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Hamilton, J.W. (2002). Freud and the Suicide of Pauline Silberstein. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(6):889-909.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(6):889-909

Freud and the Suicide of Pauline Silberstein

James W. Hamilton, M.D.

On May 14, 1891, a 19-year-old woman, Pauline Theiler Silberstein, killed herself by jumping from an upper story at 8 Maria Theresienstrasse in Vienna where Sigmund Freud had his office and residence. She was the wife of Freud's closest friend of adolescence, Eduard Silberstein, who had referred her to Freud for treatment when she became severely depressed shortly after they were married, requiring her to travel with a maid from her home in Braila, Rumania, to Vienna. There is no available record of any communication between Freud and Silberstein about this incident nor anything about it in Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fliess, where there is a gap between May 2 and August 17, 1891 (Freud, 1985). Nevertheless, it is reasonable to infer that there was some exchange between Freud and Eduard Silberstein beyond simple notification of his wife's death, as he must have come to Vienna to identify and claim her body, arrange for a funeral (as she is buried in a Viennese cemetery), and consult with Freud about what had happened.

The exact nature of the relationship between Pauline Silberstein and Freud is uncertain.1 It is not known how long she had been his patient, what her diagnosis was, what therapeutic approach he may have taken with her, and whether or not she had any contact with him on May 14. Walter Boehlich, who edited the correspondence between Freud and Eduard Silberstein, claims that she ended her life “without having seen Freud” that day (Boehlich, 1990).

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