THE STRUGGLE OF Dr. MAX SCHUR, SIGMUND FREUD'S PHYSICIAN
Giuseppe Paolo Mazzarello, MD
ASL 3 Genovese
In 1972, Mrs. Helen Schur published the posthumous biography her husband had written about Sigmund Freud (Schur 1972). From this work we learnt a considerable number of the events we analyse in this paper.
Max Schur was born in 1897, in Stanislaw, a town belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time, and now to Ukraine. He studied in Vienna where obtained a degree in medicine after attending the Sigmund Freud's lessons. Then he specialized in internal medicine.
In the Austrian capital, he practiced medicine for almost twenty years. He published 16 original papers on medical pathology. From 1925 to 1932 he had a formal training in Psychoanalysis, while, since 1928, he became the Freuds' physician. He had been introduced to Freud by Princess Marie Bonaparte, who had been treated by him and had put in a good word for him.
Already in 1910, Freud had made a prescient remark about the uncertainties of sickness and death. On 6th March 1910 in a letter to Pfister he had quoted a Macbeth: <<At least we'll die with a harness on our back>> (Freud 1909-1939).
The first meeting between the doctor and the professor took place in the Freud's office in Bergasse. After asking to know the truth about his health, Freud continued speaking: <<Versprechen Sie mir auch noch: Wenn es mal so weit ist, werden Sie mich nicht unnötig quälen lassen>> (<<Please; when the moment will come do not let me suffer uselessly>>. So directly the patient showed his fear of pain, loneliness and death. He looked like saying: <<You will have to manage everything. I hope you will be able to do it>>. Soon Doctor Schur faced the most serious illness of his special patient, a complicated neoplastic disease of the oral cavity. At first, pessimism overwhelmed Freud. Later, he praised strongly the surgical advances that gave his health an improvement (Freud 1925). Schur was always industrious and timely. Sometimes the doctor and the patient used to have a break. Freud was fond of cigars and offered the doctor one of them. Once the patient asked the doctor if he was used to smoking. Schur answered he did not usually. Freud commented: <<And you are smoking one of my precious cigars!>>.
One should have appreciate the professor's cigars, or at least be a good pretender. In 1930, Schur got married with Helen; Freud was not able to go to Schur's wedding, because he was spending his holidays in the countryside. He sent him a note of his good wishes. In the letter Freud mentioned his illnesses, so that the new bridegroom could not forget his patient. Freud encouraged Schur's professional activity but there was something more. At the Freud's court, Doctor Schur had found a stimulating environment both on the cultural and social plane. The professor encouraged his acolytes into continous research. The old interest Schur had in Psychoanalysis, later subordinate to that in internal medicine, resurfaced and found gratification. Professor Freud shared intensely the life of everybody who called on him and was continously interested in the life of everyone, besides his own. There were international relationships and these were useful to a court which risked becoming schrunk, besides exclusive. Freud was a polite and kind patient, likeable as always when felt himself beloved. He claimed cures in a courtly fashion. He took on sometimes hostile attitudes, but they were addressed to the uncertain future or caused by the mistrust in his health. He took part in the treatments with patience and regularity. The doctors in charge showed initiative and intense activity more than their patient. The patient told carefully his troubles but he never rushed his doctors: he underwent the operations stoically. In these circumstances the Freud's daughter Anna often helped her father and always was very active. Freud wished to see his doctors more than usual.
There were 40 years between the patient and his physician. Their relation was never conflictual. Schur was adult and Freud was getting old: both played their own role of their own accord. On 6th May 1936 the professor celebrated his eightieth birthday with all his friends. The doctor called on him a visit together with his wife Helen, their son who was 3 years old and their daughter who was 6 months old. The child offered Freud a bunch of flowers, as if he presented his grandad with them. The professor wrote and thanked him this way: <<I feel touched by so much kindness in such a very young child>>. Unfortunately, there was so little kindness at that time , in Austria and Germany. Schur protested against the persecution of the Jews, and did not prescribe any German drug. On 8th May 1936, Schur met Thomas Mann who had just paid a tribute to Freud. Freud was ill and not present at the ceremony. Schur asked Mann to visit Freud at home. On 14th June 1936, Mann went to Freud's house and there delivered a talk, touching everybody. Apollo himself had gone to Athena and Hermes had done his own task. The Schur's task had not completely been done. In 1939, the Freud's and Schur's families joined together in London, where they had to emigrate. Schur arrived a short time later because he had been operated for appendicitis. A few years in advance the doctor had applied for a visa for America and in London he knew it had been admitted. So Dr. Schur took his family to New York but, a short time later, he was back to London because the Leibarzt had not forgotten one of his patients. Freud was almost a terminally ill patient. On 21st September 1939 he had got worse. The patient had strong pain and asked Dr. Schur a relief. Then, after hesitating for a moment: <<Sagen Sie es der Anna>> (<<Tell Anna>>), Freud added.
Aeneas had cured his father Anchises to the very last. Also thanks to the fatherly inheritance, the hero could get to the new world. Schur joined his family in New York, where he lived practicing both internal medicine and psychoanalysis (Wittenberg 2002). On April 1945, all these criminals, who had caused our protagonists' exodus, disappeared forever. A historical age was over and many people had suffered the consequences of it. Since 1957 Schur published 16 original papers on Psychoanalysis. He joined American Psychoanalytic Association, of which he was also president. In his youth he had joined Psychoanalytic Societyof Vienna. In 1969, he died in his American town. An Author, who knew him, recalls Max Schur had “vitality and sense of humour (Colp 2002). Maybe he did not forget some of the last Freud's words: <<The struggle is not yet over>>. Schur could then continue a human and peaceful struggle in a transformed world.
We thank Paolo Facci, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist at Istituto Nazionale per la Fisica della Materia, Genoa, Italy.
Colp. 2002. Remembering Max Schur. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159: 1443
Freud. 1925. Autobiographical Stuy.
Freud, Pfister. 1909-1939. Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister.
Schur. 1972 . Freud: Living and Dying. New York: International Universities Press.
Wittenberg, Cohen. 2002. Max Schur, M.D., 1897-1969. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159: 216