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Sigmund Freud, the originator of psychoanalysis, had deep roots in Eastern Galicia. Freud’s father’s family was from Tyśmenica and Buczacz; his mother was born in Brody and spent her childhood in Odessa, and his wife Martha’s family was from Brody as well. Many of the contributors to the development of psychoanalysis in subsequent decades—and all of Freud’s original followers—also had roots in Eastern Galicia. To this day, a high number of notable psychoanalysts are second- or third-generation descendants of East European Jews.

From its beginnings, psychoanalysis flourished in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia until the late 1920s and in Hungary until 1939. The Russian Psychoanalytic Society was founded in 1911. In 1912, Freud wrote to Carl Gustav Jung, “In Russia there seems to be a local epidemic of psychoanalysis.” Before World War I, more copies of Freud’s work were sold in Russia than in any other country.

The Russian translation of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1904 was the first translation of Freud’s work in any foreign language. Nikolai Osipov published the first detailed Russian clinical case study in 1909; that same year also marked the launching of both Psychotherapy, the first Russian psychoanalytic journal, and the Psychotherapeutic Library, which aimed to publish all of Freud’s work in Russian translation (18 out of 35 reached the printing stage, and all print runs were sold out almost immediately).

In the early twentieth century, the three most important Jews to practice psychoanalysis in Russia were Sabina Spielrein (1885–1942), Tatiana Rosenthal (1885–1921), and Moshe Wulff (1878–1971). Spielrein and Rosenthal participated in meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and were medical students in Zurich with Max Eitingon (1881–1943). Eitingon, also a Russian Jew, was a prominent Berlin psychoanalyst; he was one of Freud’s ringbearers and the founder of Berlin’s psychoanalytic free clinic.

The psychoanalytic history of Spielrein began in 1907 when she arrived at the Bleuler clinic in Zurich, sent there from Rostov-on-Don by her parents for the treatment of a serious mental illness that may have been psychosis. She was treated and cured by Jung, with whom she apparently also had a romantic affair. Introduced to Freud by Jung, she became a Freudian analyst and an important contributor to the field. Spielrein is credited with originating the concept of the death instinct in Die Destruktion als Ursache des Werdens (Destruction as the Origin of Coming into Being; 1912), which became a key element in the structure of Freud’s later work.

After her training, Spielrein was encouraged by Freud to move to Moscow rather than Berlin (according to a member of her family, she considered the idea that she might “treat and cure Lenin”). She analyzed Jean Piaget in Zurich before returning to Russia in 1923. A year later, she moved from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don, where she remained until she and her two daughters were killed by the Nazis in 1942. Aleksandr Luria (1902–1977) and Lev Vygotskii (1896–1934), who were among the most important psychologists of the first half of the twentieth century, were two of the many members of the Russian Psychoanalytic Society whom Spielrein may have trained, taught, or analyzed.

Moshe Wulff, who was analyzed by Karl Abraham in Berlin, returned to Russia in 1909. He published several translations of Freud’s work and included glossaries of psychoanalytic terminology in Russian. From 1924 until 1927, he was president of the Russian Psychoanalytic Society. He left the Soviet Union for Palestine, where he and Max Eitingon were founding members of the Palestine Psychoanalytic Society.

Tatiana Rosenthal joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers party in 1905, published a psychoanalytic exegesis of a literary work in 1911, and established a school for children with emotional problems and learning disabilities in 1920. She committed suicide in 1921 at the age of 36.

The high-water mark for psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union was between 1921 and 1923. The first training institute was established in 1922, with Wulff and Spielrein as its earliest training analysts. The period between 1924 and 1927 was a time of intense ideological battle over the relationship between Freudianism and Marxism. Aron Zalkind (1889–?) led the effort to make psychoanalysis acceptable to Russian socialism. There were counterattacks (by V. A. Iurenets) and counter-counterattacks (by Mikhail Reisner). Luria and Vygotskii joined the fray on the side of psychoanalysis, stressing its compatibility with Marx’s historical materialism, but to no avail. Trotsky’s interest helped Soviet Freudians in the mid-1920s and worked to their disadvantage after that. In 1927, Luria resigned his position as secretary of the Russian Psychoanalytic Society and Wulff decided to remain abroad. The final report of the society was issued in 1930, the same year that the last Russian translation of Freud was published in the Soviet Union for more than half a century.

A revival of psychoanalysis began in Russia in the 1970s and gained momentum after glasnost in the 1980s. Several important figures in this revival were Russian Jews, including Aleksandr Etkind and Aaron Belkin. In 1989, three Russian editions of Freud’s work were published with a total print run of more than 500,000 copies, the same year that the Psychoanalytic Association of the USSR (renamed the Russian Psychoanalytic Association in 1990) was formed.

Psychoanalysis also has a long history in Hungary. The Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society (the seventh local group) was founded in 1913 at the suggestion of Sándor Ferenczi (1873–1933), who was its first president and also the first professor of psychoanalysis in the world. Prominent psychoanalysts in the society included Jenö Hárnik, Imre Herman (1889–1984), Géza Róheim (1891–1953), Istvàn Hollós (1872–1957), and Zsigmund Pfeiffer. At the outbreak of World War II, 25 percent of its members were Jewish. The society was dissolved in 1948 by the Communist regime and the list of émigré Hungarian psychoanalysts is a who’s who of psychoanalysis that includes the Hungarian Jews Melanie Klein (1882–1960), Sandor Rado (1880–1962), Franz Alexander (1891–1964), Robert Bak (1908–1974), Paul and Anna Ornstein, György Gerő, Béla Grunberger, Margaret Mahler, John Gedo, and several others. The Hungarian Society was revived in the form of a study group in 1975, and it achieved full membership in the International Psychiatric Society in 1989.

The most prominent Polish émigré psychoanalyst was Herman Nunberg (1887–1970), while Lithuania’s claim to a place in psychoanalytic history is that Freud was a member (1930) of the Praesidium of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, founded in Vilna in 1925. Its director, Max Weinreich, translated Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis into Yiddish and wrote a psychoanalytically informed study on identity formation in adolescence.

Although there is no question that Eastern Europe and, in particular, the Jewish culture of eastern Galicia have formed an important part of the background of psychoanalysis since its birth more than a hundred years ago, the reasons for this interest and involvement are not clear. One can speculate that it was related to Galicia’s place in the Habsburg Empire and the interaction of German and Slavic culture with Hasidic (emotional) and Rabbinic Talmudic (intellectual) traditions.

Suggested Reading

Eva Brabant-Gerö, Ferenczi et l’école hongroise de psychoanalyse (Paris, 1993); Alexander Etkind, Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia (Boulder, 1997); Paul Harmat, Freud, Ferenczi und die ungarische Psychoanalyse (Tübingen, 1988); Martin A. Miller, Freud and the Bolsheviks: Psychoanalysis in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union (New Haven, 1998).