religion were revealed in several papers published in the early 20th century, and many of them brought harsh reactions from representatives of different religions, both clerical and laic. The monotheistic God of Judaism was regarded by Freud as stemming from emotional needs based in infantile urges.

To Freud, religion had once served a purpose by helping to restrain humanity’s barbaric impulses, but in the face of advances in science and the development of human reason, it was no longer of value and was actually the source of much harm. Freud considered religious beliefs to be a form of self-imposed and maintained delusions, which restricted the development of reason. His several papers addressing the subject of religion and religious beliefs were considered to be controversial at the time of their publication. Several of them remain controversial today, where they are considered at all, and fundamentalist religious groups dismiss than out of hand.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Early psychoanalysis was particularly harsh on women, as well as dominated by men. Wikimedia

17. Freud’s views on women were equally controversial

In a 1925 paper on the anatomical differences between men and women and how they contribute to the individual psyche, Freud wrote, “Women oppose change, receive passively, and add nothing of their own”. It was just one of many controversial comments Freud produced about women, which were written at the height of the suffragist era and the resulting change of women’s place in society. Freud in many places and times made clear his belief that women were inferior to men, though he also made it clear on several occasions that he did not fully understand them.

“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?‘”, he once wrote. Many of his writings on women were challenged at the time he made them, by colleagues and by the emerging female practitioners of psychotherapy and students of the human psyche. Even Freud’s granddaughter Sophie came to reject Freud’s thoughts on women, and on the human mind in general, comparing him to Adolf Hitler by calling the two of them “false prophets of the twentieth century”.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
William James, founder of the study of the psyche in the United States. Wikimedia

18. Sigmund Freud came to despise the United States

Sigmund Freud admired the United States as a young boy, when he kept a copy of the Declaration of Independence in his room. During his lifetime he made just one journey to America, in 1909. He was invited to lecture at Clark University; one of his audience was William James, one of America’s greatest philosophers and a pioneering psychologist. James found Freud to be closed-minded, fixated on his own ideas and unwilling to consider the relative merit of others. On his part, Freud found America to be “a mistake. A gigantic mistake it is true, but nonetheless a mistake”. He returned to Europe nurturing grudges against the Americans.

One of them was based on American informality. He was outraged that Americans to whom he had just been introduced would address him by name, rather than his title of Doctor Freud. He found America to be absurdly prudish, interested in his theories solely for their sexual revelations. And he believed that America’s wealth and consumption were signs of nationally repressed desires which in themselves were unhealthy and dangerous. Freud was even angered by the treatment he received when invited to a barbecue, complaining his food had been cooked on an open fire as if by barbarians.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein opposed awarding his friend Sigmund Freud the Nobel Prize in any category. Wikimedia

19. Freud was nominated for a Nobel Prize 13 times, but was never awarded one

During his career, Sigmund Freud was nominated for a Nobel Prize, in the categories of Physiology or Medicine, for twelve years. He was also nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature, by Romain Rolland, the awardee of the Literature prize in 1915. Freud’s name was placed in nomination for the Literature prize in 1936, but failed to be awarded that prize either. While there is certainly no shame in failing to be awarded the Nobel Prize in any category, in Freud’s case it became a contentious point. His failure to win the award was based on the decision of an investigator, who recommended to the deciding committee that his work was not based on acceptable science.

The investigator informed the committee that Freud’s work lacked the requirements of true science. Among the scientists who refused to endorse Freud’s work, and his nomination for the prize for medicine was Albert Einstein. The scientific community did not consider Freud’s development of psychoanalysis to be based on fact, and that Freud had based much of it on his own theories, unsupported by experiment. One member of the Nobel medicine committee wrote, “Freud’s entire psychoanalytic theory, as it appears to us today (1929), is largely based on a hypothesis”. After 1938, Freud was never nominated again.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud psychoanalyzed Chaplin’s Little Tramp – and Chaplin – without ever having met him. Wikimedia

20. MGM attempted to hire Freud as a film consultant in the 1920s

Samuel Goldwyn of Hollywood’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios was a fan of Freud, and when the studio began to develop Anthony and Cleopatra, he offered Freud $100,000 to act as a consultant, calling him “the greatest love specialist in the world”. Freud’s response appeared in The New York Times. He had no interest in participating in the film industry in any form, and his response made his position clear. But his reticence did not extend to a private analysis of one of the most famous characters in film history, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Freud, who dismissed most films as a waste of time, enjoyed the Little Tramp.

Freud’s analysis of the Little Tramp was based on his observations of the character in films. He wrote to a friend that Chaplin played the character, “as he was in his early dismal youth”. To Freud, this was consistent to his theories regarding all artists, whose creations were “intimately bound up with their childhood memories”. Freud called Chaplin’s portrayal of the Tramp, “an exceptionally simple and transparent case”. Freud’s analysis of Chaplin using the Little Tramp to deal with childhood issues was not endorsed by the actor, who claimed the character was created by accident while filming Mabel’s Strange Predicament for Mack Sennett.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
The couch used by Freud’s patients in Vienna and London. Wikimedia

21. Freud created new words and phrases used today in everyday conversation

Sigmund Freud’s work, expressed in his published writings and voluminous correspondence, has always been controversial. His “facts” were attacked as “unproven theories”; he was accused of not developing experiments to prove or disprove his hypotheses. He was accused of falsifying the case files of patients, presenting inaccurate accountings of outcomes in order to strengthen his positions. In short, he was accused of not being a scientist, nor a practitioner of accepted medical procedures. Yet with the general public, the lay persons not involved in science or medicine, Freud made an indelible impression.

In virtually any conversation the terms and phrases he developed can still be heard; terms such as death wish (which became the title of a movie and sequels), denial; Defense mechanisms, the ego, as well as the corresponding superego and id, though the latter two are used far less. Freud entered the public consciousness, ironically, on a path he despised, that of the growing interest in cinema. His ideas appeared in films of Hitchcock’s, and continued to appear in films today. Though many of his terms are used in variance with how he described them, Freud changed the language of both science and everyday conversation.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
A Swedish newspaper announces the German takeover of Austria in 1938. Wikimedia

22. The rise of the Nazis was a threat to the aging Freud

As the Nazi party gained support in Germany, Freud remained in Austria, which had not yet come under the spell or control of Hitler and his minions. Freud had several reasons to fear the Nazis. He was an atheist in practice, but a Jew by birth, which was enough of itself. He was also an intellectual, and a psychoanalyst, both of which had been targeted by Nazis. Still, he remained in largely Catholic Austria, secure in the knowledge that the Austrian-Vatican-Fascist relationship would protect Austria from the claws of Hitler’s Reich. Hitler had other ideas.

Though Freud relied to some extent on the protection of the Catholic Church and its influence on the government of Austria, he continued to condemn Catholicism above all other religions. As the Nazis consolidated power in Germany, more and more of Freud’s friends urged him to leave Austria for England or the United States. He rejected the United States out of hand, though he expressed his willingness to relocate to Great Britain. He waited too long. The Anschluss brought the Germans – and the Gestapo -swirling into Austria. Freud’s ability to leave Austria legally was then in the hands of the Nazis, who loathed him.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Princess Marie Bonaparte abetted Freud’s escape from Europe in dramatic fashion in 1938. Wikimedia

23. Princess Marie Bonaparte was a former patient of Freud’s

Princess Marie Bonaparte was a descendant of Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Emperor Napoleon I of France. A woman of great wealth, she consulted Freud on a matter of sexual dysfunction, and her treatment had been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Princess Marie began the practice of psychoanalysis herself, and maintained a correspondence with Freud. It was her wealth, and feminine guile in dealing with Nazi officials, which bought Freud his escape from Austria in 1938. Princess Marie also bought several of Freud’s most damning letters, including his private correspondence concerning cocaine, and much of his art collection.

Princess Marie intervened personally with officers of the Gestapo and SS in helping Freud to obtain the visas necessary to leave Austria and enter Great Britain, at a time when the movement of Jews was becoming problematic on many levels. The princesses’ activities included sexual intrigues and the exchange of cash, for the most part, her own and that of her husband, Prince George of Greece. Freud left Austria via train for Paris, accompanied by his daughter Anna and his wife Martha, as well as some servants. From Paris, they crossed to London, while Princess Marie delayed the Gestapo search of his Vienna residence until most of his papers could be removed.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud
Freud’s escape left many of his family doomed in Nazi-occupied Europe. Wikimedia

24. Freud left many family members behind in Austria

When Freud escaped Vienna for Paris he left behind his four sisters, and in London, he met with Princess Marie to discuss their fate. Marie attempted to deal with the Gestapo in a similar manner as she had with Sigmund and failed. By then the Germans were aware of her intrigues and double-dealing, and though she was protected by diplomatic immunity, the objects of her attentions were not. All four of Freud’s sisters then in Austria went to the camps; all four of them died. Unable to help his sisters, Freud set about entertaining visitors and establishing his practice near London.

He set up his consulting rooms in his London home to appear as faithful to the Vienna version as possible (Princess Marie had sent him his couch from Vienna). He attended a few patients, though most of his time was spent working on his last monographs and books. His cancer returned, this time in the jaw and in an inoperable manner, and Freud asked his doctor, Max Schur, who had attended him in Vienna, and who like Freud was a Jewish refugee, to minimize his discomfort as it appeared at the end was near.

Facts from the Captivating Life of Sigmund Freud

Freud with other pioneers of psychoanalysis at Clark University, Massachusetts, in 1909. Wikimedia

25. Freud’s death was an illegal assisted suicide in September, 1939

Max Schur euthanized his friend and patient Sigmund Freud, using three large doses of morphine, on September 23, 1939, according to some sources. Others disagree. Based on the recollections of Anna Freud, another physician, Josephine Stross, administered the third and fatal dose. The arrangement allowed both physicians to cover their tracks, so to speak, at a time when physician-assisted suicide was considered first-degree murder. Freud was cremated at Golders Greers and his ashes retained at the crematorium. His wife Martha died in 1951, and her ashes joined with her husband’s.

Freud’s famous observation that “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, or variations of it, most likely came from another source. It didn’t appear in writing until 1950 and in any case, it is at complete odds with the core of Freud’s thinking. To him, the human psyche was a place of constant tension between the need for pleasure and the need for death, and every thought, every act, every dream, was a reflection of the tension. Most of his work is held outside mainstream science today, though some still support and follow it, and he has been for decades the stereotypical parody of the psychiatrist analyzing a patient, usually with a cigar in hand.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Freud: A Life for our Time”. Peter Gay. 2006

“Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, Vol. 1, The Young Freud 1856-1900”. Ernest Jones. 1954

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