Sabina Spielrein: Die Frau, die viel mehr war als C.G. Jungs Patientin im Burghölzli


Sabina Spielrein: The woman who was much more than C.G. Jung’s patient in the Burghölzli


Welcome to another part «Women in History». Today we deal with Sabina Spielrein, a woman who likes to forget the great psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung. (I’d just hope that it isn’t a (made of feminist portrait!)

As I, Aladin Fazel, once decided to translate this, I did! but surely not agree with all. Though, very laborious research which I appreciated.

«Miss Sabina Spielrein, b. Rostov-on-Don, Russia, 1885, shows signs of extreme hysteria. She laughs and cries alternately, cries out […] A shot in a lunatic asylum is absolutely necessary because it could possibly lead to self-harm. Paranoia not excluded. Anyway, there is a psychosis. »

With this medical certificate, the 18-year-old Sabina Spielrein is taken to the Burghölzli.

Progress has not made people happier, capitalist modernity challenges them much, and their unwavering belief in the technical mastery of the world makes them dream their wildest dreams. The railroad, which had brought an unprecedented speed into the bound, leisurely lives of people, supplanted the fashion sickness of previous centuries – the melancholy. The modern, sensitive age has given birth to hysteria, a world of nervous souls and nerve-wracked women.

The madness of a hysterical patient, circa 1880. Photo: wikimedia

The hysteria was from the beginning as a female disease. She emerged from the unfathomable depths of the woman and she was closely linked to insanity. It even went so far that some doctors demanded impunity for crimes committed during menstruation.

The doctors fell into a veritable zeal for collecting, all sorts of symptoms they brought together, from a sudden paralysis of the arm, about a headache, blurred vision to hypersensitivity of the soles of the feet. What was real, what was a simulation in order to avoid the hardships of life? And what could one dismiss as insidious, validated acting? The tenor of the researching men was:

“None of us sees through the female heart to its depth. For the woman is strong in appearance. »

Director of the Psychiatric University Hospital Berlin, Karl Wilhelm Ideler, 1840

But the disease raised a very different question: is it possible that mental factors affect the body? That not all suffering is of physical origin?

When Sabina is taken to the Bürghölzli, Professor Eugen Bleuler is the director of the asylum. The cause of his sister’s disease: “schizophrenia” made him become doctor and psychiatrist. He studied with the French neurologist Charcot, who hypnotized the hysterical symptoms of his patients. In Bleuler lives the Enlightenment spirit from which the Burghölzli was born in 1870: He wants to bring light into the twisted heads of mentally ill people. He listens to them and finds out that many of his patients’ delusions are veiled dreams. Bleuler is the first university professor to engage with Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach. He experiments with the dream analysis of the Vienna Dependoctor, encouraging his students to read Freud’s writings. The so-called Viennese psychoanalysis, which is so passionately hostile for the first time, becomes clinically and scientifically capable for the first time – in Zurich.

Sabina Spielrein graduated high school in her hometown Rostov with the highest distinction. She is a well-educated girl, but she is not feeling well. She dreams of being flogged in front of a large crowd. She suffers from obsessions and threatens suicide. Her mother, Eva, hoped the girl would recover in the land of good air. The lakes, forests and glaciers would have an invigorating and invigorating effect, a stay in the spa town of Interlaken would bring the most beautiful healing results for ill nervous systems – the brochure promises.

But the therapy does not help Sabina. Her diary is silent about her presence in the sanatorium of the Bernese doctor Moritz Heller, this is supported by the receipt of her stay, which she has scribbled with gloomy drawings:

«Wasseranstalt» (left): The patient is doused with cold water. “Electrify” (right): Patient lies on a cot while the doctor stands on or beside her and gives her electric shocks. “Dr. Heller »,« Dr. Hisselbaum »(middle): To her doctors Sabina writes« chort », russ. For devil.
picture: sabine Richebächer: sabina Spielrein

For nine and a half months, Sabina will stay in Burghölzli. And she will prove to be a stroke of luck for a man who wants to try the Freudian method on her: Carl Gustav Jung. He is strong and tall, born in Thurgau and the son of a poor Protestant pastor who came to Basel with his parents when he was four. After completing his medical studies, he devoted himself to psychiatry, to the amazement of his environment, for Jung was ambitious and suddenly switched to this dull, ridiculed branch. He works as Bleuler’s assistant in Burgholzli and now wants to take care of the hysterical Russian.

Strict bed rest is prescribed to the patient, nobody is allowed to visit her and every five minutes a nurse comes to look for Sabina. The young woman defies and threatens, hides, plays pranks on the nursing staff, runs through the corridors, and then falls back into hysterical twilight states.
Jung asks about her father, Sabina keeps silent. She only makes faces, fights with her hands, her legs start to twitch – or she sticks out her tongue. She does not want to be healed at all.
Sabina grows up with her siblings in Rostov. The Spielreins are among the few of the approximately five million Jews who do not live in the Russian tsarist empire within the settlement area. Most of them live in confined areas in Jewish neighbourhoods or the Jewish streets of the cities, many are poor, they are called “airmen”.

In Rostov, the conditions are a bit cheaper. The Jews live scattered throughout the city, Sabina’s father Nikolai Spielrein is a wealthy merchant, he earns his money by trading in grain, feed and fertilizer.

Sabina’s mother Eva is the daughter of a Hasidic rabbi. She is one of the first women in the Russian Empire to visit the university and study dentistry during the short liberal period. The games are among the most educated families in the city.

Sabina’s childlike spirit is full of imagination and scientific curiosity. In her diary she remembers the things that occupied her four-year-old self:

“Especially Americans caught my curiosity because the earth is like as a ball, they had to move with their heads downwards and their feet upwards”

Sabina Spielrein in her diary

The little girl digs holes in the ground again and again and asks the mother how long it takes until she can pull an American by the legs. She knows that children come from her mother’s stomach and wants to know if she can get one too. Eva Spielrein explains to her daughter that she is still too young for that. But maybe a kitten could have her. And while Sabina happily awaits the creature, she wonders if with good upbringing she can develop into a being as intelligent as a human.

Family Spielrein around 1896: Sitting on the ground in front v. l. No. the siblings Sabina, Emilia and Jascha, behind her is Isaac, the man with a mustache on the back left is the father Nikolai Spielmann, in front of him on the left is the mother Eva Spielrein.
picture: sabine richebächer: sabina spielrein

The gentle girl is fragile and often sick. She feels lonely and creates a protective spirit with which she speaks German. Sabina argues a lot with her brothers, she plays the boys pranks – and is punished for it by the father. Until she is eleven years old, he beats her hand on her bare bottom, even in the presence of the brothers.

“It always seems to me that Daddy is coming and I drive with him .”  Sabina Spielrein in her diary

She loves her father in pain, finally betrays her Jung, who drilled deeper and deeper into her injured soul. He should not force her, she asks her doctor. But he does not listen.

Undeterred, he continues to poke, digging out the repressed memories of the young Russian woman, whom she now has to relive once again.

“The special psychic existences are shattered by the fact that they are pulled out with a volitional effort to the daylight.”
C. G. Jung

In the end, she gives up her resistance and tells the doctor that she has been sexually aroused since the age of four after her father’s beatings. She masturbated when she heard that one of her brothers was beaten. And even if a patient is brought back into the room by force, she feels like touching herself. Sabina feels guilty. She was a bad person.

Sabina Spielrein, ca. 1920. Photo: sabine richebächer: sabina spielrein

Again and again she asks Jung to treat her badly, to ask her nothing, only to give her orders. She wants to be humiliated by him.

«Ich will eben Schmerzen haben. Ich möchte, dass Sie mir etwas recht Böses tun, dass Sie mich zu etwas zwingen, das ich aus ganzer Kraft nicht will.»
Sabina Spielrein

Jung does not fulfil her wish, and so the pain moves in Sabina’s soles, which he is now forced to investigate. The relationship between doctor and patient is sadomasochistic, what else should emerge from Jung’s treatment method. Sabina begins to fall in love with her doctor, the better father who takes care of her. Jung also feels attracted by the young Russian woman, who is so different from his wife Emma; dangerous, irritating, educated and exotic.

C.G. Jung with Mrs. Emma and four of his five children, 1917. picture: pinterest

Much later, he will write to her that he loves her “great, proud character,” but never marries her because he is a “great philistine” who needs “the narrow, specifically Swiss.”

Jung’s wife does not miss her husband’s interest in his patient. And when she gives birth to the first child, Sabina falls back into the old frenzy. She hides, threatens suicide, scratches the floor, and thinks a black cat is crouching in her room, maybe the animal she was a child to give birth to.

Director Bleuler distracts the patient, affirms her in her scientific interest and allows her to participate in his case presentations. Sabina soon has enough self-confidence to believe in her old wish and enrols at the University of Zurich. She wants to become a doctor.

Burghölzli’s director, Eugen Bleuler, who introduced psychoanalysis to psychiatry. picture: wikimedia

On January 22, 1905, tens of thousands of workers marched in their home country to the Winter Palace, the residence of the Czar. They demonstrate peacefully for decent conditions in the enterprises, for agrarian reforms and the creation of a representative body. But they do not invade Nicholas II. The soldiers shoot into the crowd first. The prelude to the revolution, which will soon overtake the whole country.

Sabina is released from Burgholzli five months later.

Jung considers the socialists, nothing more than thieves, in a letter Sabina accuses him of covetousness, which would lead him to such a limited view:

“Socialism, in the sense that all people are the same […], would, of course, be a utopia. But socialism has a high value as an anti-capitalist movement. They say the acquisition of wealth requires some intelligence and energy, so the rich are the most efficient. This could only apply in exceptional cases. It seems so funny to me that I have to show you how unfairly the goods are distributed as if you did not know it much better than me. “
Sabina Spielrein in a letter to Jung.

Jung met in 1907 in Vienna for the first time the Grand Master of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. The two men spend 13 hours in Freud’s office on Berggasse 19, talking about Sabina, about the future of psychoanalysis, as the room fills up with the smoke of Freud’s cigar: “I can not think of myself to wish a better continuer and finisher of my work as you, »he finally says.

At a time when sexuality had to hide under buttoned blouses, locked away, tabooed and declared sinful, Sigmund Freud stepped onto the stage. He realized that the suppression of sexuality can lead to serious mental health problems and he climbed into the dreams of his patients because he described them as the royal way to the soul. picture:
ap sigmund freud museum

But the two have different views, Freud’s one-sided restriction to the sex drive as the cause of any neurosis does not want to divide Jung, Freud, in turn, holds Jung’s parapsychological interests for humbug and fears the scientific death of his young subject, mix it with elements of superstition.

For quite a while, Freud Jung defended himself as the crown prince and heir of his legacy to his Viennese colleagues, because all of them do not want the Swiss to be presidents of the International Psychoanalytical Association.

“You are for the most part Jews, and therefore not suited to acquire friends of the new doctrine. Jews must be satisfied with being a culture fertilizer. »
Sigmund Freud to his Viennese colleagues

He was old, Freud placated the gentlemen, he no longer wanted to be attacked. “The Swiss will save us. Me and you all. »

Freud should be wrong. Jung endangered the reputation of psychoanalysis. The illegitimate sexual desire, which he believed he recognized in one of his dreams, has come true. Sabina is no longer just his patient.

In Vienna, people start to talk. They tell themselves that Jung wants to leave his wife to marry his patient. “Sabina has betrayed me!” Thinks the aspiring physician, who now fears for his reputation, his social position. He writes Freud. He pathologizes Sabina, sacrifices her, the aspiring physician. He always remained “within the bounds of a gentleman” in the letter to his spiritual father:

“In the most damaging manner, she [Sabina] disappointed my trust and my friendship and made a despicable scandal solely because I renounced the pleasure of giving birth to her.
C.G. Jung in a letter to Freud

He moves with his family to Küsnacht and opens a private practice there. Sabina is hurt, but she still hopes for a loving farewell to the man she must love as much as he loved her. For, as Jung writes in his essay “On the Role of the Father in the Destiny of the Individual”, the choice of the future life partner of a human being always depends on his first childlike relationship. From those to the parents.

Jung loved his nervous mother, Sabina her father, whom she had never considered normal: “Now he has fallen in love with me, a hysteric, and I have fallen in love with a psychopath.”

When the two finally pronounce, Jung apologizes for the false suspicions. She makes him tell the truth to Freud too.

“In general, my love brought me almost pain, it was only a few moments, as I rested against his chest, in which I could forget
everything.” Sabina Spielrein about her love for Jung

Sabina graduated in 1911. “About the psychological content of a case of schizophrenia” is the title of her dissertation, she is the first woman ever, who receives the doctor of medicine with a psychoanalytic topic.

The father of Swiss psychiatry, representative of the abstinence movement and predecessor Bleulers am Burghölzli: Auguste Forel (1848-1931). picture: wikimedia

In her work, she writes of the case person as an “inferior psychopath”. She uses the usual jargon of her studies, which is based on racist, demographic theories. In Switzerland, especially in Zurich, eugenics and racial doctrine are taught by Auguste Forel and his successor Eugen Bleuler.

Practically, these ideas are implemented with institutionalization, child support, marriage bans, forced sterilization and castration. Everything is already there, the National Socialists will use this instrument in a consequence, which can not be surpassed in cruelty.

Sabina still thinks a lot of Jung, this man who is everything to her at the same time, mentor, role model, parental substitute – and in her mind still lover and father of her imaginary son, who baptizes Siegfried after Wagner’s opera Ring des Nibelungen.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) created music dramas that fundamentally changed the expressiveness of operas. His “Tristan und Isolde” is considered by many to be the starting point of modern music. He was early convinced that he was a genius: “In 50 years, I will be the master of the musical world,” he predicted. picture: wikimedia

The idea that love only becomes fully fulfilled in death inspires her to write “The destruction as the cause of becoming” (1912). In it, she describes the desire for death as part of the libido, the reproductive instinct as something that always triggers fear and disgust, which must first be overcome. From Sabina’s idea, Freud will develop his most controversial and speculative theory – that of the death instinct.

She is now a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Association. Another woman sits in this select circle: the paediatrician Margarete Hilferding, who was the first to realize that there is no innate maternal love, as many mothers had hostile feelings towards their children.

The Viennese Margarete Hilferding (1871-1942) graduated in 1903 as the first woman from medical school at the University of Vienna. She dealt above all with questions about birth control, education and education. picture: wikimedia

Sabina’s diary reveals no more than this cryptic sentence about her marriage to the Rostov doctor Pawel Scheftel:

  “Dr Paul Scheftel married. The sequel follows.” Sabina in her diary

And even when her daughter Irma-Renata is born, her thoughts sneak to the former lover and the fantasy fruit Siegfried. In the meantime, Freud and Jung have completely disagreed, “my personal relationship with your Germanic hero has definitely broken down,” writes Freud Sabina.

Pawel receives his mobilization order and returns to Russia. His 29-year-old wife wants to stay with the child in the west.

In the First World War, four million Russian soldiers fall, the general strike in the Tsarist empire becomes a revolution, the civil war devastates the country, the economy collapses, typhus, cholera and the Ruhr tear countless people to their deaths. In 1921, five million people starve to death. The Red Army wins the following year – the Soviet Union is founded.

Käthe Kollwitz’s poster “Help Russia”, 1921. The famine in Soviet Russia was so bad that there were cases of cannibalism.

Meanwhile, Sabina lives in Lausanne, then in Geneva, where she works as a psychoanalyst and gives courses at the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute. There she also meets the young Jean Piaget, whose works incorporate some of Sabina’s thoughts, and with which he will revolutionize child psychology.

She earns her own money for the first time, but it is not enough, she has to keep herself and her dying child afloat with sewing. Her father Nikolai tries to send his daughter money to Switzerland. Lenin, with his New Economic Policy (NEP), has decided on a partial return to the capitalist system so that the country can recover. So the game ranks were able to save some of their fortunes. But Sabina, who lives in war-torn Switzerland, gnawing at the hunger-wipe.

In 1923 she returns to her homeland, to her family and to her husband; to where she really did not want to be. Three years later, Sabina is now 41 years old, she gives birth to her second child, which she named after her deceased mother Eva.

Sabina’s father is full of pride in helping to build the new Russia, her brothers are making a career. Sabina is the psychoanalyst with the best education in the country, providing courses for doctors, educators, psychologists and students.

Under the patronage of Leon Trotsky, psychoanalysis flourishes in the Soviet Union – he has come to know “Freudism” during his exile in Vienna. The subject has power policy goals; it should contribute to the creation of the new human being, promote the collective education and re-educate all the stray, robbing orphans by means of new pedagogy to valuable state members.

But when Lenin dies in 1924, “Judas Trotsky” falls out of favour, and the ice axe that splits his skull in Mexican exile immediately kills Soviet psychoanalysis.

On August 20, 1940, a secret service agent Trotsky hit an ice axe in the head. The photo shows Trotsky in the hospital of Mexico City, where he died a day later. picture: ap

She shares a destiny with many other sciences. Stalin buried them all. He wants «workers sciences», «working technologies», born of «proletarian intelligence».

And while Freudism in the Soviet Union is denounced as a reactionary theory, in Berlin Goebbels’s fire spell accompanies Freud’s writings into the flames.

«What progress we make! In the Middle Ages, they burned me, and nowadays they are content to burn my books. “
Sigmund Freud

Now Jung enters the orphaned stage of psychoanalysis. Finally, as the Swiss hateful in Vienna must have thought, my theories are officially recognized. Jung can be celebrated as the man who opposes Freud’s “decomposing” psychoanalysis with his uplifting psychology. He takes over the editorship of the Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie, in which he announces in 1934:

“The Jew as a relative nomad never has and will probably never create his own cultural form, since all his instincts and gifts require a more or less civilized host nation to develop. The Aryan unconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish […]» ???????????????? C.G. Jung in the “Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie”, 1934 (I, Aladin Fazel, am not sure about this one!) 

In 1937, the heart of Sabina’s husband Pawel stops beating. It is the year in which Stalin’s purges reach their peak. The officers of the NKVD drive their black limousines through the streets and take “suspicious” people out of their beds during the night. Sabina’s brother Isaak, formerly head of psycho-technology, is executed and buried in the mass grave on Moscow’s territory. Her brother Jascha, professor of energetics, is murdered a year later. The youngest brother Emil, who taught experimental biology at the University of Rostov, will be executed in June. Her father Nikolai dies a month later – out of grief.

When German planes began attacking Russian airfields and cities in June 1941, Sabina still lives with her daughters in Rostov. The city is called “the gate to the east”, with its four major railway lines it is an important strategic goal of Hitler, whose “enterprise Barbarossa” from the beginning was planned as a war of extermination. Habitat in the east is to be created.

On November 22, the capture of Rostov is reported to Berlin. But still is shot, soon the NKVD keeps the administration of the city in hands again. 800 people are suspected of collaborating with the Germans and executed. The inhabitants are used for forced labour, many freezes to death or die from exhaustion while trying to build fortifications.

Sabina stays in town. Maybe she did not believe what is being said about the fascists. She, who spent half her life in Germany and Switzerland.

In the summer offensive 1942, the Germans gain the upper hand in Rostow. Sabina’s house is bombed, she waits eleven days with Renata and Eva in a cellar. The SS Sonderkommando 10a roughly estimates 200,000 to 300,000 remaining inhabitants.

Soon posters are posted, signed to deception by the Jewish Elders. All Jews should register for their protection. Then they should arrive at the respective collection points.

bild: sabine richebächer: sabina spielrein

The 56-year-old Sabina is ready at the appointed time, supported by her daughters. You will be picked up by car. If you get in too slowly you will be beaten. They drive to Schlangenschlucht, where they have to hand over all valuables in a vacant house. Naked, they have removed behind the house again.

Five kilometres northwest of Rostov, the Red Army prisoners have already cleared thirteen pits in a grove. The residents of “2-yy Smijovka” were ordered to leave the village for shooting practice. An eyewitness reports:

“On the 14th of August, I went to that grove where I had heard the shooting, and saw that the pits were crammed with corpses that were only lightly covered with earth, over which you could see rivulets of blood.” Beloded Ignat Stepanovich, eyewitness

The Holocaust Archive of the Yad Vashem memorial sites in Jerusalem bears the name Sabina Spielrein: «1942, died with all Jews, Rostov-on-Don.»

The book used for the article
Sabine Richebächer: Sabina Spielrein – an almost cruel love of science, 2005.
Richebächer supervised for many years the category “Psychological New Publications” in the NZZ, she lives as an author and psychoanalyst in Zurich.
The latest film version of the Spielrein material is also worth seeing: “A Dark Desire” (original: “A Dangerous Method”, 2011) by Canadian director David Cronenberg.

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