The Doktors Kornmehl & Professor Freud

The Doktors Kornmehl & Professor Freud

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

University of Vienna. Pretty impressive, no?

University of Vienna. Pretty impressive, no?

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…

19 Responses to The Doktors Kornmehl & Professor Freud

  1. For those of us not that familiar with Judaism, you might explain that Mosaic refers to the laws of Moses. It could, after all, refer to the kind of spirituality that takes a little of this from Buddhism, a little of that from Christianity, a little of something from the Navajos and makes a Mosaic of their religion.
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  2. Lydia Davis says:

    Fascinating, as usual! What a mine of information. A few thoughts: some months ago, I found, on a death certificate from Theresienstadt, “mos.” as an abbreviation in the “Religion” box, and since I wasn’t sure of the identity of the person I had found, I was naive enough to think it had to be an abbreviation for “moslem”–if you can imagine! The lightbulb finally went on: “mosaic,” i.e. Jewish. But it was certainly something I hadn’t come across before. As for Viktor living at home while Ezriel moves around a lot, wasn’t it true that Viktor was born in Vienna whereas Ezriel was born in Tarnow, therefore perhaps he was in the city on his own, parents still in Tarnow, and lived the way so many students live–here and there? And maybe each semester he had to fill out a form with address, etc.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’ve been thinking about the whole “Mosaic” question: Moses clearly had a larger role in the public idea of Judaism in the past than it generally does now — or maybe just in Europe, since the translation is contemporary? — thus Freud’s Moses and Monotheism. But even in those days, before Jews had any notion of settling in Israel, they also called themselves Israelites. Anyway, it didn’t occur to me until Vera Marie mentioned it in a comment that it wouldn’t have been clear what Mosaic meant.

      As for the addresses, you are correct. Jill wrote in an email to me exactly what you suggest here: That because his family was in Tarnow, Ezriel would have been roaming around, like many students of today.

      • Lydia Davis says:

        It occurred to me that with some (labor-intensive) cross-checking in the Vienna telephone/address book, you could see whether Ezriel lived with any of his relatives during those student years. If he did, that would tell you which relatives were more friendly with each other…

        • Edie Jarolim says:

          Great minds… I’ve been thinking along those lines too — and there are family tree software programs that incorporate Google maps so I could see just how close to one another they lived. I also think such software might make the cross referencing less complicated… it’s just a question of finding the right program and figuring it out.

      • Lydia Davis says:

        And one more post-script, about the term “mosaic”. From a website I found a while ago concerning property confiscated from Jewish families: “In June 1938 persons of Mosaic faith who owned property of more than 5,000 Reichsmark had to declare their property to the so-called property registration offices (Vermoegenssverkehrstelle)…”

  3. Jill Kornmehl says:

    Perhaps the Doktors Kornmehl did not interact with Freud at the esteemed Univ. Of Vienna Medical School. It is fun to think that they may have encountered him when visiting their relatives at the Kornmehl butcher shop downstairs or those that lived across the street.

    Interesting that the University of Vienna archives have more information about Ezriel than the family genealogists!

    You continue to delight your readers with your well-written pieces and eloquent depictions of the lives of the Vienna Kornmehl Family.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’m looking forward to exploring all the possibilities. You keep providing the material for me to work with and I’ll try to do it justice. Thanks, as ever, for your diligence.

  4. The mystery is more exciting to me than most on television or that I’ve read recently. I’m following loyally!
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    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Excellent! As it happens, the research yielded information that turns out to be more interesting than I first thought it to be.

  5. Carol Kornmehl says:


  6. David C. Farmer says:

    Another fascinating journey written like a well conceived detective mystery. You continue to amaze and stimulate my imagination, Edie!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks very much, David! How’s this for another teaser (to others) and guilt inducer (to you): I’m looking forward to your appearance here. You certainly have a fascinating story to offer too.

  7. […] the lives of Ezriel Kornmehl and Viktor Kornmehl, the two family members I introduced in the post The Doktors Kornmehl & Professor Freud. I’ll discuss the methods being used to investigate them, the brick walls I’m […]

  8. […] had wondered in my original post on the two Doktors Kornmehl why Ezriel was so peripatetic, whereas Viktor Kornmehl and Sigmund Freud both lived at home. Both […]

  9. […] couldn’t help but recall that the academic records of the University of Vienna also described Ezriel as being of “mosaic confession,” which I took as mistranslated […]

  10. […] I’m wrapping up the tale of the two Doktors Kornmehl, Ezriel and Viktor, the dual subjects of this family history writing challenge, with kudos — […]

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