Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Vanda Shrenger Weiss – the Croatian Pioneer between Two Worlds: Her Role in the Birth of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society (SPI)

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Vanda Shrenger Weiss – the Croatian Pioneer between Two Worlds: Her Role in the Birth of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society (SPI)

Article excerpt


An author usually shows her gratitude to those who have supported her efforts in a footnote or in a section separate from the text. I consider it my duty to begin this paper by expressing my profound gratitude to Marianna Shrenger Weiss, adopted daughter of Vanda Shrenger Weiss and Edoardo Weiss, the original founders of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society. With extraordinary generosity, Marianna, a psychotherapist in Florence (Oregon), gave me most of the historical and clinical material which forms the basis of my study. The part which tells of the adoption by Vanda and Edoardo of this newborn infant unknown to previous biographers - Roazen (2005, pp. 46-47) barely mentions her - is woven inextricably into the most dramatic moments experienced by the Croatian people during the Second World War. But I will say more about this later. The work of reconstructing the figure of Vanda Weiss, the only woman to be part of the original group of pioneers who reorganized the Italian Psychoanalytic Society in 1932, which was made possible by Marianna's recovery of old documents and by calling up many distant memories, has been a very intense emotional journey: the personal history of these two women contains all the tragedies of 20th century history. A painful walk in the great darkness of the short 20th century.

The Trieste State Archive (AST) turned out to be another valuable source of information - in conjunction with those of Vienna and Berlin - where I found the administrative proceedings of the Triestine institutions and the medical records of the local hospitals. In this Provincial Archive I was also able to examine many original papers relating to events in the coastal region and its links with the neighbouring Slovene and Croatian territories, in the period between the post-war dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the end of the 1930s, immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Lastly, a final relevant source of information was the correspondence between Edoardo Weiss and his analyst and teacher Paul Federn.2 This correspondence is kept among the Edoardo Weiss Papers in the Freud Archives of the Library of Congress in Washington, which a few years ago allowed the ASPI - Historical Archive of Italian Psychology (Milan Bicocca University) - to digitize them and make them accessible online (Archivio Weiss).3

It was one of these letters rediscovered by chance among the Weiss Papers which ignited my interest in the figure of Vanda Shrenger, herself a doctor, paediatrician and psychoanalyst. The letter had been sent on 2 April 1931 by Vanda to Paul Federn who was worried by the difficulties Edoardo was encountering in making psychoanalysis known in Italy. Vanda reassured his teacher, informing him that her husband was in good psychic health, despite being tested by the continual obstacles which the medical and academic worlds were placing in the way of the new Freudian science. She showed herself to be an affectionate, competent, and stable companion.

Italian psychoanalysis has not failed to acknowledge the fundamental and indispensable merits of Edoardo Weiss: he is indisputably considered the forerunner and faithful exponent of the psychoanalytic discipline in Italy.

Vanda Shrenger, however, is remembered dismissively as Edoardo's 'wife'. A female identity reduced to a single, womanly function. A figure of a woman completely eclipsed by the imposing shadow of her husband.

In my paper I will try to confirm the hypothesis that this great pioneer's contribution to the psychoanalytic cause was much more substantial than simple marital support. In fact I shall have the temerity to wish to demonstrate that it was the Weiss couple who together brought the Freudian movement to life in Italy; and that early Italian psychoanalysis would have had a much more uncertain and obscure fate without the decisive contribution of Vanda Shrenger, a generous and tenacious Jewish woman from Croatia. …

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