Macedonian writer and Gender Studies devotee, Goce Smilevski, draws in his latest novel on an alleged episode from the life of Sigmund Freud to show that the founder of psychoanalysis was a misogynistic pervert, fascinated by Nazism, and obsessed with money and masturbation: in short, a repulsive character.
To do so, he has constructed a novel written in the first person, but the narrator is none other than Adolfina Freud, one of Freud’s sisters, turned into a witness of Fin-de-siècle Vienna for fans of Grand Guignol.
But just before being gassed at Theresienstadt, she recounts her fate and that of several women abused by famous artists. Throughout the pages we are told the lot of two of her fellows in sorority: Klara Klimt and Ottilie Kafka, victims of their appalling brothers.
Reinvented by Smilevski — who seems to be unaware that there were no gas chambers at Therensienstadt — Adolfina depicts the beginning of her story with a scene in May 1938 during which she is supposed to have begged her brother Sigmund to take her with him into exile in London with her other three sisters: he needed simply to add four names on the “list” next to those of other family members, so that all might be saved.
But Freud refused to answer her as he stroked two statuettes of his collection: a small monkey and a mother-goddess naked. Adolfina then tells how, in her youth, after she had been left by her lover, the same brother is supposed to have helped her, without any comforting words, to terminate a wanted pregnancy. After describing other misfortunes, she completes her plea with the mention of a breastfeeding scene, symbol of the greatness of motherhood, which she was deprived by an abortionist brother, yet one entranced by the famous Bellini’s Virgin and Child.
We should laugh reading this maternalist book, dowdy and filled with clichés. But we are astonished when we know that it has been translated into twenty languages, received an award and is intended to prove to historians that Freud was actually primarily responsible for the extermination of her sisters.
To make matters worse, the French publisher has chosen another title: “Freud’s List”, when the literal translation would have given “Freud’s sister”. A way to turn Freud into an anti-Schindler.
It has to be noted and remembered that Freud did not write any “list” when he left Vienna on June 4th, 1938, with Martha, his wife, Anna, his daughter, Paula Fichtl, his housekeeper, Lün, his dog and Dr. Josefine Stross. None of the characters of this story was able to obtain an exit permit for Adolfina and her sisters, all four older than 70 years old. Adolfina died of malnutrition in Theresienstadt on February 5th, 1943, Paula was gassed at Maly Trostinec along with Maria, and Rosa Graf at Treblinka in October 1942.
We would love a writer to take up the pen to tell the story of this tragedy. But to do so, he would still have to put in epigraph Alexandre Dumas’ precept: “We have the right to rape history on the condition of begetting beautiful children”.
Republished with the author’s permission. Appeared originally in French in Le Monde, literary supplement, September 20th 2013. This translation by Anthony Ballenato.