‘Saving Freud’ explores dangerous rescue of legendary psychoanalyst

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By Amanda Kondolojy

Sigmund Freud is a towering figure in popular culture, not only as the founder of psychoanalysis but also as a key originator of broad 20th-century ideas regarding self, sexuality, culture and more. However, it was another part of Freud’s life that caught the eye of St. Augustine-based author Andrew Nagorski: his escape from Nazi-occupied Vienna at the start of World War II.

“I never really planned on writing a book on Freud,” Nagorski said. “Like most people, I sort of had a passing interest in Freud and psychoanalysis, but I realized once I started looking into it, I knew it was very superficial knowledge.”

Nagorski, who previously worked as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in Germany, Russia, Poland and Austria, has written several books about Eastern Europe and World War II, including “1941: The Year Germany Lost the War,” “Hitlerland” and “The Nazi Hunters.”

However, with “Saving Freud,” Nagorski wanted to tell a more personal story that despite involving one of the most important figures of the 20th century, is not well known.

The story begins in 1938 with Adolf Hitler announcing the Anschluss, which was the incorporation of Austria into the Third Reich. Many Austrians had already left the country by this point, sensing “the way the wind was blowing” as Nagorski puts it. But Freud was not among them.

“There’s got to be a story here about why Freud was in Vienna that long,” Nagorski recalled thinking to himself when he started researching the book. “He was a guy who had so many insights about the human mind, and he understood the dangers around him, but somehow was in denial about how close they were coming to him and his family until the very end.”

Nagorski says though it’s easy in 2022 to criticize Freud for his inaction in the late 1930s, he is careful not to “pass judgment” on the famous psychoanalysts’ choices, which is something he hopes other readers will do as well.

“When you put yourself in the shoes of other people at the time, you begin to have a little more, I think, understanding and compassion for the dilemmas that they were in,” he said, going on to note that Freud made a concerted effort not to get involved in politics, though he was concerned about the rise of totalitarian movements.

Because of Freud’s delay in leaving, the effort to get him out of the country became quite the Herculean effort, with many of Freud’s friends and colleagues, including Marie Bonaparte, the great-grandniece of Napoleon, playing a part.

“There’s a whole cast of characters here, many of whom are largely unknown to people that are incredibly colorful,” Nagorski said.

The inventor of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud believed in the importance of the unconscious, the meaning of dreams, and psychosexual development. His work profoundly reshaped therapeutic technique, the study of psychology, and approaches to understanding the workings of the mind. (Photo12/Universal Images Group // Getty Images)

Though much of the book is devoted to Freud’s escape from Vienna and relocation to England (where he died one year later), Nagorski hopes those who read the book not only learn about this often-forgotten aspect of Freud’s life, but also gain a newfound respect for the work he did.

“He laid the groundwork for so much of modern psychiatry, and I think it’s worth remembering that, while he may now seem old-fashioned in some ways, especially in his language at the time, he was way ahead of everyone else.”

“Saving Freud,” out this week, is available at all major booksellers including AmazonBooks-A-Million and Barnes and Noble.

Those who want to see Nagorski in person can check out two promotional stops in Florida, which will be held near his home in St. Augustine. The first will take place at The BookMark in Neptune Beach on Sept. 8 and the second will be at The Lightner Museum on Sept. 29. More information is available at andrewnagorski.com.