FENICHEL - PLAQUE
Ladies and gentlemen!
We gathered here to remember the exceptional man, doctor Otto Fenichel, who lived, worked and also hosted meetings with a group of Prague psychoanalysts right in this house. After escaping Berlin, he became one of many Jewish psychoanalysts who sought refuge in Prague to avoid Nazi terror. Before he fled from Prague to Los Angeles, where he died at the age of mere 48 years in January 1946, he started developing Prague`s psychoanalytical group (that became a study group of the IPA for a short time in 1936) and also wrote significant theoretical works here.
Psychoanalysis had already been practised in Prague before, but it was the presence of doctor Fenichel that launched a period of the most enthusiastic interest in psychoanalysis that Prague has ever experienced. Before Fenichel moved here, German analyst Frances Deri lived and worked in the very same apartment and many other emigrants used to gather here, such as Henry and Yela Lowenfeld, Annie Reich, Edith Jacobson, Elisabeth Gero-Heymann, Stef Bornstein, Hannah Heilborn and Kristine Olden. The Czechoslovak psychoanalysts, Emmanuel Windholz, Jan Frank, Richard Karpe or Brief spouses, had been paying their visits as well. Guest teachers like Edward Bibring, Ernst Kris, Robert Waelder, Paul Federn, René Spitz, August Aichhorn or Freud`s own daughter Anna used to come here from Vienna to hold lectures and seminars.
Back then, this house was a real harbour of Prague`s prewar psychoanalysis, of this "Denkkolektiv" of men and women, who breathed for their field of knowledge. According to doctor Windholz`s memoirs, evening seminars used to take place here three times a week, while the Viennese teachers would have come every two to three weeks to hold their whole-weekend lessons, followed by passionate discussions at a nearby café.
Fenichel worked in a hurry, because the dark clouds of the World War II were rapidly approaching. He wanted to gather all the psychoanalytic knowledge there was and for that he is known as the modern-age Noe of psychoanalysis. Apparently in those days, his even today often cited Opus Magnum: „The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis“ was coming to its early existence. In this book, Fenichel tried to collect and organize every single piece of knowledge related to this area of research.
Here in this house Fenichel also wrote many of his famed Round Letters, the conspiratorial circular letters, designated for his colleagues, who were interested in exploring relationship between psychoanalysis, social processes, culture and politics. Fenichel was the epitome of a widely educated intellectual with a strong social conscience and ambitions to reform the society also politically.
For instance, he did not see the primitive human instincts as the causes of war, poverty and mental illness. According to him, the cause would be the irrational and inconsistent regulation of social relationships, that deforms our instinct manifestations.
He was also a romantic, leftist visionary, and that was significantly different from the mentality of that day`s mainstream psychoanalytic movement, that rather discouraged its members from political engagement. He stayed gathered with analysts, mostly former colleagues from the Berlin Institute, who belonged to the so-called political freudians, as well as he did. The image of psychoanalyst as a socially and politically engaged professional practically disappeared with his death. In fact, except of few individuals no one has ever really brought this image back to life.
Till the spring of 1939, the majority of Fenichels group managed to escape to America or England, still Prague several analysts stayed and died during the Holocaust. After that, the Czech psychoanalysis practically perished, because none of the former members of the group would ever come back. Only the Russian emigrant Theodor Dosužkov, who used to attend the lectures and seminars for about two prewar years, probably also in this house, stayed in Prague and he luckily was not persecuted by the Nazis – thus he happened to be the only link to the prewar psychoanalytic group. Dosužkov then launched a heroic era of underground psychoanalysis in Prague, that he successfully had have led through nacism and part of communism. It was him, who laid the foundations of todays Czech psychoanalysis.
Let me on behalf of the Czech Psychoanalytical Society pay my deep respect to one of the most important figures in the history of world psychoanalysis by revealing this plaque. And with great gratitude and admiration we shall also remember all members of the former Psychoanalytical Group of the Czechoslovak Republic. Towards these our ancestors we feel great debt, that we would like to repay by bringing the Czech Psychoanalytical Society to a level that would be close to the one these people once started to build here.
Finally, let me thank the Jewish Museum in Prague, namely Mr. Leo Pavlát for the great support. I also thank the owners of this house, who agreed with the installation of commemorative plaque.
And, last but not least, thank you all for coming to this little celebration!