Freud-Nathanson, Amalia Malka (1835-1930)

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Sigmund Freud's mother, Amalia Malka Freud-Nathanson, was born, according to family tradition, on August 18, 1835, in Brody, in Galicia, and died in Vienna on September 12, 1930.

The daughter of Jacob Nathanson and Sara Widens, Amalia had three older brothers and one younger brother, Julius. The Jewish calendar makes Amelia's date of birth somewhat uncertain, as Freud once told Wilhelm Fliess, but it was celebrated the same day as the birth of Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef, and the annual national holiday made it the occasion of humorous family banter.

The Nathansons had lived in Galicia before moving to Odessa, then to Vienna, where Amalia, at age twenty, met Jakob Freud. Jakob shared her father's first name and was twenty years older than she; they were married in a synagogue in 1855. She went to live with him in Freiberg, in Moravia, where on May 6, 1856, she gave birth to her son Sigmund.

Other children soon followed: Julius in October 1857 (the namesake of Amalia's younger brother, who was tubercular, both to die within a year); Anna on December 31, 1858; Regine Debora (Rosa) on March 21, 1860; Maria (Mitzi) on March 22, 1861; Esther Adolfine (Dolfi) on July 23, 1862; Pauline Regine (Pauli) on May 3, 1864; and Alexander Gotthold Efraim on April 15 (or 19), 1866.

Diagnosed with tuberculosis, Amalia took frequent cures at Roznau, twenty-five kilometers from Freiberg, even after moving to Vienna in the wake of Jakob's failed financial ventures. In August 1859 she and her two children left Freiberg on a railway journey that Freud would recall among his earliest memories during his self-analysis: At the railroad station in Breslau gas jets made him think of the "flames of hell" and he also recalled seeing his mother nude ("matrem nudam " [Anzieu, Didier, 1986, p. 14]).

In other of Freud's memories he recalled his mother as "slim and beautiful" (Gay, 1988, p. 7), and as teaching him to read and write German. Once, while at work in the kitchen, she responded to his questioning the idea that people are made of dust and therefore mortal by rubbing her hands to elicit the blackish bits of epidermis. When Freud was about ten years old, he had an anxiety dream in which he saw his "beloved mother with a peculiarly calm, sleeping facial expression, being carried into the room by two (or three) persons with bird's beaks . . ." (p. 504).

Amalia appears to have been an anxious mother, if one considers as exemplary the precautions that Freud took to conceal from her his adolescent plans to travel to London, or her response to the 1873 cholera epidemic that raged in Vienna while she was staying in Roznau. But she was also a supportive mother who foresaw a great destiny for Sigmund, a gifted child to whom she granted many favors, triggering jealousy among her other children. Freud would help his mother financially as soon as he began to earn a living and, together with his brother, Alexander, he would continue to support her to the end of her life.

Coquettish as a young woman, she enjoyed card parties, but Amalia became difficult as she grew older. According to her grandson Martin Freud, she was a typical Galician Jewish woman; she "had great vitality and much impatience; she had a hunger for life and an indomitable spirit" (1958, p. 11).

After she became a widow, Amalia lived with her daughter Adolfine (Dolfi), and made yearly trips to Ischl for her lung ailment. In her home on Grüne Thorgasse, by family custom, she would receive her "goldener Sigi " and other children and grandchildren every Sunday.

Freud hid from Amalia the deaths of his daughter Sophie and her child, Heinele, and he cautiously told her about surgery on his jaw without mentioning cancer. Indeed, her old age and death presented Freud with a problem he discussed with Karl Abraham as early as May 1918: "My Mother will be eighty-three this year and is no longer very strong. I sometimes think I shall feel a little freer when she dies, for the idea that she might be told that I have died is a terrifying thought." (Jones, Ernest, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 196) He brought up the problem again after the death of Max Eitingon's mother on December 1, 1929, repeating almost word for word what he had written to Ludwig Binswanger the previous January: "The loss of a mother must be something very strange, unlike anything else, and must arouse emotions that are hard to grasp. I myself still have a mother, and she bars my way to the longed-for rest, to eternal nothingness; I somehow could not forgive myself if I were to die before her." (Freud, 1960, p. 392)

Three days after her death on September 12, 1930, Freud wrote to Ernest Jones: "I will not disguise the fact that my reaction to this event because of special circumstances been a curious one. Assuredly, there is no saying, what effects such an experience may produce in deeper layers, but on the surface I can detect only two things: an increase in personal freedom, since it was always a terrifying thought that she might come to hear of my death; and secondly, the satisfaction that at last she has achieved the deliverance for which she had earned a right after such a long life. No grief otherwise, such as my ten years younger brother is painfully experiencing. I was not at the funeral; again Anna represented me as at Frankfort. Her value to me can hardly be heightened." (Jones, p. 152)

For all intents and purposes, Freud's relationship with his mother may be said to have been excellent and his comment concerning Goethe is usually cited: "[I]f a man has been his mother's undisputed darling he retains throughout his life the triumphant feeling, the confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual success along with it." (Freud 1917b, p. 156)

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Freud, Jakob Kollomon (or Kelemen or Kallamon); Freud, Sigmund (siblings); Judaism and psychoanalysis.


Anzieu, Didier. (1986). Freud's self-analysis. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Gay, Peter. (1988). Freud: A life for our time. New York: Doubleday.

Jones, Ernest. (1953-57). Life and work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books.

Freud, Martin. (1958). Sigmund Freud: Man and father. New York: Vanguard Press.

Freud, Sigmund. (1917b). A childhood recollection from "Dichtung und Wahrheit." SE, 17: 145-156.

. (1960a). Letters of Sigmund Freud. New York: McGraw-Hill.