Wittels, Fritz (Siegfried) (1880-1950)

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Austrian physician and psychoanalyst Fritz (Siegfried) Wittels was born in Vienna on November 14, 1880, and died on October 16, 1950, in New York.

The son of a stockbroker who claimed to be a descendant of Chaim Vital, a seventeenth-century Jewish cabbalist, Wittels attended the University of Vienna beginning in 1898 and completed his medical studies in 1904. He subsequently practiced at Vienna General Hospital and, in 1907, became assistant to Julius Wagner von Jauregg.

From 1905, Wittels attended Sigmund Freud's lectures, and in the spring of 1906 his uncle by his father's second marriage, Isidor Sadger, introduced him to the circle that by then had formed around Freud.

While a member of the Psychological Wednesday Society, Wittels also actively collaborated with Karl Kraus on his satirical review Die Fackel. Kraus's criticisms of psychoanalysis from 1908 were not aimed at Freud, whose ideas he valued, but mocked the reductive application of psychoanalytic ideas to literature and art, such as found in publications by Sadger, Wilhelm Stekel, and Otto Rank. However, close ties with both Kraus and Freud affected Wittels's relationship with both; a further complication was a young Viennese actress, Irma Karczewska.

Wittels's ambivalence toward Kraus apparently contributed to the latter's critical attitude towards psychoanalysis; it did not arise suddenly, as legend had it, after Wittels, in a lecture before the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, criticized Die Fackel as a neurotic symptom. The love triangle comprised of Wittels, Karczewska, and Kraus led to a rupture between the two men. Later, Wittels began work on his roman-ácléf, Ezechiel der Zugereiste (Ezekiel the alien), through which he hoped to avenge himself upon his former friend. Kraus attempted to stop publication of the novel by legal means and Freud himself tried to persuade Wittels to forego publication, from fear that it would drag psychoanalysis into a damaging conflict with Kraus. Freud's words, "You are impossible in my circle if you publish this book," quoted by Wittels in his memoirs (Timms, 1995, p. 98), led to Wittels's resignation from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1910.

Wittels had tried to attract private patients as early as 1908, but with little success and, with time out for World War I, he continued to practice as a psychiatrist and resident neurologist at the Cottage Sanatorium in Vienna. He had a long friendship with Rudolf von Urbantschitsch, the head of the sanatorium, whom he introduced to psychoanalytic circles about 1907.

Wittels spent the First World War in Turkey and Syria as military physician. During and after the war, he lent strong support to the social reformist ideas of Josef Popper-Lynkeus. He also became close to Wilhelm Stekel and his group, and during the early 1920s he was analyzed by Stekel. Wittels's biography of Freud, partly the result of collaboration with Stekel, was published in 1924, and soon published in England and America. Sigmund Freud: His Personality, His Teaching, His School won bitter remarks from Freud, but Wittels nevertheless returned to the Vienna Society in 1925, and two years later he was readmitted as a member. After his reconciliation with Freud he made some corrections and emendations to his biography (1932).

In 1927, Wittels was elected to the propaganda committee of the Vienna Society and directed its publications. He was invited in 1928 by Alvin Johnson to teach at the New School for Social Research in New York; over the next three years he lectured in the United States and in 1932 settled definitively in New York where, the same year, he became a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. He made his last visit to Europe in 1934, remaining a member of the Vienna Society until 1936. He joined to the American Psychoanalytic Association and the New York Academy of Medicine; he taught at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and the New School; and he was also associated with Bellevue Hospital in New York and Columbia University.

Wittels married three times. His first wife, whom he married in 1908, was Yerta Pick, the daughter of a renowned psychiatrist in Prague; she died in 1913. In 1920 he wed Lilly Krishaber; and in 1947, he married Poldi Goetz.

Wittels's last book, The Sex Habits of the American Women, was published posthumously in 1951. In 1995 Edward Timms published Freud and the Child Woman, a highly edited version of Wittels's not entirely frank or reliable memoirs (Lensing, 1996).

Elke MÜhleitner

See also: Applied psychoanalysis and the interaction of psychoanalysis; Fackel, Die ; Death instinct (Thanatos); Kraus, Karl; Wiener psychoanalytische Vereinigung.


Lensing, Leo A. (1989). "Geistige Väter" und "Das Kindweib." Sigmund Freud, Karl Kraus und Irma Karczewska in der biographie von Fritz Wittels. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 30, 430-431.

. (1996). "Freud and the child woman" or "The Kraus affair"? A textual "reconstruction" of Fritz Wittels's psychoanalytic autobiography. German Quarterly, 69 (3).

Mijolla, Alain de. Freud, biography, his autobiography, and his biographers. Psychoanalysis and History, 1 (1), 4-27.

Mühlleitner, Elke. (1992). Biographisches Lexikon der Psycho-analyse (Die Mitglieder der Psychologischen Mittwoch-Gesellschaft und der Weiner Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung (1903-1938). Tübingen: Diskord.

Timms, Edward. (1986). Karl Kraus, apocalyptic satirist: Culture and catastrophe in Habsburg Vienna. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

. (Ed.) (1995). Freud and the child woman: The memoirs of Fritz Wittels. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Wittels, Fritz. (1924). Sigmund Freud, his personality, his teaching, his school. London: Allen & Unwin.

. (1932). Revision of a biography. Psychoanalytic Review, 19, 241-256.

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Wittels, Fritz (Siegfried) (1880-1950)

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