In the shadow of Freud: Granddaughter to recall her escape with her mother from Nazis to U.S.

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

It's been 18 years since Sophie Freud last spoke in Pittsburgh. This time, she comes not only as an author, social scientist and granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, but also as the mother of George Loewenstein, an economics and psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Dr. Freud will appear tomorrow as part of Carnegie Mellon's Journeys series. Her talk will be at 4:30 p.m. in McConomy Auditorium in the University Center and is free to the public.

Her address, "From Vienna to America: A Modern Day Odyssey," will recount her narrow escape from the Nazis with her mother, trace their journey from Austria to France, Casablanca and finally, the United States, and delve into some of the complicated relationships among members of her famous clan.

The material is culled from her 2007 book, "Living in the Shadow of the Freud Family" (Praeger Publishers) about the life of her mother, Esti Drucker Freud, a smart and beautiful but embittered woman who had an unsatisfying relationship with both her husband, Martin Freud, and his famous father, the founder of psychoanalysis.

The book is based on Esti Freud's autobiography, written at age 79 for her two children and six grandchildren, interwoven with family letters, archival material and Sophie Freud's own diaries.

Her mother was an indomitable force who established herself three times as a speech therapist in three different languages. But historical events and personal tragedy made her so miserable that she drove away the very people she wanted close to her. She died in 1980 at the age of 84.

Other contributors to the book include Sophie Freud's brother, Walter Freud, Dr. Loewenstein and his sister, Andrea Freud Loewenstein.

Dr. Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon's Herbert A. Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology, said he was glad for his mother's visit, even though the event blows his cover.

"I have tried not to publicize my connection to the Freuds," he said. "It's a trap, once you start exploiting it. My friends know, of course, but now the cat's out of the bag. I'm just glad it's not my last name."

His mother feels differently about the family name. Having gone by Sophie Freud Loewenstein during her 40 years of marriage to Paul Loewenstein, she divorced him 20 years ago and resumed her unmarried name. He died in 1992.

Dr. Freud, 83, retired recently from her post as a professor at Simmons College in Boston, where she chaired the Human Behavior Sequence at the School of Social Work. These days she teaches at the Institute for Lifelong Learning at Brandeis University (her upcoming course is "Personal Tales of Sadness and Madness") and is taking a course there on the history of dance.

Dr. Freud is no fan of psychoanalysis and congratulates herself for never having undergone it. She is on record calling the therapy "such a narcissistic indulgence that I cannot believe in it," and was known to tell her students that "penis envy," for example, was "nonsense, like a 3-year-old boy."

Even so, her memories of her grandfather are warm ones. Her family lived nearby in Vienna and she visited him often up to age 14. But with the Nazis approaching and her parents' marriage falling apart, the family split up. Her father and brother went to England along with most of the Freuds, while she and her mother went to France.

"My father was eager to separate," she said. "There were some years during the war we were not in touch, but we corresponded once I left France and came to this country."

She saw Sigmund Freud one more time, in Paris. He died of cancer in England, some 15 months after emigrating.

Her book is a tribute to the accomplished, difficult and unhappy life of her mother, and an attempt to make sense of it from various points of view.

For example, Esti Freud's mother, Ida Schramek Drucker, had a beautiful singing voice and a promising career that could have brought her fame and fortune. But when she was offered the chance to go to Berlin, her deeply religious father forbade it. That event has echoes to this day, according to Dr. Loewenstein.

"My mother's brother called it 'the Schramek curse,' " he said.

"I can trace some of my own personality traits back to my great-grandmother. That one event over 100 years ago had repercussions down through the generations. She became very embittered and was a terrible mother to my grandmother, who then became a terrible mother to my mother ... it is amazing to trace the impact of that one event."

Dr. Freud said her mother was "a brave woman but did not have a happy life. Marrying the son of Freud did not bring her much joy. It was an unhappy alliance.

"I am more my mother's daughter than my father's. I lost my intimate relationship with him when we left Vienna. After that we only had a few visits and some exchanges of letters."

She and her brother both harbored anger against the non-custodial parent -- he against his mother, she against her father.

"My father didn't help me when I came to this country and I had a very hard time getting through college [Radcliffe] with absolutely no money. I used to think he could have found ways of helping me, but maybe I was unfair."

Dr. Loewenstein, who lives in Highland Park, said he learned a tremendous amount about his mother from the book.

"For the first time, I understood how close she came to not making it out of Europe during the war," he said.

"Despite how close she came to dying, in daily life she focused on the mundane things that would occupy any teenager. In diaries and letters, you can see she had a more normal life than you would expect. The reader knows they're going through cataclysmic, momentous events, but the person living the details is just getting on with life."


Sally Kalson can be reached at or 412-263-1610. First Published February 6, 2008 5:00 AM


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?