Monday, 4 May 2015

Thief snatches Freud's ashes - Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Golders Green Crematorium

Sigmund Freud’s mortal remains had been on more or less constant public display in the Columbarium at Golders Green crematorium since 1939, without any mishap. On New Year’s Eve 2013 butterfingered thieves broke into the crematorium apparently intent in stealing Freud and his wife and the 2300 year old Greek urn that housed their ashes. No sooner had they laid their hands on the prize then it slipped from their grasp and smashed on the tiled floor of the columbarium. They fled leaving the crematorium staff to sadly sweep up Sigmund and Martha in a dustpan and brush on New Year’s day 2014. Detective Constable Daniel Chandler of the Metropolitan Police described the attempted theft as despicable, “leaving aside the financial value of the irreplaceable urn, and the historical significance of to whom it related, the fact that someone set out to take an object knowing it contained the last remains of a person defies belief."

Freud came to London in June 1938, fleeing the Nazi occupation of Vienna. The 82 year old Psychoanalyst was doubly loathed by the National Socialists for being Jewish and for his views on psychology. The regime harassed him, banning and burning his books and arresting members of his family and leaving the sick old man no choice but to flee the country with as many members of his family as he could take with him. His sisters, who remained behind, perished in the death camps.

Freud in Paris en-route to England with Anna
Freud had been mortally sick for 15 years by the time he arrived in London. His addiction to smoking cigars left him with a malignant oral epithelioma that was first diagnosed in 1923. His doctor and friend, Felix Deutsch, lied to the worried Freud about the tumour in his mouth but shared the secret with a select circle of psychoanalysts including Ernest Jones. When Freud eventually discovered the deception he was furious, demanding to know “Mit welchem recht?”— “With what right?” Deutsch resigned his position as Freud’s personal physician to Dr Max Schur. Before arriving in London Freud went through more than 30 operations (one of which left him deaf in one ear), subjected himself to crude X-ray and radium therapies and was forced to wear an unpleasant denture like prosthesis to keep his oral and nasal cavities separated. This device stopped him from eating and speaking normally. None of the treatment halted the advance of the tumour eating away at his mouth and jaws or stopped Freud smoking (even though he tried many times). Freud adored his pet Chow Lün but the dog was so distressed by the stench of necrotic bone coming from his jaw that it howled and refused to stay in the same room. His daughter Anna nursed him through his final months in London but on September 21 1939 he could no longer stand the pain and begged his doctor to remember a conversation that had had many years earlier “My dear Schur, you certainly remember our first talk. You promised me then not to forsake me when my time comes. Now it's nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.” After discussing the situation with Anna, Schur give Freud an immediate 25 mg injection of morphine and followed it up with another high dose 12 hours later. Freud went into a coma and died at 3 am on the 23 September and was cremated at Golders Green 3 days later.   

Freud photographed in London shortly before his death

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