I had just had coffee in the Mozart Café in Vienna when I overheard an English speaking tour guide tell his group that as far as he was concerned the most important resident of Vienna of all times was Sigmund Freud, a Jew and the father of psychoanalysis.
When I overheard him say it, I immediately began thinking how Vienna promoted itself as the city of Mozart -with posters and souvenirs relating to Mozart in every touristy shop ( Mozart chocolates, Mozart coffee cups, Mozart T-shirts). But not one tourist shop had a mug or trinket with Sigmund Freud on it. Why?
My gut instinct was that this had to do with the current of Austrian anti-Semitism that has existed for centuries and still exists and I decided to go see the Freud Museum in Vienna to see if my gut instinct was correct. There I uncovered a rather dramatic story of what happened to Freud during the Nazi period, including the untold story of what really happened in Freud's lower apartment on Bergasse St.
Freud had an ambivalent relationship with Vienna. As a Jew he had difficulties, especially with tone set by the anti-Semitic Mayor Leuger who took office in 1897, and although Freud had gained recognition for his theories from a close-knit group of supporters, he lacked acceptance from the Viennesse public at large.
As early as 1933 Freud's friends began advising him to emigrate to England. But in view of his advanced age he remained in Vienna, in the belief that the Austro-Fascist regime and the Catholic Church together would form a bulwark against Hitler's Germany. When Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, Freud, age 82 with cancer, was so famous that American diplomats threatened Germany that any mistreatment of him would lead to a world-wide scandal. His friends from across the world sprung into action to help him get out to London, and Freud insisted on bringing his whole family with him--although he had to leave four of his sisters behind.
The Freud Museum is located in the apartment where Freud lived, practiced and wrote his most important works for half a century.
When I got to the Freud Museum, I asked the cashier clerk why the Museum wasn't better marked or easier to find and whether the fact that it got such low billing as a tourist site was because Freud was a Jew, and tellin his Freud's story forces Vienna to deal with its dark past during the Nazi period. The clerk told me that there were layers to this story, including how the Museum itself was founded. I told him I was a journalist and the next thing I knew, although I hadn't asked, he brought out Peter Nömaier , who I assumed was a press officer. But no, in fact Peter Nömaier was the vice chair of the Board of the Sigmund Freud Foundation which runs the Museum.
Peter explained that when Freud left for London, his apartment where the Freud Museum is now located was taken over presumably by one of his neighbors, as there is a photo of it from 1938 with a Nazi swastika over the door.
As Peter told me candidly, "Anti-Semitism will always be kind of a problem in countries like Austria," and the history of how the Freud Museum of Vienna came to be is replete with it.
The Museum for such a world famous man wasn't open until 1971, and the suggestion is that it actually took pressure from an American President in order for the government of Austria to see that it was opened.
"After World War II, [the Austrian] people didn’t want to be reminded of what their fathers did. The War was over in 1945. The United States and Russia were here until 1955. It took another 16 years before the Freud Museum was open," Peter explained, noting that in the 1968's "mostly Jewish Viennese who had fled the Nazis", some of whom were Freud's disciples, and many who had met Freud, formed a Sigmund Freud Society, and began thinking about opening a museum.
Peter said that "what we were told happened" was that Austria's then Federal Chancellor Dr. Joseph Klaus was on a visit to the United States, when "the US President asked why it was that Austria hadn't made a museum for Freud." Peter said that this is the story he heard, but it is not one that was ever reported in the media at the time. There is no written record of any conversation with an American President and there is no proof of such a conversation.
On this point, the book by Verlag Christian Brandstatter entitled Sigmund Freud Museum says, following a visit to the USA "Klaus reacted to the criticism about the lack of recognition of Freud and his work in Vienna-belatedly -and invited interested organizations and individuals to collaborate in the establishment of a Museum." The New York Times similarly has written, that in 1968, " on a trip to the United States, josef Klaus, the Austrian chancellor, was embarassed by questions about vienna's Conspicious lack of Freudian commemoriation."
Peter told me"Bruno Kreisky, [a Jewish Austrian Chancellor from 1970] supported the establishment of a Freud museum, we were told."
The Sigmund Freud Society acquired the rooms where Freud had worked with grants from the Austrian Government and the City of Vienna and opened the museum in 1971.In 2003 the Sigmund Freud Foundation was founded. It is this private Foundation that now owns and runs the Museum, unlike all other museums in Vienna which are owned and run by the City of Vienna.
"I think that in the 1960's many people in Austria would have objected to funding the Sigmund Freud Museum as a public museum, " Peter said candidly, noting that the Freud Museum only receives a meagre 75,000 visitors a year, since the promotion of it is left to this private Foundation.
In 2006, the City of Vienna donated Bergasse 19 to the Sigmund Freud Foundation.
THE UKNOWN STORY OF LOWER APARTMENT
But there is more to the story. There is another apartment right under the Freud Museum which was also used by Freud for seeing patients. Peter took me to see this second lower apartment as it is currently used for offices and his office is there.
Peter explained that it is only relatively recently (ten years ago) that the Musuem learned that after Freud left "This [lower] apartment was taken over by the Nazis and Jews were forced by the Nazis to live there until they were brought to concentration camps to be murdered." In other words, having had to allow Freud, one of the most influential minds of the 20th century to be spared, the Nazis made sure to use his apartment as a way station to death for his less famous fellow Jews. Peter indicated that the Museum is not in contact with any of the descendants of the Jews who were forced to live there in the Nazi period
Vienna's Freud Museum is in the process of deciding to make changes and modernizing and as Peter explained, one possibility would be to use the lower apartment which now houses offices as a permanent exhibit to tell the story of what really happened in the building during the Holocaust. To do that, the Sigmund Freud Foundation would have to raise money from outside Austria-- as Austrians are not too likely to donate to this cause.