Organized Escape – Survival in Exile. Viennese Psychoanalysis 1938 and Beyond

Vienna, March 1938: The »Anschluss,« the annexation of Austria into National Socialist Germany, is accompanied by massive repression and targeted attacks on the lives and property of Jewish citizens. The first wave of refugees is quickly stopped by the closure of the borders. Emigration is only possible under strict conditions: Laws like the »Judenvermögensabgabe« [Jewish Capital Levy] and »Reichsfluchtsteuer« [Reich Flight Tax] now are used to legitimize the dispossession of the assets of those who can afford to flee the country.

38 members and around 30 candidates of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung, WPV) who live in Vienna are affected by the antisemitic »Reich-German« legislation. They all have to leave Vienna to save their lives. Thanks to the comprehensive support and advocacy of their psychoanalytic colleagues in London, Paris, and New York, but also in Vienna itself, extend to them, they all manage to escape. In particular the British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, in close consultation with Anna Freud, orchestrates the elaborate and close-knit rescue operation from London. There is a broad range of support measures: Apartments are made available as temporary hiding places, sponsorships are provided, valuables are taken abroad, visas are organized, and funds are collected.

By spring 1939, all Viennese psychoanalysts and candidates under threat have left Vienna. The majority are taken in by the United States. The continuation of their professional lives in exile, too, is carefully planned: How many additional psychoanalysts can London bear, how many a city like Manchester? What do the colleagues from Vienna have to know to be able to practice psychoanalysis in the States, where are lay analysts (without a medical degree) accepted? In fact, many will succeed in finding professional fulfilment in exile, some of them will even go on to have impressive careers.

By means of selected biographies as well as numerous images and written documents, the unique history of the collective escape of the Viennese psychoanalysts is described here. The starting point and linchpin of the presentation is a 20-page list Ernest Jones maintained in cooperation with Anna Freud in order keep and update a centralized register of each refugee’s status.


The exhibition was curated by:

Daniela Finzi and Monika Pessler (Sigmund Freud Museum) in cooperation with Arbeitsgruppe zur Geschichte der Psychoanalyse: Thomas Aichhorn, Georg Augusta, Eva Kohout, Roman Krivanek, Nadja Pakesch, Alix Paulus and Katharina Seifert (WPV und WAP)


Supported by:

Stadt Wien – MA 7

Nationalfonds der Republik Österreich für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus

Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies

Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich

Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung

Wiener Arbeitskreis für Psychoanalyse

International Psychoanalytical Association

August Ruhs

Friends of the Sigmund Freud Museum

American Friends of the Sigmund Freud Museum



Archiv Thomas Aichhorn

Esther Freud


Documents kindly provided by:

Austen Riggs Center

Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute Archives

Archives of the British Psychoanalytical Society

Columbia University Libraries

Freud Museum London

KHM Museumsverband

Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

The National Archives, Kew

New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Wiener Psychoanalytische Vereinigung

Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv