From the archives: The ‘Lone Eagle of Science’

 

This article appeared in a 1936 edition of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. The headline was, “The Lone Eagle of Science,” followed in smaller font by “An Indirect Interview with Sigmund Freud.”

Nov. 13, 1936

Sigmund Freud has not granted any interviews for many years. Miss Strauss, Vienna correspondent of the Seven Arts—Worldwide service, succeeded in interviewing the great Freud via his daughter Anna. An important and highly interesting close-up of Sigmund Freud’s views on anti-Semitism. – Editor.

VIENNA—Sigmund Freud, the lone eagle of the science of human mind, is an old man today. He is 80, and looks it. His voice is feeble and his movements slow. He sits in the study of his modest Vienna apartment for days. Sits without motion. Just pondering on the infinite stupidity of human beings, we suppose.

“The Lone Eagle of Science” appeared in the Nov. 13, 1936 edition of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, on page 1.

What the newspapers and medical journals write about his person or his work interest him but little. His sad but still penetrating eyes give one the impression that he no longer is concerned with the problems that disturb us common mortals. The creator of psycho-analysis has done his work and now rests his case. Silent and solitary, he awaits the verdict of posterity. In solitude but in confidence.

Refuses Direct Interviews

I spent an hour in his Vienna apartment recently as a guest of the family. One of the friends of Anna, daughter of Dr. Freud, took me along. I am mentioning this because there is one strict rule enforced in the Freud home: “Reporters not allowed.” Sigmund Freud has not given a single direct interview during the last decade. Nothing will make him do so, not even the most impudent provocation by new opponents of his school of psychoanalysis. He won’t talk.

When I remarked to Anna Freud that reports in the newspapers had made me expect a much more active Freud than the old gentleman staring into space without apparent interest in his surroundings, she answered: “Father has a bad day today. He was informed that a number of friends, among them H.G. Wells and Stefan Zweig, are preparing to celebrate his eightieth birthday. That makes him nervous. He wants to be left alone.”

“Why” should it disturb your father,” I insisted, “that a committee of outstanding men of letters with to honor him as one of the geniuses of our time?”

Anna, who resembles her father very much, smiled: “He doesn’t mind the honor but resents the bother. You know there is no honor without discomfort in this world of ours.”

“Is your father much interested in Jewish affairs?” I continued, encouraged by the carefree tone of Anna Freud’s answers.

Anti-Semitism As a Psychosis

“Very much so,” said Fraeulein Freud. “At one time he was an active member of the B’nai B’rith. Even today he keeps himself posted on every phase of Jewish life. He has, as you know, devoted much time to the study of anti-Semitism as a psychosis. He has published articles on that subject.”

Sigmund Freud.

“Has the advent of Hitler in Germany confirmed his theory on anti-Semitism?” I queried.

Fraeulein Freud’s youthful but serious face became thoughtful. “I never really asked Papa this question. Let’s ask him. I’ll be right back.” She said, motioning me to remain seated. Tall and stately, Anna approached her father, who was sitting at the other end of the room. Dr. Freud turned his head away from the people surrounding him.

I was told later that he experiences actual physical difficulties in speaking since an operation two years ago, and does not wish to be observed when he does talk. Anna and her famous father, oblivious of the rest of us, whispered for quite a time. When Anna rejoined me she looked very grave.

“You know,” she began, “my father believes that the events in Germany belong much more to the realm of psycho-analysis than to political history. One could trace, he believes, a very definite chart of the development of anti-Jewish psychosis not only in Germany but in other countries too. A very articulate anti-Semitism may be easier to cure, he says, than a suppressed anti-Jewish complex, although the first may be more dangerous and inconvenient.

Subconscious Intolerance

“My father was never shocked by the violent and arrogant anti-Semitic speech of this or that Aryan. He ponders much more about statements of so-called friends of ours. He very frequently tries to analyze what this or that person, officially friendly to the Jews, really meant when he used a certain expression. His observations in that particular field are altogether startling.

“Whenever somebody emphasizes that he has Jewish friends he actually means, my father says, the following: ‘Although I do not like the Jews I am tolerant enough to have a few Jewish friends.’ My father has published some of his observations on this phase of subconscious anti-Semitism quite a number of years ago.”

I did not have an opportunity to probe further into this subject. Frankly, I was afraid that my curiosity might be misinterpreted. I knew that it was hopeless to attempt to converse with Dr. Freud directly. For the last few years he has been talking to strangers only through his daughter Anna or his son Martin. But the impression of his personality will linger in my mind for years. The atmosphere of complete seclusion that surrounds him… the proud and sad expression of his eyes…

Much has been written about the tragic fate of Sigmund Freud, a prophet unrecognized by the government of his own country. Various speculations have been set up to explain the reason why his favorite pupil, Adler, Jung, Stekel, went their own way, and even tried to minimize the achievements of their master.

Almost Forgotten Figure

Some Freud critics imply that the father of psycho-analysis was so self-centered and disciplinarian in his attitude toward his younger colleagues that he regarded the slightest deviation from his views as a personal insult. His pupils could no longer collaborate with him without abdicating their own convictions and views, say these commentators.

Whatever the reason, Freud, who belongs to the group of scientific trail-blazers like Einstein, Bergson and Pasteur, has lived a more thankless life than any of his fellow geniuses. Medicine and literature have blossomed fourth as a result of his discoveries, and he, the original thinker on the great mysteries of the human mind, sits as an almost forgotten figure in a small Viennese apartment, remembered only because some of the great literary men of our time insisted on celebrating his eightieth birthday.