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The Night Freud's Daughter Spent in Jail

Love for his daughter Anna saved Sigmund Freud from arrest and murder by the Nazi occupiers of Austria, Freud’s homeland.

On March 13, 1938, Hitler’s troops began the Anschluss or annexation of Austria by invading its southern neighbor unopposed and greeted by orgasmic, flower-throwing local Nazis.

Only two days later, the Gestapo ransacked the flat of perhaps Vienna’s most famous resident and founder of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud.

The Most Famous Couch in the World

Freud's Couch

Freud put his patients on a couch because he didn't like to make eye contact.

The raid on Freud's flat at Berggasse 19, Vienna IX, represented an act of cultural vandalism because museum-quality sculptures from ancient Rome and Greece filled the doctor's residence.

In fact, after Freud’s death his flat was turned into a museum, although it’s more like a shrine or temple to the Great Man whose adherents bestowed on him the reverence usually accorded a major religious figure like the pope or an ayatollah.

The Nazi raiders stole cash worth $840 at the time, prompting their victim to quip, “I have never been paid that much for a single visit.” The uniformed looters ignored the priceless works of antiquity in the apartment.

The Gestapo’s persecution of Freud so soon after Germany invaded Austria reflected his international reputation and veneration. Nazi ideologists envied the analyst's acclaim, which didn’t jibe with the official party line that Jews were Untermenschen, subhumans. The oafs who took over Germany’s scientific establishment rejected Freud’s theories and Einstein’s as “Jew science.” Ironically, some of the Jews who fled Germany later worked on the atomic bomb. If "Jew science" hadn't been repudiated by Hitler, the Third Reich might have developed the atomic bomb before the U.S. Other refugee scientists from Nazi-occupied Europe also made invaluable contributions to the Allies' war effort that helped defeat Germany.

For years before the Anschluss, as lethal anti-Semitism consumed Europe, friends urged Freud, a nonobservant Jew, to flee Austria. Before its occupation by Nazi Germany, Austria’s government was already dominated by a junta of fascist politicians and priests who espoused virulent but not homicidal hatred of the Jews.

Hitler’s "Solution to the Jewish Problem" (Die Endlösung) involved making Europe Judenrein (Jew-free). But his treatment of Austrian Jews differed from the persecution of their coreligionists in the Third Reich.

After the Fuehrer came to power in 1933, he moved slowly as Jews were systematically excluded from all areas of German life — the medical and legal professions, universities, public parks, theaters, cinemas and transportation.

No cruelty was too petty for the Nazis to inflict on Germany’s Jews. One of the first acts of the new regime ordered all Jews to surrender their pets - and bicycles (?) - to the Gestapo. Depriving German-Jews of their cats and dogs anticipates the subtitle of Hannah Arendt’s  Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil (1963).

With the help of a sympathetic Nazi, who signed the doctor’s exit visa and preserved his library and papers in a hidden archive, Freud also managed to secure a “visa” for his chow-chow, Lün, whom he allowed to sit on his sessions with patients.

Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalyst, Dog-Lover 

freud with chow

Freud with his physician's assistant, Lun

The analyst believed that dogs had a calming effect on nervous psychoanalysands, patients in training to become psychoanalysts and all his other patients. Freud also believed dogs could intuitively (!) assess human character. (No wonder dogs love me – also cats who seem to hate everyone else.)

The process of exclusion in Germany occurred in slow motion over a period of six years – until World War II allowed Hitler to ignore world opinion and deport Jews to concentration camps.

Prior to the war, the Third Reich’s preferred method of dealing with its unwanted Untermenschen involved forced emigration to other countries, many of which, including the U.S., turned the émigrés away.

For some reason, the Nazi brutalization of Austria’s Jews began immediately and proceeded quickly after Anschluss. Jewish citizens were dragged out of their homes, beaten to death in the streets, or sent to labor camps that eventually metastasized into death camps.

Because of the speed of the Nazi roundup of Jews for deportation, even prominent, wealthy Austrian Jews failed to escape Hitler’s dragnet.

Within days of the Anschluss, Baron Ludwig von Rothschild was arrested at the airport as he tried to escape the Gestapo. The heir to the international banking fortune was imprisoned for a year until he was allowed to leave Austria after paying a monstrous bribe, his entire net worth.

In 1938, Freud was 82, terminally ill with excruciating cancer of the jaw due to a life-time of smoking 20 cigars a day. The cancer bore a hole in his cheek that exposed the inside of his mouth.

Before Anschluss, Freud delusionally believed Austria’s Catholic government would save the nation’s Jews, ignoring the fact that many anti-Semitic priests served as high-ranking officials of the government whose system was called “clerico-fascist.”

In the early 1920s, a Catholic priest and member of Austria’s fascist Christian Social Party, Ignaz Seipel, served as chancellor (prime minister).

Freud, an atheist, further antagonized the government and Church by publicly denouncing Catholicism. It’s a mystery that he presumed Catholic fascists would spare him and the rest of Austrian Jewry.

German occupation and the fatal persecution that followed made Freud’s departure from Austria even more imperative, but the ailing octogenarian refused to flee until...(See Why Freud Finally Agreed to Flee Austria URL)

Nazis Pillage the Shrine to the Founder of Psychoanalysis

After ransacking Freud’s flat, the Gestapo arrested his favorite daughter and disciple, Anna Freud, and held her in jail overnight before releasing her.

Anna was the baby of the family and spoiled by her doting father who seemed more like a grandfather because of his advanced years.

Anna repaid her father’s affection by carrying on his work and becoming the world’s greatest child psychoanalyst and Freud’s most articulate spokesperson for his theories about human behavior.

She never married but had had a life-long female companion.

Although brief, Anna’s arrest traumatized her father and almost caused him to suffer a nervous collapse. It also finally persuaded Freud to accept the pleas of friends and flee to Paris before settling in London, where his son, Ernst, had already made the British capital the epicenter of international psychoanalysis.

It took four months after the Nazi occupation, along with the intercession of powerful foreigners like the American ambassador to Paris, and a “refugee tax” (read bribe) of 31,000 Reichsmarks (roughly $500,000 in 2011 dollars, although the figure is hard to estimate because German currency was non-convertible due to massive government spending on secret rearmament).

Freud’s Four Sisters Perished at Auschwitz

The Freuds were able to obtain exit visas for the immediate family, their dog who had escaped confiscation by the Gestapo, their housemaid, and Freud’s personal physician, Dr. Max Schur, who would have a fateful role in his famous patient’s death.

The consequences for Freud and his family had they not fled the Holocaust became evident when his four sisters failed to escape and perished in Auschwitz.

In London, Freud broadcast on the BBC, “I have come to England where I hope to end my life in freedom.”

It was a short-lived hope. A little more than a year later the founder of psychiatry was dead. With his daughter’s and Freud’s prior agreement, his physician euthanized him with morphine when Freud decided the pain made life unbearable.

But his work and legacy continued as his daughter Anna succeeded him as leader of the psychoanalytic movement and published seminal works that added to the Freudian canon.

As a child psychologist, Anna used her medical practice for practical purposes, founding centers for the treatment of children traumatized by the war and separation from their parents. She opened orphanages for the most victimized of her young charges, children who survived the Nazi death camps.

Next to psychoanalysis itself, Freud’s greatest bequest to medical science may have been his daughter, who spread the word, kept the faith (in psychoanalytic theory, not in Judaism, which she also rejected) and did the old man proud.

Anna Freud and Thoreau, Jail-Birds of a Different Feather

The night Thoreau spent in jail after refusing to pay taxes for the conquest of Mexico in 1848 is more famous than Anna Freud’s brief time behind bars in 1938. But her incarceration had much more enduring results than Thoreau’s self-promoting martyrdom.

Anna’s influence on the treatment of childhood mental illness continues to this day - possibly her father’s second greatest legacy.


Friedländer, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.

Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

Sanello, Frank. Victims and Victimizers: Gays and Lesbians in the Third Reich. CreateSpace, 2011.

Up next: Why Freud Finally Fled Austria