Family History Writing Challenge, Day 2: Why’d You Choose Those Relatives?

Family History Writing Challenge, Day 2: Why’d You Choose Those Relatives?

I explained on the first day of this challenge that I was going to look into the lives of Ezriel Kornmehl and Viktor Kornmehl. But neither Ezriel or Viktor is closely related to me — or to each other. Why chose them as my subjects?

Because of Sigmund Freud.

As I’ve often mentioned, my maternal great uncle, Siegmund Kornmehl, sold meat to the father of psychoanalysis. But, according to my mother, meat vending was not the only relationship to Freud that my family had. She said that one of her first cousins, Stella Kornmehl Schmerling, was sent to see Dr. Freud to determine whether a limp, unexplained through conventional medicine, might be psychosomatic.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Freud was a friendly guy, a schmoozer, not a snob. But he was also very busy and there’s no question that his wife, Martha Bernays, would have done the meat shopping. It was she who would have chatted up Siegmund K. to get the best cuts of beef for the tafelspitz, Freud’s favorite dish. What is the likelihood that Freud would have agreed to see the niece of a man with whom he had only a nodding acquaintance, and whose case wasn’t particularly fascinating?

Perhaps Freud encountered my family in another context?

I had read that Freud gave his first lectures on the dream interpretation at the  B’nai Brith, a Jewish lodge, because antisemitism kept him from speaking at the University of Vienna. I figured that my great uncles, being successful businessmen, albeit in the meat field, would have been likely to have joined the organization too. Maybe lodge membership was the source of a closer relationship?

That hypothesis proved to be wrong. I learned that my uncles would not have been accepted into the Vienna B’nai B’rith lodge, which was restricted to professionals like doctors, lawyers and writers.

Back to the drawing board.

This is where Viktor and Ezriel Kornmehl come in. I learned that they both got their medical degrees at Freud’s alma mater, the University of Vienna. Although they graduated later than Freud did, they were in Vienna at the same time as he was and, I thought, might have interacted with him as fellow medical professionals.

I don’t know if I can resolve the question of whether the Doktors Kornmehl would have had a close enough relationship with Freud — not to mention with other members of the Kornmehl family — to get a distant cousin in to see the famous pschoanalyst. But it’s the impetus behind choosing those two as my subjects.

2 Responses to Family History Writing Challenge, Day 2: Why’d You Choose Those Relatives?

  1. Lydia Davis says:

    This will be fun to follow, day by day–your investigation into the mystery of Stella and her limp! I’m looking forward to it!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      It occurs to me that I should blog about the fact that I met Stella — who still had the limp — along with her mother in the early 1970s and, in England in 1989, Stella’s two sisters. A more direct route to resolving the mystery might be finding the sisters’ children… This is an interesting but very circuitous way to get the information!

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