One of the few stories my mother told about her life in Vienna was that her cousin Stella had been sent to see Sigmund Freud in the hope that her limp, resistant to traditional treatments or diagnoses, would prove to be psychosomatic (it didn’t). The more I read about Freud, the more I think he was a regular guy, brilliant, but a schmoozer rather than a snob. Nevertheless, I doubt that the world-renowned psychoanalyst would have agreed to see Stella just because she was the niece of his butcher — even if that butcher, Siegmund Kornmehl, shared an address, 19 Berggasse, with him for 44 years.
I’ve therefore been trying to find another connection between Freud and my family. It’s a secondary goal to trying to discover what everyday life was like for the eight Kornmehl brothers and sisters.
Other Vienna Kornmehls
I’m discovering that the siblings weren’t the only Kornmehls living in Vienna. Thanks to information provided by Jill Leibman Kornmehl, I’ve already written about Rabbi Nuchim Kornmehl, blesser of Barton’s chocolate. Now Jill’s tireless research has led me to Viktor and Ezriel Kornmehl, two doctors who, like Freud, got their medical degrees from the University of Vienna.
Jill — who is also a doctor, as it happens, but dons her detective hat when she is here — was assisted by Hillel Koren, the son of Viktor Kornmehl, and, as you’ll see, by the generosity of researchers at the Freud Museum in London and the University of Vienna.
I think it likely that my mother’s family had some interaction with Viktor Kornmehl’s family. Viktor and I share a great great grandfather, David Kornmehl. I don’t yet know Ezriel’s connection to the rest of the family. Right now he’s just hanging out in his own box next to the family tree, not attached to any branch. But all the Kornmehls in Vienna — especially those who came from Tarnow, Poland – seem to be related. Placing Ezriel in the fold is now another goal, and the University of Vienna provided plenty of material to work with.
The Two Doktors Kornmehl
Jill’s inquiries to a researcher at the University of Vienna archives — which must be vast, since the university was founded in 1365 — yielded the following reply:
Both of your relatives were graduated in Vienna.
Ezriel Kornmehl studied here from March 1914 to June 1916. In the student files (“Nationale”) he was registered as Ezriel Kornmehl, born February 11th 1891 in Tarnow, Galicia, of mosaic confession. He was the son of Leiser Kornmehl, merchant in Tarnow. He finished the high school in Tarnow. Before he started his studies in Vienna he has already studied at the University of Krakow. According to the register of final exams (“Rigorosenprotokoll”, signature: MED 12.4, p. 358) he also absolved the first of three final exams (“Rigorosen”) in Krakow. The second and third final exam he absolved on February 20th 1917 and February 1st in Vienna. He got his Dr. med. on March 9th 1918. During his studying time in Vienna he lived in the 2nd district which had a large Jewish community in this time: from (about) March to June 1914 his address was Große Schiffgasse 11. Then he moved to Taborstraße 20a, door number 14 and before March 1915 to Obere Donaustraße 89, door number 1. From October 1915 to June 1916 he lived at Große Sperlgasse 37 a, door number 15.
Avigdor Kornmehl was registered as Viktor Kornmehl, born June 16th 1908 in Vienna, also mosaic confession. His father was the merchant Ferdinand Kornmehl. Viktor Kornmehl finished the high school in Vienna (“Realgymnasium II”; during his school time it was situated in the 2nd district, Kleine Sperlgasse. Today it is called “Sigmund Freud-Gymnasium” and the address is Wohlmutstraße 3) and studied at the university from October 1926 to June 1931. He got a leaving certificate (“Absolutorium”) on March 23rd 1931. It seems that afterwards he absolved the three final exams for the doctoral degree. We can’t say it exactly because the register from 1931 to 1940 isn’t in the archive anymore. He definitely made the exams because he got his degree on May 20th 1932 (register of graduations, “Promotionsprotokoll”, signature: Med 33.13, number 786). During his studying time he lived at his father’s home in the 2nd district in Glockengasse 14, number 12.
I quoted this response in full because:
- I am awed by the amount of information an inquiry about the education of the two Kornmehls yielded. I could not have gathered this much biographical data in six months.
- It makes me wonder how much information students at the university were required to provide.
- It opens a new mystery about Ezriel: Why did he move around so much? In contrast, Viktor lived at home with his family while he was studying, which was the more typical arrangement.
- I am tickled by the fact that Viktor’s secondary school is now called Sigmund Freud-Gymnasium.
Note: As my alert and well-traveled friend Vera Marie Badertscher pointed out in the comments, not everyone will be familiar with the term “Mosaic.” It refers to those descended from Moses — as opposed to those who observe a patchwork of religious practices (which would include many people I know).
Freud and the University of Vienna
So… was Freud likely to have encountered Ezriel or Viktor at the university?
Freud graduated with honors from Sperl Gymnasium in 1873 at age 17, and entered the University of Vienna in the same year. He was torn between the academic disciplines of law and medicine. But Vienna was the world capital of medicine at the time, and Freud was interested in science, something he could better explore while studying medicine rather than law.
He received his doctorate in medicine in 1881, spending seven, rather than the usual five years acquiring his degree. As one biographical summary notes:
Reports from friends who knew him during that time, as well as information from Freud’s own letters, suggest that Freud was less diligent about his medical studies than he might have been. He focused instead on scientific research. He started by studying the sexual organs of eels – an odd and amusing foreshadowing of the psychoanalytic theories that would follow more than twenty years later.
Like Viktor, Freud lived with his parents the entire time he was in school. He didn’t leave home until he was 27.
After graduating, he worked at the Vienna General Hospital and then started a private practice. In 1902, Freud was appointed Professor of Neuropathology at the University of Vienna, a post he held until 1938.
So in theory Freud might have encountered both of the Kornmehls at the university: Ezriel was there from 1914 to 1916, Viktor from 1926 to 1931.
According to an assistant curator from the Freud Museum London, however:
In terms of Freud’s links to the medical school, he cannot really be viewed as a traditional teacher with students. He held a position as a docent at the University of Vienna before being awarded a kind of honorary professorship (called aaußerordentlicher Professor) and delivered lectures on Saturday evenings in the psychiatric clinic, which was mainly to physicians. His students are generally regarded as his ‘followers’, who began to frequent his Wednesday Psychological Society which met at his apartment on Wednesday afternoon, from around 1902 onwards.
There is no evidence that either of the Kornmehls attended Freud’s clinics or his Psychological Society meetings, but there is unquestionable proof that Viktor Kornmehl did interact with him — and that he was a remarkable young man. Stay tuned…