Review of Sav­ing Freud: The Res­cuers Who Brought Him to Freedom

Charles Dell­heim for the Jewish Book Council
December 26, 2022

Sig­mund Freud, like most refugees, might not have expect­ed to end his life in exile. Even so, Eng­land had long held a spe­cial place in his imag­i­na­tion. Writ­ing to H.G. Wells on July 13, 1938, he con­fessed, ​“Indeed, you can­not have known that since I first came over to Eng­land as a boy of eigh­teen years, it became an intense wish phan­ta­sy of mine to set­tle in this coun­try and become an Eng­lish­man.” And yet it was only after the Anschluss, Hitler’s annex­a­tion of Aus­tria, that he final­ly bowed to the entreaties of fam­i­ly and friends to leave Vien­na, where he had lived for near­ly eight decades — ​“to die in free­dom,” as he famous­ly put it. And so, on June 4, 1938, Freud not­ed in his diary, ​“Leav­ing today.” This lacon­ic entry glossed over the grave chal­lenges fac­ing Jews, who were increas­ing­ly des­per­ate to escape the Third Reich and find sanc­tu­ary elsewhere.

In Sav­ing Freud: The Res­cuers Wo Brought Him to Free­dom, jour­nal­ist Andrew Nagors­ki focus­es on five indi­vid­u­als who, in dif­fer­ent ways, made it pos­si­ble for Freud and his fam­i­ly to escape Nazi tyran­ny: Ernest Jones, the Welsh-born physi­cian who spear­head­ed the devel­op­ment of psy­cho­analy­sis in Britain; Marie Bona­parte, twice a princess, and as rich­ly endowed in intel­lect as in lin­eage; William Bul­litt, the Amer­i­can diplo­mat, who was US Ambas­sador to the Sovi­et Union and then to France; Anna Freud, the only one of her sib­lings to fol­low in her father’s foot­steps; Max Schur, the Vien­nese Jew­ish physi­cian who took charge of Freud’s care as he strug­gled with oral can­cer; and, jolt­ing­ly, Anton Sauer­wald, a sur­pris­ing­ly sym­pa­thet­ic Nazi offi­cial. Rather than focus­ing sole­ly on the Freud’s actu­al escape from Nazi bar­barism, Nagors­ki exam­ines Freud’s rela­tion­ship with the indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the ​“res­cue squad” — a phrase that is catchy but impre­cise — and their respec­tive roles in facil­i­tat­ing his flight to free­dom. Nagors­ki deliv­ers a con­sis­tent­ly inter­est­ing, read­able, and well-informed nar­ra­tive. Its strength lies in its sym­pa­thet­ic, skill­ful por­traits of Freud’s ​“res­cuers.” Less robust is its under­stand­ing of the his­to­ry of Jews in Vien­na and of Vien­nese mod­ernist cul­ture, which remains some­what superficial.

I came away from my read­ing with a ques­tion: Name­ly, oth­er than respect for his virtues and accom­plish­ments, what inspired such intense loy­al­ty and devo­tion from the likes of Marie Bona­parte, Ernest Jones, and William Bul­lit? The answer may well have a lot to do, appro­pri­ate­ly, with trans­fer­ence: seen from this per­spec­tive, psy­cho­analy­sis, the alleged­ly ​“Jew­ish sci­ence” exco­ri­at­ed by the Nazis, was its founder’s sav­ing grace.

Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom

Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom

A dramatic true story about Sigmund Freud’s last-minute escape to London following the German annexation of Austria and the group of friends who made it possible.