Dr. Kornmehl, Prof. Freud & Jewish Activism

Dr. Kornmehl, Prof. Freud & Jewish Activism

It’s been interesting to speculate about Viktor Kornmehl and his brushes with the other, more famous doctors of Vienna. As Anna Redsand wrote in her wonderful guest post, there’s a very strong likelihood that he was acquainted with Viktor Frankl in high school: It was a small institution and they were there at the same time. It’s possible too that they bonded because both were Jews; antisemitism was already an issue. Doktors Frankl and Kornmehl — as they were to become — were also at the Medical University of Vienna at the same time, so there’s no reason to think they didn’t continue their acquaintance, superficial as it might have been.

There’s also proof that Viktor Kornmehl, like Viktor Frankl, admired Sigmund Freud, though the former’s admiration was more from afar than the latter’s as a future post will show.

But if Viktor Kornmehl was a bit shy about his approach to Freud, he was no shrinking violet, as the following article from  June 24, 1932 edition of the JTA indicates:

Election of Jewish Professor As Dean of Vienna University Medical Faculty Results in Anti-Jewish Riot

The election to-day of a Jew, Professor Ernst Peter Pick, as Dean of the Medical Faculty of Vienna University, has immediately been followed by an outbreak of antisemitic rioting at the University, in which several Jewish students have been badly injured. A number of Socialist students were also attacked and injured.

The wounded Jewish students are Kurt Hasterdig, Fritz Singer, Wilhelm Gross, and Erich Stamm, who have serious eye and nose injuries.

Dr. Kornmehl, the President of the Jewish Students’ Corporation, who intervened, trying to stop the fighting, was also attacked and thrown down the University slope.

The Medical University of Vienna (eventually) put up a monument to the Jewish victims of National Socialism

The Medical University of Vienna (eventually) put up a monument to the Jewish victims of National Socialism

This article led me on a search of the students’ organization over which Viktor Kornmehl presided. I couldn’t find a “Jewish Students Corporation” (or Union) but found this in the Virtual Jewish Library:

In eastern Europe, and particularly in the Russian Empire…very few Jews could enter universities or even high schools. Many of them went to Swiss, German, or Austrian universities, and their associations and debating societies became nuclei of revolutionary and Zionist movements…. As a result, many became either extreme revolutionaries (in practice, mostly members of illegal Communist cells), or Jewish nationalists, i.e., Zionists. Thus, Jewish students and students’ societies played an important role at the inception of the Zionist movement, e.g., in Vienna (Kadimah) and Prague (Bar Kochba).

I have no proof that the organization that Viktor Kornmehl headed was Kadimah (which means “forward”). But there’s no question that his family was involved with Zionism. And according to Wikipedia:

Kadimah… was the first Jewish student association in Vienna, founded many years before Theodor Herzl became the leading spokesman of the Zionist movement.

The national Jewish and Zionist Kadimah was founded by Nathan Birnbaum together with Moses Schnirer, Ruben Bierer and Peretz Smolenskin in Vienna on 25 October 1882.

This article lists Sigmund Freud as a member of Kadimah. I don’t know if he joined as a student but it was confirmed by Freud’s oldest son, Martin, that he had an honorary membership. (An article by Josef Fraenkel, “Professor Sigmund Freud and the Student Society ‘Kadimah,'” published in London in April 1964, probably has the answer but I haven’t yet been able to locate it.)

According to Peter Gay’s  Freud: A Life for Our Time (p. 600), Martin himself “joined Kadimah, a Zionist student organization,” after World War I and “his brother Ernst became active in editing a Zionist periodical, steps their father seems to have greeted with approval, or at least treated as his sons’ business.”

Another connection with Zionism: According to a New York Times piece about Berggasse, the street where Freud lived and practiced (over my great uncle Sigmund Kornmehl’s butcher shop):

Less well known is the fact that, among Freud’s neighbors, living at 6 Berggasse from around 1896 to 1898, was Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Literary editor and Paris correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse, Europe’s leading liberal newspaper at the time, Herzl published his tract ”The Jewish State” in 1896 and lived on Berggasse, like Freud, as a celebrated giant and a derided crank.

(The two never met, although Freud dreamed of Herzl; and although Herzl ignored the copy of ”The Interpretation of Dreams” Freud sent him, hoping for a review, Freud did psychoanalyze Herzl’s son, Hans, years later, diagnosing the suicidal youth as suffering, not surprisingly, from a profound Oedipal conflict.)

Freud clearly was distracted by other pursuits from any early interest in Zionism  — if he  ever had one.  Maybe he just wanted to be blurbed by a famous journalist. But Freud is on record as being disturbed by his father’s passivity in the face of antisemitism when Sigmund was a boy; he later defended his own sons against an antisemitic attack. Moreover, according to an article by Jay Geller, “The Godfather of Psychoanalysis: Circumcision, Antisemitism, Homosexuality, and Freud’s ‘Fighting Jew,‘” Freud saw “Jewishness as a test of masculinity presented by [the] antisemitic majority.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch, then, to say that Freud would have been sympathetic to young Viktor Kornmehl’s Jewish activist zeal.

This is Day 21 of the Family History Writing Challenge. Three weeks down, one to go. Note: The picture next to the title is a postcard of Nathan Birnbaum (on the right), one of the founders of Kadimah.

6 Responses to Dr. Kornmehl, Prof. Freud & Jewish Activism

  1. […] few days ago, I wrote about a June 24, 1932 antisemitic incident at the University of Vienna that Viktor […]

  2. […] took place in May and October of the following year, 1932, in recent posts. In one of those posts, Dr. Kornmehl, Prof. Freud, and Jewish Activism,  I discussed how Freud, nonreligious though he was, would likely have admired young Viktor […]

  3. Marc says:

    I am the son-in-law of Erich Stamm, whose name was cited in the article above. Any further information about the incident described above would be appreciated.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thank you for writing. I’m afraid I have no additional information to what was printed in the article that I linked to — sorry! That incident sounds quite terrible, doesn’t it?

  4. Marc says:

    Until his passing in 1991, neither my wife, Erich Stamm’s daughter, nor I have have any recollection of his ever mentioning the incident. No recollection of any member of the family mentioning it, either. I suppose traumatic events like that were repressed or just went unshared.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thank you for writing! There are so many things that I don’t know about members of my family, things that I find out only accidentally when doing research, because my family didn’t talk about them. This must have come as quite a surprise for your wife to read this.

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