Freud, Josef (1826-1897)

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FREUD, JOSEF (1826-1897)

Josef Freud, ten years younger than his brother Jakob Freud, was born in 1826 in Tysmenitz, Galicia. We would have had no record of his existence if Freud hadn't referred to him in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a, chap. 4) in the "dream of the uncle with the yellow beard." Freud was quite open in writing, "For I have only one uncle, my Uncle Josef. His story was a sad one. More than thirty years earlier his desire for gain had misled him into an act severely punishable by the law, and he was punished accordingly. My father, whose hair turned gray with grief in a few days, always used to say that Uncle Josef had never been a bad man, he had been a numbskull; that was the expression he used." For decades the complete story remained unknown, and Ernest Jones's biography even claimed that "he was only given a fine, for the Austrian police records show no sign of his imprisonment."

In reality, on June 20, 1865, Uncle Josef was arrested by the police as he was about to sell counterfeit rubles. He was involved in an international money trafficking ring that had contacts in Manchester, where his nephews Emanuel and Philipp Freud lived. Although suspected, they were never implicated in the crime. The news was published in the newspapers the following day, but Freud's name did not appear. However, during sentencing in February 1866, the Viennese press gave the story considerable coverage, announcing "ten years of forced labor for Freud." He was released after four years for good behavior, but little is known about what became of him after that, or about his wife Rebecca, whom he married in 1849 in Jassy (possibly this is the "Rebeka" who was elsewhere documented as brother Jakob's wife). Of their two children, only Deborah is mentioned by name; a friend of Adolfine Freud, she was a child at the time of his sentencing. He died at the Rudolf Hospital in Vienna on March 5, 1897 (Peter Swales, quoted in Grinstein, Alexander, 1990), at about the time that Freud had his dream.

Requested by Siegfried Bernfeld to inquire about Freud's youth, it was the wife of a Viennese professor, Mrs. Renée Gicklhorn, who unearthed the story, which came to light when Sigmund Freud was between nine and ten years old. It is easy to understand the affect this had on the Freud family. Josef, who had already been referred to as the "othervery unfortunateuncle from Vienna" in a letter Sigmund wrote to his fiancée in February 1886, twenty years after the affair, now reappearedthis Verbrecher (criminal), as he is known in one of the most frequently cited passages from The Interpretation of Dreams as the symbol of the obstacle to his nephew's ambitions in 1897, the year Freud was so anxious to become a professor.

It should not come as a surprise that this dramatic episode from Freud's childhood has been extensively written about since its discovery. Freud's biographers have provided more or less accurate psychological analyses of the inventor of psychoanalysis, often in the hope of clarifying what they believe to be cracks in his theory.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Interpretation of Dreams, The .


Gicklhorn, Renée. (1976). Sigmund Freud und der Onkeltraum. Dichtung und Wahrheit. Horn/Ndösterr: F. Berger.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. Part I. SE, 4: 1-338; The interpretation of dreams. Part II, SE, 5: 339-625.

Grinstein, Alexander. (1990). Freud at the Crossroads. New York: International Universities Press.

Krüll, Marianne. (1979). Freud and his father. (Arnold J. Pomerans, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.

Mijolla, Alain de. (1979). "Mein Onkel Josef"à la une! Études freudiennes, 15-16, 183-192.

Rand, Nicolas, and Torok, Maria. (1995). Questions for Freud: The secret history of psychoanalysis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.