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Young Dr. Freud
Theories Analysis Family
Perspectives: Religion
Freud's father's inscription in the family Bible
Freud's father's inscription in the family Bible
(David Grubin Productions)
 
Freud's first years were spent under the shadow of Catholicism. His parents were Jewish, but most of Freiburg's 5000 citizens were Roman Catholic. The town itself was dominated by the steeple of St. Mary's Church, boasting the best chimes in the district.

FREUD: "I [once] asked my mother whether she remembered my nurse. Of course, she said. She was always taking you to church. When you came home, you used to preach and tell us all about how God conducted his affairs."

In 1891, on Freud's thirty-fifth birthday, his father gave him a gift to remind his son of his Jewish heritage - the family Bible. "My dear son," Jacob wrote, "Go read… and there will be opened to you the sources of wisdom, of knowledge and understanding… From your father, who loves you with unending love."

Jewish rites and rituals had no appeal to Freud.
But Jewish rites and rituals had no appeal to Freud. He had not been raised as an observant Jew, and he celebrated Christmas every year, complete with candle-lit trees and presents for the children.

EAGLE: He didn't accept Judaism as a religion. He was an unbelieving Jew. [But] there's no doubt that he fully identified and had the identity of a Jew.

For centuries, central European Jews had lived in fear of murder and massacre, oppressed by cruel social and economic injustices. By the time Freud was eleven, they had been given the rights of other citizens, but anti-Semitism persisted, and Freud was never unaware of it.

Central European Jews
Central European Jews
(Getty Images/Hulton Achieve)
 
EAGLE: Freud's marginality as a Jew played a role in his developing his ideas. Because it's standing back and rather than being absorbed and taking for granted cultural norms and cultural assumptions and beliefs, he's critiquing them, he's questioning them, he's challenging them.

SOPHIE FREUD: He knew that he was very bright, he knew that about himself. And he was going to prove to the world that a Jew could become a great man.

Freud wrote in 1900 that he had a boyhood fantasy of revenge in which he was the great Carthaginian general Hannibal - born of a Semitic heritage, similar to the Jews - whose father had him swear revenge on the Romans who had humiliated them. Hannibal's victorious army had crossed the Alps with their elephants but hesitated before the gates of Rome. Freud never forgot the power of the Roman Catholic church from his childhood. It was years after visiting Italy before he could persuade himself to enter Rome.




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