In London, where People Write in »Melanesian«

In May 1938, Great Britain enacted a visa requirement for »Reich-German« citizens in order to curb immigration. Most Austrians entered British soil as transit refugees, and thus only with a limited residence permit. Among the Viennese psychoanalysts there were also only a few who managed to stay in London or Great Britain permanently. The couples Bibring, Hartmann, Isakower, Kris, and Wälder all emigrated to the USA after a short stay.

The first years in London exile were fraught with tension for the Viennese psychoanalysts – most prominently for Anna Freud, who lost the status of an undisputed authority she had held in Vienna. Collaboration with the British association was marked by fierce conflict: The Viennese analysts also experienced the substantial differences in opinion between British and continental psychoanalysts as a loss of their spiritual home. »People said the English colleagues didn’t write in English but in ›Melanesian‹. This meant to say that Melanie Klein was regarded as the greatest analyst there and as the one who completed Freud’s work,« WPV member Otto Fenichel already remarked in 1934.

“You are asking for our working relationship with the English group. ... As far as the Kleinian school is concerned, the differences are so great that, while one can talk about the differences, a real collaboration is impossible. This causes many problems in detail, which are masked by the fact that the group has behaved particularly well with regard to the whole emigration issue.”

Anna Freud to Ernst Simmel, 1939

Willi Hoffer

Willi Hoffer was born in Žlutice/Luditz near Karlovy Vary/ Karlsbad in today’s Czech Republic on September 12, 1897. He studied in Vienna, became a member of the Zionist youth movement, and received a doctorate in pedagogy in 1922 and one in medicine in 1929. From 1923, he was a member of the WPV with a focus on child analysis and education. He was a close friend and collaborator of Anna Freud and August Aichhorn.

On May 16, 1938, Willi Hoffer and his wife Hedwig Hoffer- Schaxel emigrated to London, where they were accepted as members and training analysts by the British Psychoanalytical Society (BPS). Hoffer was one of the most active members of the Viennese group in London. He supported Anna Freud in her confrontations with the group around Melanie Klein. After receiving his medical license in 1943, he worked as a doctor in the Hampstead War Nurseries headed by Anna Freud. He also documented the work there as a photographer, as well as subsequently in the Hampstead Clinic.

Besides Anna Freud and Edward Glover, Hoffer was a London representative of the editors’ team of the journal The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (published since 1945), one of the key media of post-war analysis. The Anglo-American venture was started with the aim to strengthen child and youth analysis and additionally, by building on the theoretical and practical legacy of pre-war analysis, to give its authors and readers a sense of continuity and connection to a community. He was also co-opted by Anna Freud, together with Otto Isakower, who had by then arrived in New York, into the editors’ committee of Freud’s Collected Works.

After the war, Hoffer played a key role in revitalizing psychoanalysis in Europe. As a diplomatic traveler in the cause of psychoanalysis, he was a vital support in establishing the Deutsche Psychoanalytische Vereinigung (DPV) [German Psychoanalytic Society] in Germany and in resuscitating the WPV. He created the foundations for the European Psychoanalytic Federation (EPF) and the reinstatement of German as official language of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA).

Willi Hoffer died in London on October 25, 1970.

Labels from Willi Hoffer's household

Willi Hoffer kept the wine and spirit bottle labels in this exhibition view – testimony to convivial gatherings – in his country house Anchorlea in Walberswick, Suffolk. He bought the property in 1949, probably through the mediation of Anna Freud, who had owned the next-door house since 1946 together with Dorothy Burlingham. After Hoffer’s death, the house was passed on to Anna Freud’s nephew, W. Ernest Freud. the labels are a loan by Esther Freud.

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