Dr. Sigmund Freud, Uncle Alex and the Centenary of World War I

A hundred years ago, when World War I was in its infancy, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria called up my great-uncle-in-law Alexander Loebl, Esq. and asked him to serve in his army. Uncle Alex had just graduated from law school, and though he was a loyal citizen of the Austrian Empire, he was terrified of going to war.

“I simply can’t go,” he told his crestfallen family. That evening Alex went to the opera, Vienna’s most sacred and treasured form of entertainment. His panic attack, however, escalated. At intermission Alex even fainted! What was he going to do? He knew that it was impossible for him to obey his orders and take the train to the front, and it was equally impossible for him to shame his patriotic family by not going.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, approximately 1920

Fortunately, some member of the family had heard of that “crazy” doctor who claimed that he could cure hysterics by “talk therapy.” The next morning Alex, armed with an ancient revolver, went to Freud’s home/office at Berggasse 19. He rang the bell and was admitted. In the entrance, two of the good doctor’s sidekicks confronted him. “I must see Dr. Freud immediately,” Alex barked, “otherwise I’ll shoot myself.” Freud’s helpers continued to deny him access.

Aroused by the commotion, Freud emerged from his study and asked Alex to explain his problem. “I cannot report to my army unit,” Alex confessed. “If I go to the front, I’ll die.” Sixty years later, when Uncle Alex told my husband the story, he recalled Dr. Freud fixing his brown eyes on his. “Young man,” Freud said. “You are going to take the train tomorrow morning and report to your unit. Nothing is going to happen to you. You’ll survive this war, and you’ll survive many other wars.”

To his family’s great relief, Alex complied with his orders. As a lawyer he never had to face active duty and he survived the war. He practiced law in Czechoslovakia, married Martha and lived peacefully in Bruno. Twenty-four or so years later, as the Nazis intensified their war against the Jews, Alex was about to be deported to a concentration camp where he surely was going to be murdered. His good Christian wife hid him as best as she could; still during the next three years his life was at constant risk. “During all these years,” he recalled after, “I thought of Freud and his brown eyes and recalled him predicting that I would survive ‘many wars.’” That gave him the faith to survive.

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2 Responses to Dr. Sigmund Freud, Uncle Alex and the Centenary of World War I

  1. Joseph Ahern says:

    The breadth and depth of your historical anecdotes always inform and entertain. And now we learn that your husband has a cache of them too. Keep the nuggets coming! Join the lecture circuit! And please keep writing.

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