Freud's home in Vienna, now a museum
Following the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, the Nazi Party made it clear that “all Jewish assets are assumed to have been improperly acquired”. Orderly in their business dealings, the Nazis appointed an official truehandler-trustee to every Jewish business. Anton Sauerwald, a man I had never heard of until the Cohen book came out, was appointed trustee over the estate of Sigmund Freud, specifically to expropriate the psychiatrist’s assets.
Why hadn’t the most famous man in Austria fled to a safe haven abroad, before the German Austrian Anschluss of 12th March 1938? Worse still, Freud had to cope with the Anschluss in terrible post-operative pain. Perhaps he thought his fame would save him. Eventually the imminent catastrophe must have become clear, even to Freud, when the Gestapo men took the passports of all the family. His family now had no official papers in a city where not having official papers was a death sentence.
Safely in Paris, New York Times, June 1938
And Anton Sauerwald was no Nazi flunky. He discovered that Freud’s publishing house owed money to its suppliers. Since Jews were not allowed to leave Austria until their companies had paid all their debts. Freud would have needed to find considerable sums of money to pay the company’s debts, as well as the flight tax for his entire family.
Sauerwald’s behaviour was unexpected from a Nazi. I suppose he saw that Freud was a very sick old man and had sympathy for him. But there may have been a more intellectual reason for Sauerwald softening his attitude towards his charge. The trustee had always been a dilligent professional and it was now his job to administer the Verlag (International Psychoanalytic Press). He wanted to read everything the company had ever published by Freud.
Freud's house in Hampstead,
turned into a museum in 1986.
Note the two blue plaques, one for Sigmund and one for Anna
Finally in March 1938, when daughter Anna Freud (1895-1982) was arrested, Sigmund prepared a list for the British consul in Vienna of those family members he hoped the English would rescue. A psychiatrist in Britain (what was his name?) worked tirelessly over the next three months to effect the escape.
Another tireless worker for the Freuds was Princess Marie Bonaparte, great grand daughter of Napoleon's younger brother and wife of the Prince George of Greece. Maria had been a grateful patient and disciple of Freud. Apparently she paid for exit visas for Freud and his extended family, and brokered a deal that enabled him to salvage many of his most precious possessions. Freud travelled on the Orient Express train and spent his first day of freedom in 1938 in Marie's gardens in Saint-Cloud, before crossing the Channel to London.
An elderly Freud, working at his London desk
Against all the odds, Freud died with dignity in his own bed in London in Sep 1939.
After the war, Sigmund’s nephew Harry insisted that Anton Sauerwald had to be located. Harry believed that Sauerwald had robbed his family and destroyed the family publishing business that his grandfather had started in 1919. Harry got into Sauerwald's old flat to seek out documents that would prove the man’s guilt. At the end of October 1945, at Harry Freud’s insistence, Sauerwald was arrested and the police started to investigate every aspect of his past.
This decent Nazi (sic) was charged with war crimes and was sent to be tried in the new People’s Court, which was set up as soon as Germany surrendered in June 1945. The Allies wanted to show that the Nazis had been defeated by civilised people who followed rules.
The iconic couch, in Freud's house-museum
By the time Anton Sauerwald went to trial on charges of absconding with Freud’s secret wealth after the war, Sigmund himself was long dead. Sauerwald’s wife wrote to Anna Freud in London, begging her to explain to the court what Sauerwald had done to help Sigmund back in 1938. Only Anna could intervene in the court case to protect Sauerwald – and she did.
There is a statue of Freud on the corner of Fitzjohn's Ave and Belsize Lane in Hampstead, in front of the Tavistock Centre for mental health care. Oscar Nemon, another refugee from Nazi Europe, sculpted the work in London in 1938, not long before Freud’s death in 1939.
I remembered the London County Council's blue plaque for Sigmund that was unveiled on the site by Anna in 1956, at a time when she was still living in the home. Exploring London had to remind me of the second blue plaque, for Anna, that was placed on the Hampstead house in 2002.