Half a century has passed since the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna was opened in 1971—and since “the present must first have become the past before it will furnish clues for assessing what is to come,” (Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, (1927) 2008, trans. J. A. Underwood, p. 2.) we are using the benefit of hindsight to look back at this museum’s challenging beginnings: not only to celebrate its half centenary, but also to gain insights and inspiration for current and future developments. At the founding meeting of the Sigmund Freud Society (Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft/SFG), later to become the first operator of the Sigmund Freud Museum, high-ranking representatives of politics, science, culture, and the press gathered under the chairmanship of Austrian Federal Chancellor Josef Klaus on November 28, 1968.

Among them were the famous political commentator and journalist Hugo Portisch and Austria’s future federal president Thomas Klestil, who was the federal chancellor’s legation councillor and secretary at that time. “By making available the funds necessary to acquire Freud’s former apartment, [the federal government] had taken the initiative to establish the society, which should serve above all to pay appropriate tribute to Freud’s great achievements […],”(Minutes of the constituent assembly for the founding of a Sigmund Freud Society in Vienna on November 28, 1968, archive of the Sigmund Freud Society/Sigmund Freud Museum, pp. 1 f. ) Federal Chancellor Klaus declared in his introductory statement.

In point of fact, he is said to have been confronted with a question about Vienna’s recognition of Sigmund Freud only a few weeks beforehand in the course of diplomatic discussions at the White House. The first president of the SFG, Friedrich Hacker, (a famous psychoanalyst, aggression researcher, and exiled Viennese with numerous connections in the USA and abroad who practiced in America, would both serve as a communicator between the USA and Austria and ensure international awareness of the SFG ) reported to his friend Max Horkheimer that it had been “a formal inquiry from the American president” (Friedrich Hacker in a letter to Max Horkheimer, 1969) Lyndon B. Johnson that had led to him being commissioned with the creation of a Sigmund Freud memorial site. As Freud had worked from Vienna’s Berggasse 19 for almost fifty years before having to flee the Nazi terror in 1938, the founder of psychoanalysis’s former practice rooms in the building were duly purchased and renovated by the state and city. They were opened three years later on June 15, 1971: “Heat, crowds, hubbub. In two of the many rooms, some 150 guests accumulate, tout Vienne, as well as guests from America. This time, Mister Federal Chancellor, Madam Vice Mayor, city councillors, and dignitaries made an appearance. The debt of gratitude is paid, the injustice rectified,” (Hilde Spiel, “Die Couch blieb in London,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 18, 1971) according to the aloofly ironic account by Hilde Spiel, a writer and significant— as well as incorruptible—chronicler of the postwar years who had herself been forced to emigrate to London as early as 1936 due to her political sympathies and activities.

Barbara Pflaum, the first lady of Viennese press photography, documented the occasion. Famous for her snapshots that are as artful as they are unpretentious, she provided posterity with a handful of highly symbolic visual evidence—such as the picture that shows Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky from the back as he pensively steps through the door of Freud’s former practice. In his opening speech, as the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reported the next day, the federal chancellor thanked his predecessor Josef Klaus for his dedication and, as someone who had himself spent long years in exile, wished for the future of the country an “institutionalization of the Freud renaissance” so that “the discontent with the civilization of our society that is still pronounced today” could be addressed. ("Wiener Freud-Museum eröffnet. Bundeskanzler Dr. Kreisky würdigte in einer Ansprache den großen Gelehrten,” Wiener Zeitung, June 16, 1971.)

It was thus late, tentatively, and muffled by the wariness of richly metaphorical word play (Here on the one hand through the use of the term “renaissance”—meaning the “rebirth” of the hitherto almost entirely annihilated culture of Jewish origin in Austria—and on the other hand through the subsequent allusion to Sigmund Freud’s culture-critical text Das Unbehagen in der Kultur from 1930 - translated into English as Civilization and Its Discontents) that the voice of Austria started to attempt the process of coming to terms with its own past. It would take another two decades until Federal Chancellor Franz Vranitzky officially acknowledged Austria’s guilt and complicity in the Nazi regime and issued a clear renunciation of the “victim status” that had been claimed by this country. That Freud himself, shortly after having left Vienna, merely named the “German invasion” (Sigmund Freud in a BBC interview after starting his exile in London, on December 7, 1938) as the reason for his escape, is not surprising, however: despite corresponding with Albert Einstein about “war” in the early 1930s and not being blind to the impacts of the rapid growth of anti-Semitism, even the vivid imagination of this pessimist was incapable of guessing the true extent of National Socialist crimes against humanity—or indeed the short time that remained before his death in September 1939 to learn of the deportations of his sisters who had been left behind in Vienna. Only after the war had ended were the remaining members of the family informed of the murder of the “aunts” in 1942.

A contemporary witness often takes center stage in Barbara Pflaum’s photos; in 1971 this witness was able to give an account of these and other events: Paula Fichtl, employed by the Freuds since 1929, left Vienna with them on June 4, 1938, and only returned to her original home of Salzburg after Anna Freud’s death in 1982. As a close confidante, she represented the family on the day that the museum opened in Vienna and her memories meant that she continued to play an active part in the museum’s retelling of Freud’s life. For example, the first significant reconstruction of Freud’s waiting room in 1985 was largely based on Paula Fichtl’s memory. The original waiting room furniture had already been brought to Vienna in the early 1970s for the opening exhibition. Under the management of the psychoanalyst Harald Leupold-Löwenthal, it was possible to continually integrate in the collection further exhibits owned by the Freud family—to the extent that the permanent exhibition presented from 1975 was three times larger than it had been originally.

The completion of the permanent exhibition on Freud’s life finally took place in 1985 with the installation of a permanent display in Freud’s study and treatment room. It would remain unchanged for the following thirty-five years: On the upper level of the horizontally structured wall fixture, documents and photographs were exhibited; in the showcases below there were offprints and smaller objects like Sigmund Freud’s wallet, his visiting cards, and his fountain pen—memorabilia that his daughter Anna had personally brought to Vienna in 1972. (Hans Lobner, “Zu Anna Freuds Rückkehr in die Berggasse (1971, 1972) nach Handnotizen desselben Datums,” in: Sigmund Freud Papers, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.: Interviews and Recollections, 1914–1998; Set A, 1914–1998; Recollections; Lobner, Hans, 1973, p. 5) As in the original presentation, the lowest level was reserved for the photographs by Edmund Engelman, which had been taken before Freud’s emigration at the behest of the pedagogue and psychoanalyst August Aichhorn so that “a museum can be created when the storm of these years has passed.” (Edmund Engelman, “Rückblick,” in: Sigmund Freud. Wien IX. Berggasse 19, 3rd revised edition, Christian Brandstätter Verlag, 2016, p. 89). That it was not easy to win over Anna Freud for such an enterprise after the Shoah and as a cautious administrator of her father’s estate, is revealed by a thank-you letter from Friedrich Hacker dated September 27, 1971: “Esteemed and dear Dr. Freud […] I am convinced that you have sensed that your sacrifice was worth it as you have given the cause of psychoanalysis an important impetus not only in Vienna but all over the world and afforded many people a moving and unforgettable experience.”

Here the president of the SFG is referring to Anna Freud’s participation in the twenty-seventh congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), which took place in July 1971, a month after the museum in Vienna has been opened. Anna Freud, who had shared the responsibility for the fate of the IPA since 1925, had not only advocated Vienna as the venue for this congress; as a committee member of the SFG and future honorary president, she was also involved in the initial development of the Sigmund Freud Museum’s scientific agendas. Hans Lobner, then still a medicine student who had been entrusted with the museum’s organizational matters, described her first visit to Berggasse 19 since her departure for exile in London thirty-three years previously. Anna Freud’s visit on July 22, 1971—including the highly symbolic handover of the key to the house—was intended to be discrete. This is how it came to pass that even Lobner was compelled not to make an appearance and only observed the event secretly from a distance. “There was a certain compassionate hysteria in the air at the time,” he wrote in his memoirs, “those involved were  superconscious that this special occasion might be fraught with Anna Freud’s emotions and perhaps required understanding and tact. I can disclose that—as was to be expected—Anna Freud was the one who showed the most aplomb when it came to dealing with her emotions.” (Hans Lobner 1973).

In his notes, Lobner also recorded three other visits made by Anna Freud with friends on July 25, 27, and 31, 1971, subsequent to the congress meetings. On these occasions, it was possible for the prospective curator to enter into conversation with the museum’s most important benefactor and learn essential details about individual exhibition pieces. (Ibid, pp. 1 ff.). With regard to Anna Freud’s visits to the museum, Friedrich Hacker writes in the aforementioned letter: “We were of course pleased and satisfied that you were largely in agreement with the SFG’s work thus far; I also find that your suggestions concerning the other activities are most valuable and should be looked into. Might I ask you […] to tell me once again to whom I should write or speak in order to set in motion and realize the closer collaboration with the IPA that you envisaged? […] I thank you once again for all your support to date and above all for your prospective support in future and remain— also with affectionate regards to Ms. Fichtl—your obedient and very devoted servant, Friedrich Hacker.” (Letter from Friedrich Hacker to Anna Freud, September 27, 1972, archive of the Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft/Sigmund Freud Museum)

A short while later, Anna Freud’s support would lead to an open letter sent to the members of the IPA with the appeal to donate books so that the museum could be established as a site of “the living present of psychoanalysis” 1971. The donations by Anna Freud, her family, and colleagues soon constituted not only the foundation of the museum’s archive but also that of the library, which had now grown into the largest of its kind in Europe. The first sections of the library were installed by Hans Lobner in the mid-1970s in the rooms facing the Berggasse in which Anna Freud had once lived and in which she set up her practice for child analysis in 1923.

Under the management of Harald Leupold-Löwenthal (psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, was director of the Sigmund Freud Museum from 1971 to 1996, president of the SFG after Friedrich Hacker from 1983 to 1999, and elected chairman of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung/WPV) for the years 1979–1980 and 1980–1982), Hans Lobner (psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, worked as a curator from 1974 to 1986 and as a librarian until 1990 for the Sigmund Freud Museum) and Ella Lingens (doctor and lawyer, was on the board of the SFG from 1972 to 1982 and general secretary of the Sigmund Freud Museum until 1987. As a resistance fighter, she was interned in the National Socialist concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Dachau in 1942, and as a ministry official, she was heavily involved in setting up Austria’s health-care sector and social services after the war. Ella Lingens and her first husband Kurt Lingens were honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Israeli memorial site of Yad Vashem in 1980) events were organized whose interdisciplinary focus would set the precedent for the program concept over the following decades.

Starting as early as 1970, the “Sigmund Freud Lecture” took place annually, mostly around Freud’s birthday on May 6: with its international speakers from the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy, the humanities, cultural studies, and the arts, to this day it remains one of the most important features of the Sigmund Freud Museum’s event program each year. From 1975 to the late 1990s, the Sigmund Freud Haus Bulletin was published, featuring topical articles on psychoanalytical teaching and research. Since its opening, the focus of those responsible for the museum has been the task of preserving, researching, and making accessible to the public at large Sigmund Freud’s profound legacy in his former hometown and beyond the city limits. Yet since the founding of the SFG, internal and external discussions about its function and significance have proven fraught with conflict. Even during the constitutive meeting in 1968, Friedrich Hacker recorded in the minutes that “certain still persistent differences of interpretation with the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung/WPV)” remained but asserted “that these initial difficulties will soon be overcome” (Minutes of the constituent assembly for the founding of a Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft in Vienna on November 28, 1968, archive of the Sigmund Freud Society/Sigmund Freud Museum, p. 2.) - though not without indicating beforehand that the legitimate and - at that time (Founded in 1947, the “Vienna Psychoanalytic Association” (Wiener Arbeitskreis für Psychoanalyse/WAP, originally “Wiener Arbeitskreis für Tiefenpsychologie” and renamed under the presidency of Elisabeth Mayer in 1988) became a member society of the IPA in 2013) - only branch of the IPA in Vienna was the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung/WPV).

Even though the IPA as the superordinate international association of psychoanalysts and Anna Freud herself encouraged the development of another Freud society in Vienna, its founding must have caused skepticism at the very least among many a representative of the WPV: growing directly out of Freud’s Wednesday Psychological Society in 1908, the WPV can be considered the principal heir of its founding father Sigmund Freud in terms of its historical and institutional emergence. It also seems understandable that the WPV was concerned if not for its “dynastic power” then certainly for its “right of residence” with respect to the site where it had been launched. Not entirely without reason, as was soon revealed. Attempts to entreat the founding mother to solve these symbiotic entanglements proved unsuccessful. Indeed, after having met with  the benefactor, Friedrich Hacker explicitly cautioned against doing so in his report from May 1974: “Dr. A. F. [Anna Freud] attaches the greatest importance to there not being any argument in Vienna. Does not expect that everyone should love one another but would distance herself in the event of tension. My impression was that it would be utterly wrong and inimical to force Dr. A. F. into the position of an arbitrator on any issue. Undiminished appreciation of everyone involved in Vienna, would be very grateful for the peaceful and objective collaboration of all.” (Friedrich Hacker, “Ergänzung zum 29. Bericht (Reise Lobner nach London),” on May 27, 1974, archive of the Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft/Sigmund Freud Museum).

Despite this plea, the following decades were not without their conflicts over the direction and competence of the domestic Freud scene. The protagonists often held leading positions in various institutions at the same time and/or were confronted with decisions that were not based on psychoanalytical but primarily on cultural, museum, or political expertise: something that was hardly suited to resolving discord or avoiding misunderstandings. Consequently, the psychoanalytical medley around the Sigmund Freud Museum was repeatedly subjected to tense situations that would ultimately culminate in institutional changes.

In 2003, another Freud institution was added to the Viennese ranks with the establishment of the Sigmund Freud Foundation, which has since run the museum, its archives and what is now the „Library of Psychoanalysis“. In 2006 the City of Vienna incorporated the house at Berggasse 19 into the non-profit foundation as a donation to commemorate what would have been Freud’s 150th birthday. As the owner, the foundation has since enjoyed the privilege of imparting Freud’s “cultural work” (In his speech “Freud und die Zukunft” for Sigmund Freud’s eightieth birthday, Thomas Mann describes Sigmund Freud’s activities as “Kulturwerk” or “cultural work”; in: Imago. Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Psychologie ihre Grenzgebiete und Anwendungen XXII (3), 1936, p. 274) in its birthplace. In December of that  year, the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association (Wiener Arbeitskreis für Psychoanalyse/WAP) and the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (WPV) founded the Vienna Psychoanalytic Academy (Wiener Psychoanalytische Akademie); as a center of psychoanalysis and its applications, the academy is dedicated not only to training but also to researching and teaching psychoanalysis, as well as interdisciplinary discussion.

Turning to the present, the many and diverse contributions of all the experts of psychoanalysis and other disciplines from the social and natural sciences and the humanities, of the museum professionals, lawyers, economists, political representatives, and private supporters over the past decades have ensured that Freud’s former workplace has become a cultural landmark that now attracts visitors from all over the world. Naming them all would go far beyond the scope of this article. As would a detailed history of the development of the Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft (SFG), which—despite it being so important to us and having been planned as a collaborative project by the SFG and the Sigmund Freud Foundation—is still waiting to be written. At this point, a new special exhibition also bears mention, as it is causally connected to this year’s anniversary of the museum’s founding: from November 2021 a special exhibition on psychoanalysis’s expulsion from Vienna—via the escape from National Socialism of the Jewish members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society—will be on display, which is based on the detailed research undertaken by the “Working Group on History of Psychoanalysis of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association”.

Today, fifty years after the museum was founded, other collaborative or international and interdisciplinary proposals could be named that correspond to Anna Freud’s erstwhile request for “peaceful and objective collaboration.” (See above).  In 1975 she once again summarized her ideas: “The aims of the Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft differ in some respects from the functions of the official psychoanalytical organizations. While the societies affiliated with the International Psychoanalytical Association serve the individual analysts and the analytical teaching institutes work for future generations of psychoanalysts, the new society in Vienna endeavors to impart the beginnings of psychoanalysis to its members in words and pictures and in this way to reveal the links between the past, present, and future of the analytical movement. In contrast to the psychoanalytical organizations spread all over the world, the Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft is bound to a specific location. The place where the founder of psychoanalysis lived and worked raises hope in the visitor that—beyond the photographic documentation of historical facts—a distant echo of the pioneering spirit is to be found here to which psychoanalysis owes its origins and which is crucial to ensuring its survival and further development under the conditions of our modern-day world.” (Anna Freud, “Der Sigmund Freud Gesellschaft zum Geleit,” in: Anna Freud’s letters, archive of the Sigmund Freud Museum, inv. no. 29/25).

When looking back over its history, the congruence of the Sigmund Freud Museum’s current focus and Anna Freud’s intentions become manifest: her so eloquently formulated thoughts about the building’s significance constitute a guiding principle for us today—one which has largely been achieved since 2020’s redesign of the Origin of Psychoanalysis.

Monika Pessler
Sigmund Freud Museum