Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Freudian Archives

The ISA, as its names indicates, is the archives of the State of Israel, and thus is supposed to contain all the important documentation created by the state bureaucracy; it also has private collections of historical figures who were active in the state, and it even has some documentation of the states which preceded Israel, the British Mandate and the Ottoman Empire. You wouldn't expect it to have documents of historical figures who died before Israel was even invented. You wouldn't expect, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

A few weeks ago I posted an article about letters we've got from the important poet Rachel, who died in 1931 (Hebrew). Today I'd like to point you to letters by Sigmund Freud, who died in 1939 and never set foot in the land of Israel.

The reason we've got these letters is that one of Freud's students and colleagues, Max Eitingon, came to Mandatory Palestine in 1933, fleeing from the Nazis. (We don't know if his professional training had anything to do with his early ability to foresee the Nazi danger.) He was a colorful fellow, and at one point was suspected of being a Soviet spy, but his importance for our story is that he hoped to teach psychoanalysis at the Hebrew University. HU, however, didn't have a slot for that, apparently not considering it a worthy academic topic - an interesting position given the centrality of Jews in psychoanalysis. So Eitingon founded the Psychoanalytic Association of Palestine in 1934, and eventually it became the Israel Psychoanalytic Society, which is still active to this day.
Eitingon is 2nd from the right, and Freud - well, you know who he is.

In 2002, the Society donated much of its historical documentation to the ISA, assuming that the public would be better served by its being in an archive than in the basement of an organization which does psychoanalysis. And indeed, the collection, Rg 72.52, contains a variety of fascinating letters, publications and reports about psychoanalysts facing Nazi Germany in the 1930s, among other things. Some of the letters are to and from Sigmund Freud himself.

This one, from February 1, 1921, which Eitingon brought with him when he migrated, is about various things that academics like to talk about: conferences, publications and so on. The thing that caught my eye, however, was that Freud explained why he didn't like a particular paper submitted by one Blumenthal: Freud thought its contrubution wasn't very important because Blumenthal - said Freud - is neurotic. A spot of professional confusion, it seems? Blumenthal's paper should have been evaluated on its professional value, not on his medical condition, even if his condition was the subject of the profession.

1 comment:

  1. The Eitingon Collection at the Israel State Archive provided us with invaluable material and leads for further research in our study of Max Eitingon and his wife Mirra, for which we are very thankful. See our paper "Her Son, the Atomic Scientist: Mirra Birens, Yuli Khariton and Max Eitingon's Services for the Soviets," Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 11:1 (2012), and a subsequent article at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/105954/atomic-bombshell . In response to the question posed by the above blog post, let us note only that Eitingon did not foresee the Nazis' rise to power. In fact as late as 1928 he dismissed them as "comic-opera characters" who should not be taken seriously. He left Berlin only after the Nazis took over and forced him (and other Jews) out of the Psychoanalytic Institute and Polyclinic in Berlin that he had founded and sponsored.
    Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, Research Fellows, Truman Institute, Hebrew University

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