Auction of rare Freud letter detailing Jewish background

The letter is a rare find as Freud described personal details of his life, which he normally kept private.

August 27, 2018 15:07
2 minute read.
Sigmund Freud's letter describing his Jewish background and education (August 27, 2018).

Sigmund Freud's letter describing his Jewish background and education (August 27, 2018). . (photo credit: NATE D. SANDERS AUCTIONS)


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An autobiographical letter handwritten by Sigmund Freud will be auctioned on August 30th by Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles, CA. The letter is a rare find as Freud described personal details of his life, which he normally kept private. He described his Jewish background including details about his ancestry, education, marriage and children, and original profession as a medical doctor. He then detailed how he began developing his psychoanalytic theories, including the growing interest in psychoanalytical issues at the time, as well as the fierce opposition it aroused.

Freud writes in the letter, “For several months, your communication of 04/21 had made itself untraceable - most likely as a consequence of my resistance...I was born on the 6th of May [18]56 in Freiberg /Moravia. My father and mother came from Galicia. My mother, nee Nathansohn, from Brody, of very distinguished ancestry (the Nathansohn - Kallir family), my father of the merchant class. According to tradition, as he once reported to me, the Freud family is said to sometime have left their hometown of Köln [Cologne] during a period of persecution of Jews and then to have migrated eastward..."

Freud wrote the letter on his personal stationery at his home in Vienna on June 30, 1913. He sent the letter to his colleague Dr. Paul Federn, a noted psychoanalyst and one of Freud's protégés.

Freud continued, "After a brief stay in Leipzig, I arrived in Vienna at age 4, completed the Gymnasium, came to the university in 1873 and, after much toiling, became a student of the physiologist [Ernst Wilhelm Ritter von] Brucke who, because of my impoverished state, advised me to take up a practical field. I then turned to neuropathology, became an intern doctor at the hospital, and an adjunct professor in 1885 (doctorate, Dr. med., in 1882). In the fall of 1885, I received a travel grant and went to Paris to work and study with Prof. [Jean-Martin] Charcot. I then translated his lectures. In the spring of 1886, I set up my medical practice in Vienna, and in September of that year, I married Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of the Hakham [Chief Rabbi] Isaac B. of Hamburg, niece of Jacob and Michel B. We have brought up six children; two of the girls are already married now."

Nate Sanders, auction owner, remarked,“This is a rare, personal, first-hand description of Freud’s Jewish heritage. It is clear in reading this letter that Freud respects the importance of his Jewish ancestry and is happy to share it with his colleagues.”

Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between the psychoanalyst and client.

When the Nazis arose in 1933, Freud's books were publicly burned but he underestimated the Nazis' threat and continued living in Vienna. He finally left Austria with his wife and daughter Anna on June 4th, 1938. He settled in London, England until his death from cancer on September 23, 1939.

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