Shortly following the Nazi occupation of Austria, Anna Freud asked her father, “Wouldn’t it be better if we all killed ourselves?”
Freud replied, “Why? Because they would like us to?”
Anna feared that she and her brother, Martin, would be arrested. The two younger Freuds quietly met with Schur, who gave them a sufficient amount of a barbiturate to be able to choose suicide over torture or internment in a concentration camp. He promised them that he would take care of their father as long as he could.
The Gestapo believed psychoanalysis was part of a Marxist leftist and Jewish conspiracy, and that Freud and his family were potential ringleaders. The Gestapo searched Freud’s home twice and on the last visit insisted that Anna accompany them to their headquarters. She was escorted outside to a big black touring car that had two heavily armed officers in front and two in the back. Martin recalled, “Far from showing fear, or even much interest, she sat in the car as a woman might sit in a taxi on her way to enjoy a shopping expedition.” Concealed amidst her clothing was the barbiturate obtained from Schur.
The Gestapo drove away with Anna at noon. Seven “endless” hours later, she returned, shaken, but unharmed. Schur was with Freud throughout that terrifying time; the two men talked and paced around the house while Freud smoked cigar after cigar. When Anna safely walked into the house, he wept and declared they must all flee Vienna.
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Following Anna’s release from Gestapo headquarters, Freud prepared a list for the British Consul in Vienna of the 16 people, including four members of the Schur family, that he wanted to accompany him to England. Through the combined efforts of Ernest Jones, Marie Bonaparte, and others, they were able to arrange exit visas and permit papers, and the group was permitted to travel to London.
The British government allowed Schur to act as Freud’s physician even before he passed the required national medical examinations. In February 1939, Schur discovered another malignant lesion and deemed it inoperable. Freud started radiation therapy.
Although Freud continued to see a few analytic patients, his condition markedly deteriorated, and Schur moved into his home. Freud adored his pet dog, a chow named Lün, but now the smell of necrotic bone from his jaw was so repulsive that the animal howled and refused to stay in the same room as the master. During the final six months, Anna attended her father constantly, and she woke several times each night to apply a local anesthetic. He was confined to bed and entirely dependent on her care.
Over a span of 16 years, Freud had undergone 30-some operations and several courses of radiation therapy. During much of this time, Freud was reduced to wearing a hideous, denture-like prosthesis to keep his oral and nasal cavities separated, and this device prevented him from eating and speaking normally. Following the first series of surgeries in 1923, he became deaf in his right ear and shifted his analytic couch from one wall to the other so that he could listen with his left ear. Nevertheless, he continued to see patients. In London, he had four patients in treatment, and he only disbanded his clinical practice two months before his death. During the final days, Freud requested that his bed be brought down to the study so that he could be near his books, desk, and beloved collection of antiquities.