Sophie Freud, granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, dies at 97

Placeholder while loading article actions

Sophie Freud, who emerged from the crucible of her youth, marked by Nazi persecution in Europe and lingering family discord, to become a teacher, social worker and writer who repudiated many tenets of her grandfather Sigmund’s psychoanalytic theory, died June 3 at home. in Lincoln, Mass. She was 97 years old.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, his daughter Andrea Freud Loewenstein said.

Daughter of Sigmund Freud’s eldest son, Sophie Freud was the last granddaughter of the Viennese doctor who revolutionized conceptions of the human mind with the introduction of psychoanalysis at the turn of the 20th century.

Rooted in the workings of the unconscious, as well as Freud’s ideas about the competition between the superego and the id and the hidden revelations in dreams, psychoanalytic theory has since been largely supplanted by other schools of therapeutic thought. But Sigmund Freud’s influence lingers in fields ranging from psychiatry to literature, and his stern, bearded visage remains one of the most famous faces of his time.

During Sophie Freud’s childhood in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s, her grandfather received her for weekly visits to his office at Berggasse 19. She remembered him as loving and always ready with spare change for the send to the theatre. She described her connection to the father of psychoanalysis as both a “blessing” and a “curse” – a blessing because she brought increased attention to her own professional work, and a curse because her surname family sometimes seemed to overshadow everything else.

“I got to the point where I would start a lecture by saying no one was allowed to ask about him,” Dr. Freud said. told the London Guardian in 1993. “I feel like I’ve accomplished enough to be considered a full-fledged individual.”

By all accounts she had. Dr. Freud, who had taken refuge in the United States during World War II, spent decades as a professor of social work at what is now Simmons University in Boston, where she chaired the program in human behavior. Trained as a psychiatric social worker, she volunteered at a counseling center for the poor, particularly aimed at helping single mothers and other populations she considered underserved by the social work profession. She was easily recognizable wherever she went, riding around on a red motorbike, which she deemed to be the most efficient way to get from here to there. In a trait shared with her grandfather, she hated wasting time.

Her legacy has sometimes proven difficult for her to escape. People often asked Dr. Freud for his opinion on his psychoanalytic theories. She offered it, unvarnished.

“I’m very skeptical about a lot of psychoanalysis,” she told the Boston Globe in 2002. “I think it’s such a narcissistic indulgence that I can’t believe it.”

She dismissed ‘penis envy’, a developmental stage that Sigmund Freud attributed to young girls, as ‘nonsense’ and the ideas of a ‘3-year-old boy’.

Of her grandfather’s theory of parent-child dynamics, she dryly remarked, “I have a few questions about this Oedipal relationship. »

She found her grandfather’s understanding of female patients particularly flawed. “My grandfather was a good, loving man,” Dr. Freud told The Associated Press, “but he didn’t understand a woman’s sexuality.”

Dr. Freud saw value in his grandfather’s notions of unconscious motives and defense mechanisms, as well as some of his ideas about the role played in the human psyche by unexplored childhood experience. . But there was a limit, she argued, to endlessly revisiting that experience, as psychoanalysts traditionally challenged patients on their couches to do.

“My message is that you have the opportunity to change the way you think about life without having to go back and do it all over again,” she once told a gathering of social workers. “There are so many paths to a person. All you have to do is unbox another me waiting to be unboxed anyway. And then go with that self instead of the messed up self you’ve been attached to.

Dr. Freud explored his own life in two books, “My Three Mothers and Other Passions” (1988) and “Living in the Shadow of the Freud Family” (2007). That shadow was long, and in her darkest moments she said she saw her grandfather, along with his legions of die-hard adherents, as one of the “false prophets of the 20th century” along with Adolf Hitler, all two determined to impose “other men…the one and only truth they had stumbled upon.

Miriam Sophie Freud was born in Vienna on August 6, 1924. Her father, Martin, one of Sigmund Freud’s six children, ran a psychoanalytic publishing house. Her mother, the former Esti Drucker, was a speech therapist who helped Sophie overcome a learning disability.

The family had a miserable family life, with ‘quarrels, tears and scenes of violent hysteria [as] the background music of my childhood,” Dr. Freud wrote in “My Three Mothers.” Esti, she observed, had “married a fairy-tale prince, a son of Sigmund Freud, a handsome, charming knight whose shining armor quickly tarnished”.

Reflecting on the conflict between her parents, Sophie Freud wryly observed that her grandfather “didn’t believe in marital therapy, at least in this case.” As for herself, she joked to The Globe in 2002 that she was “always tapping [herself] on the shoulder” for the fact that she had never undergone psychoanalysis.

Amid this emotional upheaval, Sigmund Freud was a distant yet commanding presence in his childhood.

“Some people have grandparents who play with them, who take them to the circus, who come to dinner every Sunday. I had short audiences with my grandfather every Sunday, but it was like going to church. We spoke very little. It was very quiet,” she told the Globe.

“You can’t call it an intimate relationship. But, on the other hand, it was an important weekly ritual that became an important part of my life.

Life for the Freud family became extremely difficult after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. The Nazis, who had burned the works of Sigmund Freud and other Jewish intellectuals, made a raided his home and confiscated his money. He immigrated to England, where he died of cancer in 1939, when Sophie Freud was 15. Her sisters perished in the Holocaust.

For Sophie Freud, the outbreak of World War II physically divided her family after they had already been emotionally separated. His father and brother found refuge in England. Meanwhile, she and her mother set off on a trek through Europe, fleeing to Paris and then, after the Nazi occupation of that city in 1940, traveling by bicycle to the French Riviera. After stops in Casablanca and Lisbon, they arrived in the United States in 1942.

“I lost the belief relatively early in life that we have rational control over our lives,” Dr. Freud told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass.

Sophie Freud continued her studies in the United States underwritten by a relative, Edward Bernays, a leader in the field of public relations, who was himself the nephew of Sigmund Freud. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Radcliffe College in 1946, a master’s degree in social work from Simmons College in 1948, and eventually a doctorate in social welfare from Brandeis University in 1970.

The year after obtaining her doctorate, she was hired as a professor at Simmons College. She achieved emeritus status in 1992 but continued to teach until 2001.

Dr. Freud’s marriage to Paul Loewenstein ended in divorce. Besides her daughter, of Brooklyn, survivors include another daughter, Dania Jekel of Newton, Mass.; one son, George Loewenstein of Pittsburgh; five grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

During the last months of his life, Dr. Freud’s family wrote in an obituary published in the Globe“she often said that living a long and successful life was her way of deceiving Hitler, who had destined her to perish in Auschwitz.”

She was deeply distressed by what she saw as the rise of fascism in the United States, her daughter said, and had been worried for years about the “tendency we have of giving too much political or intellectual power to a few people. “.

“I feel passionately that this hero worship is our undoing,” Dr. Freud told The Times Union of Albany, NY, two decades ago. “We live by sound bites and don’t use our minds.”