Halberstadt-Freud, Sophie (1893-1920)

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The fifth child of Sigmund and Martha Freud, Sophie Halberstadt-Freud was born on April 12, 1893, in Vienna, and died on January 25, 1920, in Hamburg. Freud's "Sunday's child" was named after Sophie Schwalb, the niece of Samuel Hammerschlag, Freud's Hebrew teacher. Admired by her father, and her mother's favorite, Sophie only succeeded in getting out of the house by the sudden announcement of her engagement in 1912. On July 20, Freud wrote to his sister Mitzi, "His name is Max Halberstadt, he's thirty years old, is a distant relative of our family from Hamburg. He's very serious, inspires confidence, and both of them seem to be in love with one another. The terms are appropriate and bourgeois. No wealth, no distinction. Something we would not be pleased with in the case of Max Halberstadt." Engaged on July 28, they were married on January 14, 1913, in Hamburg.

On March 11, 1914, Ernst Wolfgang was born. The child's spool game fascinated Freud and provided the example of repetition in "Fort-da" (1920g, chap. 2). On September 22, 1914, Freud wrote to Karl Abraham, "My grandson is a charming little fellow, who manages to laugh so engagingly whenever one pays attention to him; he is a decent, civilized being, which is doubly valuable in these times of unleashed bestiality. A strict upbringing by an intelligent mother enlightened by Hug-Hellmuth has done him a great deal of good." Later, "little Ernst" would be analyzed by his aunt Anna Freud (Roazen, 1933), who hesitated to adopt him but made him her legal heir. Emigrating to Great Britain in 1938 after having traveled to Palestine, Moscow, and South Africa, he was analyzed by Willy Hoffer. After marrying Irene Chambers in 1945, he himself became a psychoanalyst and, under the name Ernst W. Freud, practiced in Germany, returned to Great Britain, and finally returned to Germany.

On December 8, 1918, Heinz Rudolf, called "Heinele," was born in Schwerin.

Sophie Halberstadt-Freud died on January 25, 1920, from complications resulting from the Spanish flu that ravaged Europe. Freud wrote to Pastor Pfister on January 27:

This afternoon we received the news that our sweet Sophie in Hamburg had been snatched away by influenzal pneumonia, snatched away in the midst of glowing health, from a full and active life as a competent mother and loving wife, all in four or five days, as though she had never existed. Although we had been worried about her for a couple of days, we had nevertheless been hopeful; it is so difficult to judge from a distance. And this distance must remain distance; we were not able to travel at once, as we had intended, after the first alarming news; there was no train, not even for an emergency. The undisguised brutality of our time is weighing heavily upon us. Tomorrow she is to be cremated, our poor Sunday child! . . . Sophie leaves two sons, one of six, the other thirteen months, and an inconsolable husband who will have to pay dearly for the happiness of these seven years. The happiness existed exclusively within them; outwardly there was war, conscription, wounds, the depletion of their resources, but they had remained courageous and gay. I work as much as I can, and am thankful for the diversion. The loss of a child seems to be a serious, narcissistic injury; what is known as mourning will probably follow only later.

He wrote of this "irreparable narcissistic wound" in a letter to Sándor Ferenczi on February 4. On April 11, 1929, he consoled Ludwig Binswanger, who was suffering from a similar loss: "We know that the acute sorrow we feel after such a loss will run its course, but also that we will remain inconsolable, and will never find a substitute. No matter what may come to take its place, even should it fill that place completely, it remains something else. And that is how it should be. It is the only way of perpetuating a love that we do not want to abandon."

Early on, commentators claimed that this grief inspired the introduction of the death impulse in Freudian theory. In fact, the war of 1914-1918 and the thoughts it inspired in Freud were sufficient for this change in his thinking (see the discussion in "Why War," 1933b), but the story continues to be repeated. By December 18, 1923, Freud had indicated to Fritz Wittels, who repeated this "interpretation" in his biography, that the book had been written in 1919, while his daughter was still "healthy and flourishing" (this claim has been discussed and contradicted for some time by Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, 1993). In September he gave the manuscript to several friends in Berlin to read, including Karl Abraham. Concluding, he added, "Likelihood is not always truth."

Similarly, it has for a long time been believed, wrongly, that the child with the spool was Sophie's other son, Heinz Rudolf (Heinele), who had a tragic destiny. In 1922, taken in by his aunt Mathilde, he was, according to Freud (letter to Anna von Vest, November 14, 1922), "physically very fragile, truly a child of the war, but especially intelligent and endearing." He died on June 19, 1923, from miliary tuberculosis.

On October 15, 1926, Freud wrote to Ludwig Binswanger, "For me, that child took the place of all my children and other grandchildren, and since then, since Heinele's death, I have no longer cared for my grandchildren, but find no enjoyment in life either. This is also the secret of my indifferenceit has been called couragetowards the threat to my own life." On March 11, 1928, he returned to the subject in a letter to Ernest Jones: "Sophie was a dear daughter, to be sure, but not a child. It was only three years later, in June 1923, when little Heinele died, that I became tired of life permanently. Quite remarkably, there is a correspondence between him and your little one. He too was of superior intelligence and unspeakable spiritual grace, and he spoke repeatedly about dying soon. How do these children know?"

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Beyond the Pleasure Principle ; Burlingham-Tiffany, Dorothy; Fort-da; Hollitscher-Freud, Mathilde; Hietzing Schule/Burlingham-Rosenfeld.


Grubrich-Simitis, Ilse. (1993). Back to Freud's texts: Making silent documents speak. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Roazen, Paul. (1993). Meeting Freud's family. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Wittels, Fritz. (1923). Sigmund Freud, his personality, his teaching, his school. (E. and C. Paul, Trans.). London: Allen & Unwin.