Bernays-Freud, Minna (1865-1941)

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The younger sister (by four years) of Martha Bernays, Sigmund Freud's wife, Minna Bernays was born June 18, 1865 (June 16 according to some sources), in Hamburg and died February 13, 1941 in London. She was the youngest of seven children, the daughter of Jewish businessman Berman Bernays (1826-1879) and Emmeline Philipp (1830-1910). Three children died while still youngFabian, 1857, Michel, 1857-1859, and Sara, 1858-1859the eldest brother (Isaak, 1855-1872) died at the age of seventeen from a bone infection presumed to be of tubercular origin. The father was the third son of the rabbi (chacham ) Isaak Bernays (1793-1849). Both of his brothers were distinguished men: Jacob (1824-1881) was a philologist and Michael (1834-1897) was an expert on literature. The mother was from a well-to-do family, originally from Sweden on the father's side, and from Hamburg on the mother's side.

When Minna was four years old, in 1869, the Berman family moved from Hamburg to Vienna after the father finished serving a four-year jail sentence for bankruptcy fraud. In Vienna, Berman Bernays worked as a secretary for the economist Lorenz von Stein and as a writer for the Zentralblatt für Eisenbahnen und Dampfschiffart (Rail and Steamship Transport Journal). Nothing is known about Minna Bernays's childhood and education. When her father died in December 1869, she was brought up by her mother and Sigmund Pappenheim, the father of Bertha Pappenheim, the woman made famous by Breuer as Anna O.

In 1882-1883 Minna spent several weeks in Sicily because of pulmonary tuberculosis. On February 18, 1882, at the age of seventeen, she became engaged to Ignaz Schönberg, a student in the philosophy department at the University of Vienna, who was studying with Georg Bühler, the orientalist. Schönberg received his doctorate on May 12, 1884, and was appointed to the Indian Institute at Oxford, a position that had been offered to him by Monnier Williams, the editor of a Sanskrit dictionary. He contracted tuberculosis, however, and had to resign his position in February 1885, and broke off his engagement to Minna in June. After leaving Great Britain in August, he returned to Meran, near Vienna, where he spent the winter. He died in early February 1886, in Vienna.

From 1883 to 1895 Minna Bernays spent most of her time in Hamburg with her mother, who was ill. For short periods of time she worked as a companion and children's tutor; she also participated in a workshop for manual crafts, like the one run by Freud's sister Rosa. In November 1885 she spent a few months with Freud (November 29, 1895, according to Wilhelm Fliess). In March 1896 she obtained a position in Frankfurt (March 7, 1896), but in June she quit and moved in permanently with her sister's family; she remained here for the rest of her life, except for the brief periods of time she spent away on holiday or for health reasons.

In Martha's absence she ran the house, took care of the children, cooked, and made handicrafts. She served as host to Freud's guests and students, handled some of his correspondence, played mahjong and tarot with him, and corrected his manuscripts.

In 1887 Freud undertook a voyage of several days, or several weeks, with Minna to various resorts and rest homes in Bavaria and northern Italy. They traveled by foot, by coach, and by train, visiting the southern Tyrol and the Engadine, while Freud's wife rested with the children. In general, Freud's vacations with his wife were less adventurous. Minna often accompanied Freud's children on their summer vacations to Berchtesgaden, Reichenhall, or Aussee.

In May 1938, a few weeks before Freud, Martha, and Anna, Minna emigrated to Great Britain, for, unlike her sister, she had retained her German citizenship. She died there three years later from heart disease.

According to descriptions of her from letters and personal recollections, Minna was an intelligent woman with a lively personality and a sense of humor, who read German and English. On occasion she could be highly sarcastic and inaccessible, caustic at times, with a kind of Germanic stiffness. She was often ill, and suffered from migraines, digestive, cardiac, and eye problems. Her tuberculosis required additional treatment in 1900.

Sigmund Freud's relationship to Minna Bernays has given rise to considerable speculation (see the Freud-Ferenczi correspondence of December 16, 1912). In 1957 Carl Gustav Jung stated in an interview that Minna had mentioned a sexual relationship between her and Freud (Billinsky, J. M., 1969), but Jung's claim has little credibility. Similarly, the attempts to find proof in the Interpretation of Dreams or the Psychopathology of Everyday Life of intimacy between Freud and Minna are not convincing (Swales, P., 1982). The remaining correspondence, approximately two hundred letters from different periods between 1882 and 1938, provide no indication of such a relationship. The letters do demonstrate the existence of a strong bond between them, which Freud confirmed to Marie Bonaparte, telling her that at the time of his relative isolation, Wilhelm Fliess and Minna Bernays were his only friends.

Unlike Martha, Minna remained close to Jewish traditions. She was the only member of the family who refused to be cremated. Few traces of her personal papers remain. But the Sigmund Freud Museum in London houses several examples of handicrafts made by her.

Albrecht HirschmÜller

See also: Berggasse 19, Wien IX; Freud-Bernays, Martha.


Billinsky, John M. (1969). Jung and Freud: The end of a romance. Andover Newton Quarterly, 62, 2, 39-43.

Freud, Sigmund. (1960a). Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1873-1939 (Ernst L. Freud, Ed.; Tania and James Stern, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press.

. (1985). The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904 (Jeffery M. Masson, Ed., Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.

Freud, Sigmund, and Ferenczi, Sándor. (1999-2000). The correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi (Eva Brabant, Ernst Falzeder, and Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch, Eds.; Peter T. Hoffer, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.

Swales, P. J. (1982). Freud, Minna Bernays, and the conquest of Rome. New light on the origins of psychoanalysis. New American Revue, 1-23.

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Bernays-Freud, Minna (1865-1941)

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