Freud’s Last War

It was 78 years ago today (September 23, 1939) that Sigmund Freud passed away at the age of 83.

By mid-September 1939, Freud's cancer of the jaw was causing him increasingly severe pain and had been declared to be inoperable. The last book he read, Balzac's La Peau de chagrin, prompted reflections on his own increasing frailty and a few days later he turned to his doctor, friend and fellow refugee, Max Schur, reminding him that they had previously discussed the terminal stages of his illness: "Schur, you remember our 'contract' not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense." When Schur replied that he had not forgotten, Freud said, "I thank you," and then "Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it's right, then make an end of it." Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father's death, but Schur convinced her it was pointless to keep him alive and on 21 and 22 September administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud's death on 23 September 1939.

Freud at work at his desk in London, in the summer of 1938. He is dressed complete with tie, the faultless bourgeois to the end. (Mary Evans/Sigmund Freud Copyrights, Wivenhoe)

Three days after his death Freud's body was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium in North London, with Harrods of Knightsbridge acting as funeral directors, on the instructions of his son, Ernst. Funeral orations were given by Ernest Jones and the Austrian author Stefan Zweig. Freud's ashes were later placed in the crematorium's Ernest George Columbarium. They rest on a plinth designed by his son, Ernst, in a sealed ancient Greek urn that Freud had received as a gift from Princess Bonaparte and which he had kept in his study in Vienna for many years. After his wife, Martha, died in 1951, her ashes were also placed in the urn.

"He is being buried today in the atmosphere he would have wished, one of stark truth and realism; in sheer simplicity, without a note of pomp or ceremony." Ernest Jones, funeral oration 26 Sept. 1939.

"For his discoveries were not, as is so often the case, divorced from the everyday affairs. They were concerned with the very mind of Everyman, with his happiness and more important, his miseries." Edward Glover, The Listener 28 Sept. 1939.

"Freud's work will, when duly appreciated, prove to be of importance, not simply to the student, but to every thinking man. If ever one may venture to acclaim a contemporary as immortal one can do so of Freud....With his death we lose a revered teacher, a wise and inspiring companion, and a man of enduring friendship." Ernest Jones, The Spectator 29 Sept. 1939.

Freud's last home, now dedicated to his life and work as the Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, London NW3, England.
'At bottom, no one believes in his own death, or, to put it another way, in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality. [...] Towards the actual person who has died we adopt a special attitude - something almost like admiration for someone who has accomplished a very difficult task.'

- Sigmund Freud, 'Thoughts for the Times on War and Death'
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