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The Starry Sky & the Still Small Voice: Sigmund Freud

(1856 - 1939)

Among the manuscripts in the Library's collections is a letter written by Albert Einstein to Sigmund Freud on April 29, 1931, on the occasion of Freud's 75th birthday.

29 IV 31

Honored Sir,

I am very happy that your 75th birthday provides me the opportunity to thank you. You see, every Tuesday I read from your works with a lady who is a friend of mine, and cannot admire enough the beauty and truth of your presentation. Excepting only Schopenhauer, there is no one can write or could have written in such a manner.

The psychological insights are accessible to a thick-skinned person like me only by way of reason but not in direct fashion. So that I react alternately with faith or a lack thereof, but cannot really judge.

From my very heart I wish you the full measure of pleasure you provide the cultivated individual, and cordially greet you.

Yours, A. E.

The letter is in the Library's Freud Collection.

A letter from Einstein to Freud on the occasion of Freud's seventy-fifth birthday, April 29, 193 1. The letter, though informal in tone, is rather reserved in sentiment, for though Einstein and Freud each recognized the eminence of the other, their relationship never developed into friendship.

Albert Einstein, Letter to Sigmund Freud, April 29, 193 1. Manuscript Division, Sigmund Freud Collection.


Einstein's two manuscripts would be an adornment for any library. The sixty thousand or so items in the Freud archives make the Library of Congress the greatest repository of Freudiana, a veritable treasure house for scholars and students alike; and among those treasures are items of Jewish interest.

In the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division is an excellent copy of the first edition of Freud's greatest work, Die Traumdeutung (Interpretation of Dreams), Leipzig and Vienna, 1900 (really 1899), which was once the property of "Med. Dr. Fritz Magyar, Wien I, Hegelgasse 4." Freud presented his earliest views on dream interpretation at the Jüdischee akademische Lesehalle, first in 1896 and again a year later. On December 7 and 14, 1897, he delivered papers on "Traumdeutung" to the Vienna lodge of B'nai B'rith, of which he had become a member in September. These were the first of twenty-seven lectures before B'nai B'rith between 1897 and 1917. The society's journal reports on the first two:

Two lectures by Brother Dozent Dr. Freud about interpretation of dreams. The lecturer beginning with the familiar physiological causes of dreams, discussed the psychology of dream life and established the principles of a self-contained theory. In the conclusion of his ingenious interpretation, he said:

"whoever is occupied with the dreams of man and understands their true meaning peers into the secrets of the human soul as into a crater imbedded within the earth's dark interior."

Dennis B. Klein, whose Jewish Origins of the Psychoanalytic Movement, New York, 1981, informs us about this phase of Freud's life and activities, records the reaction of the audience. One reported: "From beginning to end, everyone present listened with rapt attention to Freud's words"; another, "The audience expressed their gratitude and approval with unrestrained applause."

Under his portrait drawn in pen and ink by Robert Kastor, 1925, for inclusion in a book on the greats of the world, Sigmund Freud wrote:

There is no medicine against death, and against error no rule has been found.

Robert Kastor, "Sigmund Freud," 1925. Prints and Photographs Division.

Why did Freud seek out a Jewish audience for his scientific lectures? The answer is, alas, that no other group would provide him a platform, or a sympathetic hearing. In the spring of 1897, Emperor Franz Josef, after four refusals, finally accepted the outspoken anti-Semite Karl Lueger as Mayor of Vienna. Anti-Semitism was rife in Vienna, and Freud had felt its sting, being denied professional promotion once and again. Only fellow Jews provided the audience and the appreciation the father of psychoanalysis needed so desperately at that stage in his life and work, as he was moving from his career as a physician to becoming the "Founding Father" of the movement.

In 1926, when Freud's lodge brothers celebrated his seventieth birthday, illness kept him from attending the celebration, but he wrote to them:

What bound me to Judaism was, I must confess, not belief and not national pride ... Other considerations ... made the attractiveness of Judaism and Jews irresistible ... Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices which limited others in the use of their intellect, and being a Jew, I was prepared to enter opposition and to renounce agreement with the "compact majority."

Like Einstein, Freud served on the Board of the Hebrew University, but unlike him, Jewish interests and Jewish identity were not major concerns. The Library has the manuscript copy of his "Ein Wort Zum Antisemitismus" (A Word on Anti-Semitism), which appeared in Die Zukunft: ein neues Deutschland ein neues Europa, November 25, 1938, a German emigre weekly edited by Arthur Koestler, published in Paris. In it Freud includes the precis of an essay ostensibly by a non-Jew which defends the Jews. Critical of the nature of Christian protest against anti-Semitism, which the author contends was scanty and came too late, he writes:

We profess a religion of love. we ought to love even our enemies as ourselves. We know that the Son of God gave his life on earth to redeem all men from the burden of sin. He is our model and it is therefore sinning against His intention and against the command of the Christian religion if we consent to Jews being insulted, illtreated, robbed and plunged into misery. We ought to protest against this, irrespective of how much or how little Jews deserve such treatment.

For long centuries we have treated the Jewish people unjustly and we are continuing to do so ... Jews are no worse than we are ... Nor can we call them in any sense inferior. Since we allowed them to co-operate in our cultural tasks, they have acquired merit by valuable contributions in all spheres of science, art and technology, and they have richly repaid our tolerance. So let us cease at last to hand them out favors when they have a claim to justice.

The November 25, 1938, issue of the German emigre weekly Die Zukunft (The Future), edited by Arthur Koestler, published Freud's "Ein Wort Zum Antisemitismus" (A Word on Anti-Semitism), Freud's most significant statement on the subject. The three-page signed holograph manuscript is in the Library's Freud Collection.

Sigmund Freud, "Ein Wort Zum Antisemitismus," 1938. Manuscript Division, Sigmund Freud Collection.

Ernest Jones suggests that these words were written by Freud himself, and he may well be right. They were written soon after Freud completed his one major work of Jewish interest, which was published in 1939 in Amsterdam as Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion, and that same year as Moses and Monotheism in New York, a work which raised a storm of protest in the Jewish world. To maintain that monotheism was an Egyptian invention and Moses an Egyptian who was murdered by the Jews because of his message, was to rob the Jewish people of its greatest contribution and its greatest leader. To do this at a time when Judaism was being viciously maligned and Jews were being brutally treated gave all Jews pause.

In the Freud Collection we find the manuscript of the work in its three parts, "Moses Ein Ägypter" (Moses an Egyptian); "Wenn Moses Ein Ägypter War. . . " (If Moses were an Egyptian ... ); and "Moses, Sein Volk, und die Monotheistische Religion" (Moses, His People, and Monotheistic Religion). The manuscript also bore an earlier title, Der Mann Moses, Ein Historischer Roman (The Man Moses, A Historical Novel). The first two parts appeared in 1937 in the Viennese journal Imago; the third part was first published as the third section of the completed book.

The complete holograph manuscript of the three parts of Freud's Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion (Moses and Monotheism), as well as the corrected galleys, are in the Library's Freud Collection. The first page shown of "Wenn Moses Ein Ägypter War . . ." (If Moses Were an Egyptian) is dated 24/5/1937.

Sigmund Freud, Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion, 1937. Manuscript Division, Sigmund Freud Collection.

Interpretation and critique of Moses and Monotheism are wide and varied. Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in the Lionel Trilling Lecture he delivered at Columbia University on November 14, 1986, noted that none of the scholars and critics had mentioned a manuscript of the work. He expressed delight that his inquiry to the Freud archives at the Library of Congress had brought him a Xerox copy of the original draft "different in significant ways from the published version." He found an original unpublished introduction, which Freud concluded with:

My immediate purpose was to gain knowledge of the person Moses, my more distant goal to contribute thereby to the solution of a problem, still current today.

Yerushalmi also found that the manuscript draft and printed work differ substantially in their opening sentence. The original read: "One will not easily decide to deny a nation its greatest son because of the meaning of a name" (Moses is an Egyptian name). In its final form it reads: "To deprive a people of the man whom they take pride in as the greatest of their sons is not a thing to be gladly or carelessly undertaken — especially when one himself belongs to that people" (emphasis added). Yerushalmi argues, elegantly and forcefully, that Moses and Monotheism is a work neither of negation nor degradation but of affirmation and pride in belonging to a people from whom, Freud writes:

there rose again and again men who lent new color to the fading tradition, renewed the admonishments and demands of Moses, and did not rest until the lost cause was once more regained ... And it is proof of a special psychical fitness in the mass which became the Jewish people that it could bring forth so many persons who were ready to take upon themselves the burden of the Mosaic religion ... It is honor enough for the Jewish people that it has kept alive such a tradition and produced men who lent it their voice, even if the stimulus had first come from the outside, from a great stranger.


Retained in the Freud family papers is this Yahrzeit und Trauer-Andachtsbuch, presented to the bereaved family of Freud's brother-in-law and distant relative, Maurice Freud, who died in Berlin on September 7, 1920. Freud cancelled an important trip to England to hasten to Berlin to be with the bereaved family at that time. Both Freuds, Maurice and Sigmund, had been born the same year, 1856.

Yahrzeit und Trauer-Andachtsbuch, Berlin, 1920, Manuscript Division, Sigmund Freud Collection.

In 1920, Freud began to be obsessed by death. This has been attributed to the death of his beloved daughter, Sophie, about which he wrote to Sandor Ferenczi, "Since I am profoundly irreligious ... there is no one I can accuse." Yet among his family papers, this profoundly irreligious man retained a small book of special Jewish prayers dealing with death. In box B3 we find a black-covered Yahrzeit booklet issued by a Berlin undertaker, which contains prayers in Hebrew and German to be said on the anniversary of the death of a loved one and at memorial services. Inscribed on the first page is the name of the one to be memorialized and the date of his death: "Maurice Freud, 24 Elul, 5680 (September 7, 1920)." Maurice or Moritz Freud was a cousin once-removed who was married to Sigmund's sister Marie. He died suddenly of a heart attack in Berlin, and Sigmund cancelled a professionally important trip to England "to go back to Berlin to see Marie and the orphan." Why did Freud retain the Yahrzeit booklet? It might help to point out that Sigmund was well aware that Moritz had been born in 1856, the year of his own birth. I leave it to Freudians to ponder.

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).