The Leipzig Interlude: A Significant Phase in Sigmund Freud's Early Life

Article excerpt

Benjamin Goodnick, PhD, ABPP

Abstract: The unusual circumstances surrounding the brief episode in Leipzig of Sigmund Freud and his family illuminate the nature of child development, particularly with respect to parental relationships. The emotional impact on the child Sigismund (later Sigmund) of his early life experiences seems to illustrate the reactions of all children to their loss of security in infancy and childhood and their lasting effects into adulthood. An effort has been made to explore the motivations, on the part of the older generation, in their responses to this change in locale. Special note has been made of the role of Jacob Freud in his son's life. He has been subjected to misunderstanding and denigration by many of Freud's biographers. They accepted Freud's pronouncements respecting his father without evaluating their possible bias and distortion or appreciating the significant contribution of Jacob's character to his son's development.

Examine thoroughly the texts and journals, both recent and decades-old, and you will find little said about the brief Leipzig period in Sigmund Freud's early life. Yet, limited though it was in time, lasting barely a year, this short expanse - and the circumstances leading to the change in residence - involved sufficient drama and soul-searching to sustain and enrich a family biography. The emotional storms and stresses involved in this short period of time reveal the typical experiences of families living within this milieu and provide illuminating insights into Sigismund's character-formative childhood. Of Freud's biographers, e.g., Jones (1), Robert (2), Clark (3), and Gay (4), most have very little to say about Leipzig, aside from mentioning the incident. Jones has made some passing remarks, but more recently Krull (5), with information gained from the work of other researches, broadened our knowledge of the happenings in Freud's early years.

The Departure

We know, in brief, that the Freud families left the town of Freiberg and sojourned in Leipzig for approximately a year or less, but we lack conclusive statements as to their preparations for this change in domicile or the possible reasons for the undertaking. We must piece together from indirect sources what actually may have happened.

On the basis of available information, it would appear that Jacob Freud departed with his infant daughter Anna, born December 31, 1858, his oldest son Emanuel and his family and his second son Philipp after February 1859 (6). Somewhat later (after July) his wife Amalia arrived in Leipzig with her son Sigismund (5, p. 214). Jones, without indicating any source, says that Jacob, Emanuel and Philipp traveled to Saxony (within which lies Leipzig) about June 1859 and that Amalia, Sigmund and Anna arrived in Leipzig in October 1859. These dates appear only in the English and not in the German edition of his Freud biography (5, p. 261, n. 43).

However, Anna (6) claims she was about six weeks old when she was taken by her father on this long trip. Indeed, Anna says she became ill with scarlet fever, forcing the group to halt and lodge for a number of days on the way to Leipzig. Yet Sigismund, almost three, was allowed to stay behind and come later with his mother. Probably Anna may have been a few weeks older than she recalled, since Emanuel's daughter Bertha, according to the records, was born in Freiberg on February 22, 1859 (5, p. 214). It is unlikely that the group left earlier than a month after the birth of Emanuel's daughter. In any event, the journey by the first group apparently included caring for two infants. As to Amalia, it would probably have been too much to expect her alone to care for the needs of two young children on this long trip (i.e., Anna and Sigismund).

Sigismund, thus, was three when alone with his mother on the train to Leipzig. The question arises as to why the infant sister Anna went with her father while an older child stayed behind to depart with Amalia months later. …