In the Land of (Un)limited Opportunity

The majority of Viennese members and candidates of the WPV emigrated to the USA, in particular to New York, but also to Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the locations of the four leading psychoanalytic institutes of the country. All those without medical training entered the US with an enormous disadvantage: Unlike in Austria, lay analysts were not accepted as members of psychoanalytical chapters and were barred from practicing as psychoanalysts. They had to turn to other professional fields like education or social work.

In contrast to Europe where the science of the unconscious had always been met with resistance at the universities, psychoanalysis had been well-established in the USA since the 1930s. Therefore, for some Viennese emigrants, opportunities opened up in exile that would probably not have been accessible elsewhere. At the New York Psychoanalytic Society, the most influential and largest psychoanalytic association of the USA, the Viennese emigrants not only formed the largest group by numbers in the
post-war years. Some important positions, too, for instance in the training committee, on the board, or in the outpatient clinic, were increasingly held by former WPV members. Those who had been close to Freud personally in Vienna, who had completed their training or control analysis with him, enjoyed – and perhaps also expected – particular esteem. It was inevitable that this constellation in which established members were upstaged led to conflicts and disputes within the institute.

“When we came to this country, it was in 1938, we found here in the United States everything we were looking for in Austria and could not find there … it would have been impossible to take a critical attitude and to continue the opposition in which we lived in Austria, … So that the immigrant analysts stopped their revolutionary attitude. … There was only one reaction possible, … of greatest gratitude, to Roosevelt and to the country in which you were accepted with such friendliness and had the opportunity to survive.

Kurt Eissler, 1984

Grete L. Bibring

Grete L. Bibring, née Lehner, was born as the youngest child of an intellectual Jewish family in Vienna on January 11, 1899. Already at school, she discovered Freud’s writings. During her medical studies, she met Otto Fenichel, a WPV member, who called her attention to the »Vienna student seminar for sexology« which she soon organized herself together with Wilhelm Reich and her later husband Edward Bibring. During her studies, she completed a training analysis with Hermann Nunberg; after receiving her doctorate in 1924, she trained as a specialist in psychiatry and neurology. In 1925, she became a member of the WPV. At the end of the 1920s, she opened a private practice with her husband besides working at the outpatient clinic and, from 1934, in the training committee of the WPV.

On May 15, 1938, she emigrated to London with her husband, their two sons Georg (9 years) and Thomas (7), and her mother. She was soon accepted as a training analyst by the British Psychoanalytical Society (BPS) but the professional situation in London remained difficult for newly arrived analysts during the war years. On board the MV Georgic on February 11, 1941, the family emigrated via New York to Boston, where their former colleagues Helene and Felix Deutsch were already working. Both Grete and Edward Bibring became members and training analysts of the Boston Psychoanalytical Association. Already six months after her arrival, Bibring resumed a tradition she had already cultivated in Vienna: regular dinner parties for colleagues and friends, the menus of which she meticulously recorded.

Grete L. Bibring’s professional career in the States was varied and successful – not least thanks to her training as a psychiatrist and the dominant reform-oriented psychiatric movement in the US. In 1946, she took over as head of the psychiatric department of the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, and, in 1961, as the first woman ever, she received a professorship of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. In the 1950s and 1960s, she held numerous leading positions in psychoanalytic societies. Even after her retirement, she held seminars on female education and professional careers for women at the Radcliff College.

Grete L. Bibring died in Cambridge, Mass., on August 10, 1977.


The Ellis Island Passenger Manifests

Each manifest consists of two pages with a total of 37 fields for various data. The left page contains central data such as name, age, gender, marital status (fields 1-6), or place of birth (field 11) and last place of residence (field 15), but also information about reading, language, and writing skills (field 8). The right-hand side contains more in-depth information about the passenger: In addition to the planned length of stay (field 24) and destination, the next of kin or friend in the country of origin had to be indicated (fields 17-18), as well as who paid for the passage and whether the person entering the country had $50 or less (fields 20-21). Attitudes toward anarchy and polygamy were also inquired and any plans to overthrow the government also had to be indicated (fields 26-28). Height, weight, color of skin and hair, and physical and mental health were also recorded (fields 32-36). Source: The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation

“I recall the great panic that overtook many Viennese Jewish intellectuals at the time the Nazi troops moved into Austria in March 1938. The Viennese analysts, while naturally sharing in the heightened concern, were less panicked by the political turn than other professionals. In fact, they really behaved in a quite ‘analyzed’ way, banding together in the tradition of the most efficient Freemason groups and undertaking systematic organizational work to see to it that every Jewish analyst was safely relocated.”

Margaret S. Mahler, 1988

Margaret S. Mahler

Margaret S. Mahler was born Margarethe Schönberger on July 10, 1897, into a Jewish family in Ödenburg/Sopron in today’s Hungary. In 1917, she began studying medicine with a focus on pediatrics in Budapest and from there went to Munich, Jena, and Heidelberg. After receiving her doctorate in 1922, she worked in Vienna as a pediatrician. Through Willi Hoffer, she came into contact with psychoanalysis and met August Aichhorn. In 1926, she began a training analysis with Helene Deutsch – who, however, deemed Mahler unsuitable for psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, Mahler was able to continue her analysis with Aichhorn and later with Willi Hoffer; in 1933, she was accepted as an associate member of the WPV.

Through the intervention of a patient, she and her husband Paul managed to obtain temporary residence visas for Great Britain, where they arrived in May 1938. The rent for their Hampstead apartment was paid by the British Psychoanalytical Society (BPS), which also provided a loan to pay for their tickets to the United States. Dorothy Burlingham on her part intervened with the American embassy in Britain for the emigration applications to be processed more quickly. On October 13, 1938, the couple was able to board the Queen Mary for New York, where they were personally welcomed by their WPV colleague Bertha Bornstein.

In 1940, Mahler became a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and was given a lectureship in psychiatry at the Columbia University. In her practice and research, she focused on child psychosis. In 1945, she learned of the death of her mother who had been deported to Auschwitz in 1944. This triggered a severe depression, and she started a further analysis with Edith Jacobson. In 1950, Mahler founded a therapeutic kindergarten for psychotic children at the Einstein
College in New York. In the following years, she directed the training program of the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1975, she published her arguably most famous
study, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, which is based on observational research in a natural environment.

Margaret S. Mahler died in New York on October 2, 1985. In accordance with her last will, her ashes were buried next to her father’s grave at the Jewish cemetery in Sopron.

Letter from Margaret S. Mahler to August Aichhorn, dated May 28, 1948: “It is hard to go to Austria, and I have already given up on this plan 10 months ago. Clearly I have a great aversion of going there – please don’t take this badly. I know you will try to understand me.” Mahler consistently refused to travel to Austria after 1945.

Thomas Aichhorn Archive, Vienna

AUDIO: Reminiscences of Margaret S. Mahler 1974 (copy)

Excerpts from an interview conducted with Bluma Sverdloff on November 15, 1974. Columbia University Libraries

Paul Federn

Paul Federn was born into an eminent Viennese Jewish family on October 13, 1871. As a young adult, he led a bohemian life before starting to study medicine following his father’s wishes. After receiving his doctorate in 1895, he trained as an internist and opened his private practice in 1902. In the following year, he made the acquaintance of Sigmund Freud and soon was part of the latter’s innermost circle, the »Wednesday Psychological Society.«

In 1919, Federn published his study on the psychological motives of the First Republic: Zur Psychologie der Revolution: Die vaterlose Gesellschaft [On the Psychology of Revolution: the Fatherless Society]. In the early 1920s, the convinced socialist Federn, who was interested in issues like sexual education, family welfare, and women’s emancipation, became one of the foremost training analysts within the WPV and also took a leading role in the foundation of its outpatient clinic in 1922 as well as in the training committee. In 1924, Freud named him his official representative – besides Anna Freud – and he was elected vice president of the WPV. In 1926, he co-edited Das Psychoanalytische Volksbuch [The Popular Psychoanalysis] with Heinrich Meng in the Hippokrates publishing house.

On August 29, 1938, Federn, who by then was completely penniless, was able to flee to the USA on board the Drottningholm via Sweden, where he had already travelled in the course of a teaching assignment after World War I. In 1940, he became an honorary member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society; for a full membership, he needed to re-take exams in medicine. His medical degree was only recognized as late as 1946. One of Federn’s most famous patients in New York was the exiled Viennese author Hermann Broch, with whom he had corresponded on problems like global citizenship, human rights, and the theory of mass hysteria since 1939. After years of correspondence, Federn was reunited with his son Ernst in 1948, who had survived the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps and settled in New York to study. In 1949, after a lecture tour to Topeka, Kansas, Federn learned that he was suffering from malignant bladder cancer; at the end of that year, his wife Hilde passed away.

On May 4, 1950, Paul Federn shot himself in his New York study.

Ernst Kris

Ernst Kris was born into a Jewish middle-class family on April 26, 1900. In the last years of the Habsburg monarchy, he converted from Judaism to Catholicism. After studying art history, history, archaeology, and psychology and receiving a doctorate in art history, he started to work at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. In 1924, his fiancée Marianne Rie, a future pediatrician, mediated his presentation to Sigmund Freud as an antiques expert, and he began his training analysis with Helene Deutsch.
In 1929, Kris catalogued the intaglio and cameo collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 1933, he became a full member of the WPV. With his former fellow student Ernst H. Gombrich, he worked on a project on caricature – which remained unpublished – and together they curated an internationally acclaimed exhibition of works by the French artist Honoré Daumier at the Albertina in Vienna in 1936.

To escape National Socialist persecution as a »full Jew,« Kris wrote to his superior Fritz Dworschak, since the »Anschluss« acting director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, on March 21, 1938, asking for retirement from his post and for a recommendation for a permit to leave the country for himself and his family – and succeeded. On May 15, 1938, Kris was able to leave for London with his wife and their two children Anna (7 years) and Anton (3 years). There, he worked for the BBC. On July 29, 1940, they arrived in Canada on board the SS Duchess of Bedford – it was easier to enter the United States from there. On September 15, 1940, the family set foot on American soil in New York in possession of valid visas that had already been obtained by their friend and colleague Ruth Mack Brunswick in 1938. Waiting for Kris was a post as guest professor at the New York School for Social Research. As he did not hold a medical degree he was accepted into the New York Psychoanalytic Society as a honorary member but he was denied full membership. Although he thought about returning to his adopted country, England, in 1945, he finally decided against it. »It is very hard to emigrate a second time,« wrote Anna Freud in a letter dated July 16, 1945, to her friend Kris.

In 1950, Ernst Kris founded the Postgraduate Study Group of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, which he directed until his death on February 27, 1957.

Letter from Ernst Kris to Fritz Dworschak, dated November 7, 1938

Letter from Ernst Kris to Fritz Dworschak, dated November 7, 1938, from London. In it, he sends Dworschak, who had been acting director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum since the “Anschluss”, “and the Viennese colleagues the most devoted greetings”. And further: “The above address will probably be valid for the next 3 months. / I am including my civil servant’s legitimation.” Dworschak had favorably intervened with the Vienna police department and the Ministry of Education for Kris’s plans to leave for England.

KHM Museum Association

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