In Freud’s Waning Shadow

Der Standard (03/02/2006)
 by Christian Eigner

The year of Freud glorification of analysis and the personality cult. Until 1938, Else Pappenheim was trained in psychoanalysis at the Viennese Psychoanalytical Institute located in Vienna’s Bergasse, allowing her to better put Freud’s legend into perspective.

New York/Graz - Freud? He was present only as a shadow in the background. Some of the instructors in analysis adhered to his ideas, whereas many others brought their own ideas into play. Those are claims made by Else Pappenheim, who lives in New York and at the age of ninety-five is the last living member of the legendary Viennese Psychoanalytical Institute which resided in Vienna’s Bergasse until the Anschluß.

Strictly speaking, she is not saying it but letting it be known through her husband, Stephen Frischauf. Nine years younger than his wife, he answers questions sent to her by e-mail. At the same time he reports how "my Else" is getting along. Her eyesight is declining and she has to be led by the hand. Nonetheless, apart from a broken hip last spring, she is "doing really remarkably well," also mentally capable of remembering her training in Vienna.

Does she also remember Sigmund Freud? No, answers Frischauf for her. She never had the opportunity of meeting Freud. During Else’s training at the Psychoanalytical Institute in 1937, Freud was already so disfigured by cancer of the jaw that he no longer wished to meet any new people.

But her mother, Edith, had often met the father of psychoanalysis. Occasionally invited to tea by Minna Bernay, Freud’s sister-in-law, she remembers meeting Freud there. He would join their group somewhat like a friendly spirit.

Else Pappenheim’s memories do not glorify her assessment of Freud, not even in his celebration year. In her writings, which the Salzburger analyst Bernhard Handlbauer published Else Pappenheim: Hölderlin, Feuchtersleben, Freud. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Psychoanalyse, der Psychiatrie und Neurologie. Nausner & Nausner, Graz 2004, she remains very matter-of-fact, not only in regard to Freud. She neither overemphasizes the importance of the Viennese Psychoanalytical Institute, whose size had been completely exaggerated, nor of Psychoanalysis in general. When one speaks of the Vienna between the two world wars, one has the impression that there must have been hundreds of analysts. But that was not the case - there were no more than about thirty people.

"It was like a sect"
They formed an officially sworn-in community. It was like a religious sect. We students often laughed about it. Although we were full of enthusiasm, we did not go in for the personality cult.

Born in 1911 in Salzburg and having grown up in Vienna, Else Pappenheim had met most of the analysts in that city by the age of fifteen. This was because of her father, Martin Pappenheim, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry. And he was a member of the Viennese Psychoanalytical Association (WPV), more out of personal interest than as an active analyst.

That was enough incentive for Else Pappenheim to continue to be in touch with the central figures of the WPV, and to consider them as normal, everyday people. She made her first step into psychoanalysis towards the end of her medical studies, having specialized in Psychiatry and Neurology. She did this in order to become a better psychiatrist.

The End of the Institute
In 1934 she began her own self-analysis under Otto Isakower; three years later she was accepted into the Psychoanalytical Institute and completed her theoretical training. Together with a number of mostly foreign students, she came across such dazzling personalities as Heinz Hartmann, Anna Freud, Paul Federn and Otto Fenichel. The end of the Viennese Institute came in March 1938, during a seminar with Hartman, when one heard the calls of "Heil Hitler" from the street. What that meant for Else Pappenheim is that she wasn’t able to complete her education until after her emigration to the United States.

Did she find the training she received in Vienna at least helpful for her psychiatric practice later on? "No," she answered by way of e-mail through Stephen Frischauf. That fits together with but also contradicts what she claimed earlier. Else Pappenheim always had an ambivalent relationship to Psychoanalysis. Through analysis one can learn more about a person than in any other manner, quotes Handlbauer Pappenheim in his book. Else Pappenheim, however, let it be known that she holds modern brain research to be equally valuable. Freud himself would have probably valued it highly, since he had always assumed that earlier or later one would find the physiological substratum that governs mental disorders. Does that mean that brain research is the future of Psychiatry? By no means.

Else Papenheim’s hopes still lie in the symbiosis of analysis and brain research. That’s why she still lets it be known through her husband that today’s advances in brain research are fifty years too late - at least fifty years too late for her.