Twelve hours of Anna Freud under a Nazi interrogation lamp

Anna Freud under a Nazi interrogation lamp


Anna: Poppa, I saw Dr. Scheuer… He insists we leave Vienna.

Freud: Impossible!

Anna: We must.

Freud: What about my work? What about my books?

Anna: Poppa, they burned your books in Berlin.

Freud: What progress! In the Middle Ages they would have burned me.

On March 22, 1938, 13 days after Hitler’s troops marched into Austria to solidify the Anschluss with Germany, the Gestapo showed up at Bergasse 19, Vienna, in a big black touring car.

“They went through the house, they took 6,000 schillings, they also took Anna,” said Richard Brockman. “They put her in the car with two officers in front, two in back, and drove off to Gestapo headquarters. That is history. Where history stops is what happened next.”

What happened next––the 12-hour interrogation of Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud––unravels in a few knuckle-clenching minutes in the play “5 O’Clock,” a compellingly psychopoetic new drama written by Brockman.

The five factors in this interrogation are Anna Freud, a guard, a dog, a gun, and, in full uniform, a Reichsfuhrer Schmidt, who sets the tone with: “‘Hath not a Jew eyes? If you prick us do we not bleed?’ Would you care for some wine? I have read Shakespeare. I have read Freud. Are you a lesbian, Miss Freud?”

Anna Freud somehow returned home alive that night. It was perhaps easier to maintain her equilibrium with the Gestapo than to persuade her 82-year-old, cancer-ridden father––the man who had psychoanalyzed her, with full emphasis on the sexual aspect of her psyche––that he must now, yes, now, in March 1938, clear out of his beloved Vienna and leave for London, in order to save his life, and hers. With the help of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Princess Marie Bonaparte, she and papa got out in June. (Four of Freud’s elderly sisters would die, variously, at Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Theriesenstadt.)

Ms. Freud’s psychoanalysis, each session of which started at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, runs all the way through the Brockman drama––a vivid, shifting, interlocking mosaic of birds, backsides, fantasy spankings, masturbation, fears, longings, and Anna’s envy of older, prettier sister Sophie, which turned to guilty hope (“Now maybe you will love me. I am the only one left.”) following Sophie’s demise in 1919 to influenza.

Dogs––two dogs in particular––Freud’s beloved Jofi, a chow, and Reichsfuhrer Schmidt’s Wolfe, a black German shepherd, both have much to say, or bark, that is pertinent.

“Anna loved dogs, Freud loved dogs,” playwright Brockman said. “Jofi sometimes sat in on Freud’s analytic sessions.”

As it happens, a dog also played a key role in tall, lean, El Greco-faced, devilish-eyebrowed Brockman’s writing of this play.

“I was considerably younger, in my 20s,” said the 53-year-old neurobiologist and psychiatrist, “and was [receiving treatment from] a psychiatrist who had an office on Central Park South. It was just before August, the month that psychiatrists go away to the country.

“As I got to his door, there was parked outside at the curb a tan Mercedes convertible. I thought it was his car, and I thought the session would end and he’d get in that car and drive off to Cape Cod, abandoning me. I was furious.

“Then I entered his office, and staring me in the face was a big black Labrador. My fury was, on the instant, totally neutralized and then some. So: I wanted to write a play about a dog, and have this dog’s wisdom come into the play. Then when I discovered that Freud loved dogs, that was one string [to what would someday become ‘5 O’Clock’].”

The other string didn’t come along until Brockman read Freud’s “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego” sometime in the 1980s.

“One of the things Freud does there is describe how to politically control a group, and how it could be done by a dictator,” Brockman recalled. “I thought: My God, Freud wrote this in 1921, and nailed exactly what a totalitarian leader needed to do to attain power.

“Freud also analyzes and describes a book by Gustave le Bon, ‘The Crowd: Study of Popular Mind,’ written in 1895, in which le Bon very specifically talks about totalitarian leadership. I read that in the early 90s, and then somewhere in Ian Kershaw’s two-volume biography of Hitler I came across a footnote that said Hitler, for sure, read le Bon.

“So here, I thought, I’ve got these two guys, Freud and Hitler, both of whom read the same book by le Bon––and that basically Hitler understood le Bon’s book better than Freud had. If Freud had understood it, he would have had enough data to know his life was on the line after 1933, and he’d better get out of Vienna.”

“You know,” Brockman said with excitement, “when Hitler came to power in 1933, he attacked psychoanalysis even before he attacked Jews. The Gestapo considered psychoanalysis a Marxist leftist Jewish conspiracy, and Freud and Anna to be part of that conspiracy.”

If Anna Freud was jealous of the way her papa looked at Sophie, she perhaps had better reason to be jealous of papa’s sister-in-law.

Sophie: I saw Poppa kiss Aunt Minna.

Anna: In a dream?

Sophie: In the hall.

Did Freud really carry on with his wife’s sister?

“Well, I think so,” said Brockman. “I also think Anna was a lesbian.” The playwright alluded to this with the brief appearance in his play of Anna’s close, lifelong American friend, Dorothy Burlingham with whom, in England, she would later found and run a celebrated nursery school.

Brockman, author of “A Map of the Mind” and an associate clinical professor at Columbia University, said, “The psychoanalytical movement, right down to, well, right down to now, maintains that Anna was a virgin. But the psychoanalytical movement until 1975 also maintained that homosexuality was an illness. I think that psychoanalysis would prefer Anna to be a virgin than a lesbian.

“If you read the letters between Dorothy Burlingham and Anna, these are not the letters of a platonic relationship; they are the letters of lovers.”

The love of Richard Brockman’s life is his wife Mirra Bank, who is also the director of “5 O’Clock,” as she was of his earlier “Angels Don’t Dance,” a play about a woman (not Ms. Bank) “who has been beaten up, raped, has multiple personalities––a very sexy, beautiful woman, and a psychiatrist trying to put her back together.”

Born Oct. 13, 1947, in Coney Island, Brockman, a lawyer’s son, said, “I grew up in the Fun House.”

Richard’s mother died when he was seven and his two older sisters brought him up on Manhattan’s West 72nd Street, not far from where he and his wife live today. Next summer the Brockmans and some others plan to shoot a movie based on yet another play of his, “Good Behavior,” about a 15-year-old girl “who has to take care of an extremely fucked-up mother, plus a raging love affair, and how the girl comes out of that.”

Papa Freud once notoriously declared, “The great question that has never been answered, and one which I have not been able to answer despite years of research, is: What do women want?”

There was a time in her life when Anna Freud apparently knew what she wanted. She wanted to get her father, and herself if possible, out of Vienna. Richard Brockman hazards a very dramatic guess at how she did it.

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