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Glaser, E. (2010). From Vienna to Chicago: Heinz Kohut's Flight from the Holocaust. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 7(3):246-258.

(2010). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 7(3):246-258

General Papers

From Vienna to Chicago: Heinz Kohut's Flight from the Holocaust

Elisabeth Glaser

Although trauma, repression, denial, and recovery figure prominently in the history of psychoanalysis and the psychoanalytic theory of trauma, they nevertheless constitute neglected themes in the psychobiography of analysts. Oddly, the effects of the forced Atlantic migration and of the Holocaust have remained until recently largely off limits in the historical and theoretical discussions among psychoanalysts in the United States as well as elsewhere. Avoidance of the subject became particularly notable in the immediate aftermath and in the decades following World War II. This paper examines Heinz Kohut's struggle with the psychic trauma of his forced emigration from Vienna in 1939. Publication of Charles Strozier's biography of Kohut and of his main correspondence by Geoffrey Cocks has made this attempt at historical reconstruction possible (Cocks, 1994, pp. 40-41; Strozier, 2001).2 Kohut's papers as well as the papers of Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud cast further light on the subject.

The threat of pernicious German anti-Semitism following the German invasion of Vienna on March 11, 1938 came for Kohut as a close sequel to the death of his father from leukemia on November 30, 1937, a mere six months after he had been diagnosed with the then-incurable cancer. In his later psychoanalytic work Kohut would emphasize the traumatogenic nature of the demise of an idealized father imago. The subject arises in the first case that he describes in The Analysis of the Self. The loss of his father remained a source of life-long psychic pain for Kohut. His bereavement was followed in close sequence by the loss of his fatherland. In the fall of 1938 a wave of uncontrolled violence along with a plethora of new anti-Semitic regulations rendered a professional as well as a civic future in Austria impossible for him.

Kohut had responded to the death of his father by going into analysis, first with Walter Marseilles and then with the renowned August Aichhorn, a member of Freud's Tarock circle. Very quickly, Kohut felt drawn to psychoanalysis.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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