Sabina Spielrein PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 09:33


Yury Lotman

Sabina Naftulovna Spielrein

Born: 7 November 1885, Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

Died: 12 August 1942, Zmievskaya Balka

Age: 57

Cause of death: Killed with her two children by German SS death squad for her Jewish ancestry.

Notable because: Sent at 18 to Jungs Zurich clinic by her wealthy parents when suffering all kinds of psychological bother. He pioneered psychoanalysis on her with successful results. She became his mistress and went on to graduate medical school and become a Psychoanalyst. Died tragically at the hands of the SS. Sabina and her daughters Renata, 22, the cellist, and Eva, 16, the violinist could have left their home in Rostov-on-Don when the Germans invaded in 1941. They had passports enabling departure, but chose to stay because Sabine believed 'Germans are civilized people, and that they are not able to do evil.' On 11th August 1942 between eighteen and twenty-seven thousand Jews and members of the Red Army, were executed by Nazis and buried in a common grave.

About 20,000 Jews lived in Rostow. Few fled as the Germans advanced. They were urbanized, unprepared for life hiding in the country. Many did not fear the Germans, having studied in German universities. The Germans rounded up the Jews and marched the men to a ravine just outside the city--Zmiyovskaya Balka, or the ravine of the snakes (August 11, 1942). There the killing squads shot them. The women, children and elderly followed. The Nazi killing squads gassed them in trucks and dumped their bodies in the same ravine. Communists functionaries and Red Army soldiers along with their families were also killed and buried there along with their families. The death toll came to 27,000 people. Most of Rostov's Jews who survived the War were serving with the Red Army.


'Where love reigns, the ego dies.'

Sabina Spielrein

Sabina Naftulovna Spielrein was a Russian physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts. She was in succession an analysand, then student, then colleague of Carl Gustav Jung, a man with whom she also had a romantic relationship. She also met, corresponded, and had a collegial relationship with Sigmund Freud. One of her more famous analysands was the Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget. She worked as a psychoanalyst and teacher in Switzerland and Russia. Her best known and perhaps most influential published work in the field of psychology is the essay titled "Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being".

Born 1885 into a family of Jewish doctors in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Her mother was a dentist, her father an entomologist, who after moving from Warsaw to Rostov became a successful merchant. One of her brothers, Isaac Spielrein, was a Soviet psychologist, a pioneer of labor psychology. Spielrein was married to Pavel Scheftel, a physician of Russian Jewish descent. They had two daughters: Renate, born 1912, and Eva, born 1924.

Before enrolling as a student of medicine in Zürich, Spielrein was admitted in August 1904 to the Burghölzli mental hospital near Zürich, where Carl Jung worked at that time, and remained there until June 1905. While there, she established a deep emotional relationship with Jung who later was her medical dissertation advisor. The historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg argues that this was a sexual relationship, in breach of professional ethics, and that it "jeopardized his position at the Burghölzli and led to his rupture with Bleuler and his departure from the University of Zurich". Spielrein graduated in 1911, and was later elected a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Her dissertation, “Concerning the Psychological Content of a Case of Schizophrenia,” was the first dissertation written by a woman that was psychoanalytically oriented. It was published in 1911 as the lead paper in the Jahrbuch der Psychoanalyse, which was edited by Jung.  She continued working with Jung until 1912, and later saw Sigmund Freud in Vienna.

In 1923, Spielrein returned to Soviet Russia and with Vera Schmidt established a kindergarten in Moscow, nicknamed "The White Nursery" by the children (all furniture and walls having been white). The institution was committed to bringing up children as free persons as early as possible. "The White Nursery" was closed down three years later by the authorities under false accusations of sexual perversion with the children (in fact, Stalin actually enrolled his own son, Vasily, into the "White Nursery" under a false name).

Spielrein's husband Pavel perished during Stalin's Great Purge, as did her brother Isaac. She and her two children were killed by a German SS Death Squad, Einsatzgruppe D in August 1942 in Zmievskaya Balka, together with 27,000 other victims.

While Spielrein is not often given more than a footnote in the history of the development of psychoanalysis, her conception of the sexual drive as containing both an instinct of destructio

n and an instinct of transformation, presented to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1912, in fact anticipates both Freud's "death drive" and Jung's views on "transformation".

Cultural influence

  • Spielrein's letters, journals and copies of hospital records have been published, as has her correspondence with Jung and Freud.
  • A documentary, Ich heiß Sabina Spielrein (My Name is Sabina Spielrein), was made in 2002 by the Hungarian-born Swedish director Elisabeth Marton and was released in the United States in late 2005. The documentary was released in the U.S. by Facets Video, a subsidiary of Facets Multi-Media.
  • There is a biopic The Soul Keeper (Prendimi l’Anima), directed by Roberto Faenza, with Emilia Fox as Spielrein and Iain Glen as Carl Gustav Jung.
  • Spielrein figures prominently in two contemporary British plays: Sabina (1998) by Snoo Wilson and The Talking Cure (2003) by Christopher Hampton (based on the book A Most Dangerous Method) in which Ralph Fiennes played Jung on the London stage. Both plays were preceded by the Off Broadway production of Sabina (1996) by Willy Holtzman.
  • Hampton adapted his own play for a feature film called A Dangerous Method (2011), produced by Jeremy Thomas, directed by David Cronenberg, and starring Keira Knightley as Spielrein.

Second Life

In 1912, when he reached the age of twenty-seven years, Sabina was married to a doctor, pediatrician Pavel Seftela. He also was a Russian Jew. Soon they had a daughter, Renata. It looked like an unusual marriage: Pavel in 1914  returned to Russia and Sabina’s with her daughter stayed in Europe. For a while she worked in Germany, then Lausanne, in Geneva at the Institute Jean-Jacques Rousseau. At that time she published a number of fruitful researches in the field of psychiatry and depth psychology.

She might have become a famous psychoanalyst if she once again hadn’t change the course of her own life. Although after the October Revolution, the political situation in Russia was difficult, Sabina firmly decided in 1923 to return to her homeland. The estate of her wealthy family was confiscated and they themselves are constantly under surveillance of the new communist government.

It could be said that she brought to Russia psychoanalysis: the Institute for Psychoanalysis opens the Department of Pediatric Psychology. She opens “The white kindergarten” whose aim was to raise healthy and free people. It is, however, after a short time, be closed as “suspicious.” It seems that Stalin himself under a false name, in this kindergarten sent his son, Vasil … Seeing that things are wrong with psychoanalysis in Moscow, Sabina returned to her husband in Rostov where he worked as a doctor and teaches at the university. In the meantime, she gave birth to another child, a daughter, Eve. Political conditions are becoming worse: 1936 the psychoanalysis in Stalin’s Soviet Union officially is banned. Isaac, Jan and Emily, Sabina’s brothers, disappear in the death camps and her husband 1938 dies of heart.

Old residents of Rostov still remember the tragic 11th August 1942 . Thousands and thousands of people were carried out on the streets of this city-on-Don. Between eighteen and twenty-seven thousand Jews and members of the Red Army, were executed by Nazis and buried in a common grave. Among them was Sabina Spielrein with her two daughters, Renata (22), excellent cellist, and Eva (16), talented violinist …

It seemed that Sabina and her daughters unusually easy and bravely given up their lives. When the Germans took Rostov, 1941, Sabina refused to leave this city. She spoke very well about Germans that they are civilized people, and that they are not able to do evil. Soon Sabina become aware of – particularly as a psychoanalyst – that in certain circumstances and civilized people can inflict harm. However, she had refused to take the false passports prepared by a friend. It remains a secret why Sabina Spielrein refused similar assistance several times. As we can only drew as a conclusion is the call of Tanatos.

Forbidden love:
For some time wok and the personality of Sabina Spielrein was almost forgotten, especially in Russia. In the West her work was still remembered. And then the 1977th in the basement of Wilson castle, the former Institute of Psychology in Geneva, found parts of Sabina’s diary, and unknown correspondence with her teacher Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud (they corresponded from 1905th to 1923rd year). Letters have remained hidden for sixty years …
The light again came to the old and well covered love story between a doctor and a patient: Carl Gustav Jung and Sabina Spielrein. And at the time of treatment, during the first decade of the twentieth century, it was a rumor about Russian girl and the Swiss psychiatrist. Jung, who at the time was married, argued that the story about the alleged love has no strongholds in reality and that is only a reflection of patient illness. Indignant letters from his wife to Sabina’s mother in Russia (which warns Mrs. Spielrein how Jung is actually treating Sabine) that, however, deny Carl’s saying. And Freud’s concerned letters to Sabine in which he advised her to give up the obsessive love for Dr. Jung in an indirect way is referring to the fact that a passionate relationship still existed.

Take my soul!
In his writing to Freud, Jung described dream which persecuted his patient: to born a male child who will unite the Jewish and Aryan features, the son of Sigmund – Jung and her child. Freud congratulated her when she got married and gave birth to a daughter, believing that Sabina finally found salvation. Was it really a rescue or Sabina just pushed her pain? One of the stories on the illicit love of Carl Gustav Jung and Sabina Spielrein about their talking when he gave here a gift, a stone, saying goodbye to his soul in him and entrusted her to save her-the soul, as apparently the stone represented his soul. Sabina, became the guardian of Jung’s soul.
Anyway, about Sabrina started with speaking after the Italian psychoanalytic Aldo Caratenuto published the correspondences book titled “Secret Diary of symmetry”. And it is about Sabina Spielrein, the author of thirty scientific researches in German, French and Russian, couple of words about a girl who had the power of attraction, mind, and illness, and managed to attract Carl Gustav Jung. Once again the history made a great injustice to her as a woman and as a doctor.
Sabina came from Russia with her education and culture, and the strength of his personality, and great beauty, and dazzled the European minds. Unlike the others, Sabina decided to return to Russia. In Rostov, in Puskin street number 83, in front of the house where she and her family lived from 1887th to 1904th year, placed a memorial plaque. Many scientists and artists are trying to work through their own to get to see the secret of Freud and Jung’s disciples. A few years ago the Swedish director Elisabeth Marton recorded a film titled “My there was Sabina Spielrein”. Sabina is the main character of several plays and in the film, “Take my soul” Roberto Faenza.
Last wish of Sabina Spielrein, which unfortunately, was not fulfilled, which she had wrote in here diary was that she wanted her ashes to rests under the oak tree where they will write:

“My name was Sabina Spielrein. And I used to be a human being. “




In 1904 at the age of 18 she was admitted to a psychiatric clinic in Zurich, where she met the young doctor Carl-Gustav Jung, with whom she entered into psychoanalysis. After a year their love affair began which lasted for 7 years. In June 1905 she entered the Department of Medicine at Zurich University from which she graduated in February 1911 with the thesis on schizophrenia: Uber den psychologischen Inhalt eines Falles von Schizophrenie (Dementia praecox), which

Jung used in his own book Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (1912). She explained the psychotic's fear of sex by relating it to the patient's fear of disintegration. They are really afraid to lose themselves, i.e. to dissolve into other person, whom they love. That is why schizophrenics replace the real world with their own fantasies. She continued the theme of the losing of the self in her later works.

Spielrein left Zurich in January 1911, and continued corresponding with Jung until 1919. First, she settled in Vienna, where she visited Freud's Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung. There she married Pavel Scheftel in 1912 and bore a daughter Renata in 1913. Ten years later they returned to the USSR, first to Moscow, then to Rostov-on-Don, where she founded a psychiatric hospital for children and held a teaching position at the university. From 1924 psychoanalysis was outlawed in Russia, but she continued an illegal analytic practice. During 1935 — 1937 her three brothers vanished in the purges. Her husband died in 1938 and in 1941 Rostov-on-Don was occupied by the German army. She did not believe in the Nazis' cruelty and she refused to escape her native town. With many other Jews she and her two daughters were herded into the synagogue and murdered by the Nazis in August

1942. No one knows the precise date of her death.

She is remembered in the history of psychoanalysis as the author of world-famous work Die Destruktion als Ursache des Werdens (her Ph.D. thesis of 1912), which was basic for Freud's theory of the death drive. That is why Coline Covington and Barbara Wharton consider Sabina Spielrein to be the 'Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis'. In her thesis Spielrein put for the first time one of the most difficult and important questions in analytic theory and practice, the question about the death drive, which arose through her research on masochism. There is an initial we-experience that is opposite to I-experience, and that is related to destruction of the 'I'. At the same time, the destruction of the self and regression into we-experience has positive results, because it intensifies social development and cultural progress. She concludes that destruction is the basis of further development. In any dissociation, we can find a cause of becoming.

Classical psychoanalysis understands the correlation between sexuality and death drives in a very different way. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud states: 'In her rich and sapid work, which unfortunately is not completely clear for me, Sabina Spielrein anticipated a considerable part of my own meditations. She noted a sadistic component of sexual drive as a "destructive drive".' (Freud S. Jenseits des Lustprinzips. Wien, 1920). Freud supposed the sexual drive and death drive to be the two forces deriving from one and the same pleasure principle, therefore, unlike Spielrein, he does not hold them to be contradictory. Both love and destruction entail pleasure, unlike the repetition that is beyond the pleasure principle.

Although her thesis was useful and prolific both for Freud (with whom she has a correspondence) and for his disciples, unfortunately, like her teacher and analyst Jung, Sabina Spielrein did not exert essential influence on contemporary psychoanalysis.





Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 10:07

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