Happel, Clara (1889-1945)

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HAPPEL, CLARA (1889-1945)

Clara Happel, a German psychoanalyst, was born on October 1, 1889, in Berlin. She committed suicide on September 16, 1945, in Detroit.

While studying medicine, Happel showed an early interest in psychoanalysis, and after settling in Frankfurt in 1921, she began analysis with Hanns Sachs. The same year Max Eitingon facilitated her admission to the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society. She attended the Eighth International Congress in Salzburg in 1924, where Olga Székely-Kovacs drew her caricature. In 1925 in Berlin, Happel lectured on male homosexuality.

When the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society became the Deutsche psychoanalytische Gesellschaft (German Psychoanalytic Society) in 1926, Happel, with Karl Landauer, was appointed to head the Frankfurt branch. With Landauer, she participated in the foundation of the Southwest German Psychoanalytic Working Group, which operated from 1929 to 1933 and from which would emerge the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1931 Happel moved to Hamburg, where with August Waterman she established a study group.

After Hitler came to power, Happel, a Jew, firmly advocated that Jewish members of the Deutsche psychoanalytische Gesellschaft resign in protest. Her motion was rejected at a meeting on November 18, 1933. This episode earned her the enmity of Ernest Jones, who perceived it as at odds with his efforts to mediate the situation and save psychoanalysis in Germany. As late as 1936 he was reluctant to allow her to join after her resignation in protest two years earlier. Anna Freud, however, opposed this restriction.

In January 1936, divorced from her husband (probably because he was not a Jew), Happel left Germany with her two children, emigrating first to Palestine and then to the United States, where she was welcomed by Sándor Radó. Within a year she was certified as training analyst. She joined the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society in 1938 but settled in Detroit, one of the developing outposts. In 1940, with Editha and Richard Sterba and Leo H. Bartemeier, Happel helped establish the Detroit Psychoanalytic Society and its training program, in which she taught, supervised, and lectured.

Happel remained close to fellowémigré analysts, welcoming them as she had been embraced when she arrived in the United States. At the beginning of World War II, she was affected by legal sanctions targeting "aliens" in the United States when a psychotic patient denounced her. She was arrested on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and detained for six weeks. Her correspondence with her children, who were then attending school in New York, reveals a life that was lonely, difficult, and sad.

Happel opened a practice in New York, which enabled her to spend more time with her married son. Yet despite this success, she became depressed, and her condition worsened at the end of World War II with revelations about the Nazi death camps and the use of atomic weapons on Japan. In addition, she found it difficult to adjust to life in a country where she was denied citizenship and not recognized as a medical doctor. She recalled Stefan Zweig's suicide several years earlier and ended her own life in September 1945.

Happel's published work includes a paper on substitute formation in masturbation and observations on a case of pederasty. Yet she is better remembered for her training and teaching activities in Germany and United States.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Sterba, Richard F.; Sterba-Radanowicz-Hartmann, Editha.


Eickhoff, Friedrich-Wilhelm. (1995). The formation of the German Psychoanalytical Association (DPV): Regaining the psychoanalytical orientation lost in the Third Reich. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76, 945-956.

Friedrich, Volker. (1988). Letters of an emigrant: The psychoanalyst Clara Happel to her son Peter, 1936-1945. Revue internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 1, 323-348.

Happel, Clara. (1923). Onanieersatzbildungen. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, 9, 206-209.

. (1927). Der Mann in der Kloake. Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik, 2, 86-89.

. (1926). Communication: Notes on an analysis of a case of paederasty. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 7, 229-236.

Steiner, Riccardo. (1989). It is a new kind of Diaspora. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 16, 35-72.