Silberstein, Eduard (1856-1925)

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Eduard Silberstein, an intimate friend of Freud's when he was an adolescent and young adult, was born on December 27, 1856, in Iasi, then the capital of Romania, and died in Braila, Romania, in 1925. Freud's eighty extant letters to Silberstein, part of their steady correspondence from 1871 to 1881, have been preserved and published.

His father, Osias Silberstein, was a prosperous merchant, Orthodox Jew, and father of four. He sent Eduard and his brother Adolf to a local heder, but they soon rebelled against the narrowly religious education. Eduard then pursued his studies in Vienna, where he was one of Freud's classmates in the gymnasium. They were friends by 1870.

Tongue in cheek, Freud and Silberstein founded a secret "Spanish Academy" (Academia castellana ), of which they were the sole members. In correspondence Freud often signed using the nickname "Cipión, dog of the hospital at Seville"; Silberstein was "Berganza," another canine hero from Cervantes's Exemplary Stories.

Freud's letters paint a lively picture of Freud's adolescence: the two students' academic worries, readings, and early infatuations with girls. During the summer of 1871, when Freud was fifteen, Silberstein and Freud went to Freiberg, where Freud had a very brief meeting with Gisela Fluss, a girl almost twelve years old. This encounter was important enough to Freud that he recalled it while writing "Screen Memories" (1899a) and again in a slip of the pen in preparing his "Notes on a Case of Obsessional Neurosis" (1909d, p. 209).

During his first stay in Great Britain in 1875, at the Manchester home of his half-brothers Emanuel and Philipp, and during his stay in Trieste, Italy, at the experimental zoological station, Freud confided to Silberstein his impressions, youthful desires, and ambitions. Freud's last preserved letter to Silberstein dates to January 1881, when Freud was preparing to receive his medical diploma.

On February 7, 1884, Freud wrote to his fiancée, "We became friends at a time when one doesn't look upon friendship as a sport or an asset, but when one needs a friend with whom to share things. We used to be together literally every hour of the day that was not spent on the school bench. . . . [We] compiled a great mass of humorous work which must still exist somewhere among my old papers" (1960a [1873-1939], pp. 96-97). Those papers probably disappeared in the fire of April 1885.

As for Silberstein, after his exams he left for Leipzig to study jurisprudence, later moving to Vienna, where in 1875 he attended classes in law and Franz Brentano's lectures on philosophy. He took his doctorate in law in 1879, but would never practice. After a reversal in his family's financial situation, he was compelled to work in banking, then in the grain trade.

Silberstein's first marriage, with Pauline Theiler, ended sadly. According to his granddaughter Rosita Braunstein Vieyra, this young woman "became mentally ill, was treated unsuccessfully by his friend Sigmund Freud, and threw herself from a window in Freud's apartment building" (Freud, 1989a [1871-1881, 1910], p. 192). By other accounts, published at the time of the incident in 1891, she did not actually see Freud before committing suicide. Silberstein subsequently remarried and had a daughter, Theodora.

A socialist, Silberstein, together with fellow student Heinrich Braun, initiated Freud into social-democratic politics. Throughout his life Silberstein was politically active and played an important role in the Jewish community, fighting for the right of Jews to become Romanian citizens and for their right to vote. He was president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Alliance Israélite universelle, and B'nai Brith.

Three years after Silberstein's death, Freud recalled him a final time in a letter to the president of B'nai Brith in Braila: "I was deeply touched to learn of the honor your Lodge has bestowed on my late childhood friend, Dr. Eduard Silberstein. I spent many years of my boyhood and young manhood in intimate friendship, indeed in fraternal fellowship, with him. . . . Later, life and physical distance separated us, but early friendship can never be forgotten" (1989a [1871-1881, 1910], p. 186).

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Fechner, Gustav Theodor; Fluss, Gisela; Freud, Sigmund (siblings); Vienna, Freud's secondary school in; Vienna, University of.


Freud, Sigmund. (1899a). Screen memories. SE, 3: 299-322.

. (1909d). Notes on a case of obsessional neurosis ("the rat man"). SE, 10: 151-318.

. (1960a [1873-1939]). Letters of Sigmund Freud (Tania Stern and James Stern, Trans.) New York: Basic Books.

. (1989a [1871-1881, 1910]). Letters of Sigmund Freud to Eduard Silberstein, 1871-1881 (Arnold J. Pomerans, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.