1st prague conference:
otto fenichel
and his legacy

fear of strangeness
Antisemitism, xenophobia and uncanny experience

23. – 25. 10. 2015

About Fenichel

History of ČPS

brief history


Otto Fenichel was born 2.12.1897 in Vienna and died on 22.1.1946 in Los Angeles. He was and is one of the most fascinating figures of the second generation of psychoanalysts. Although his work could have been forgotten in the jungle of subsequent new theories, part-theories and overlapping new concepts, and the force of time – it has been nearly 70 years since his death – could have pushed Fenichel to archives of psychoanalysis, it did not happen. Whoever returns to the essence of psychoanalysis as formulated by Freud (libido, unconsciousness, repression, topographic and structural models, dynamic and economic points of view), will sooner or later come across Fenichel. A vigorous critic of contemporary writings, and of divergent tendencies in psychoanalysis which emerged as early as in the twenties and thirties (represented predominantly by Klein and her followers), Fenichel was an orthodox Freudian in a positive sense of the word: with brilliant theoretical and clinical insights, an excellent teacher and a prolific author who contributed virtually to all features of contemporary psychoanalysis between the years 1920 – 1945. One of his many important historical credits is formation and recognition of the Prague psychoanalytical group as the Study Group of the IPA in 1936 on the 14th IPA Congress in Marienbad.

Otto Fenichel studied medicine in Vienna between years 1915 – 1921. He begun to visit lectures of Sigmund Freud already in 1915 and participated in meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society since 1918 and since May 1920 he was a member of the Society. He started his personal analysis with Paul Federn, and he continued his analysis in Berlin Institute with SándorRadó after his move to Berlin in 1922. Before Berlin, being still in Vienna, he was engaged in Jugendbewegung (youth movement) where also other future analysts took part, like Siegfried Bernfeld, Wihelm and Annie Reich and Ernest Simmel. This movement were connecting the sexual science inspired by psychoanalysis with social freedom. This Fenichel’s interest found its continuation in so called “Kinderseminars” (child seminars) organised outside of the Berlin Institute as a “left fraction” of young psychoanalysts where both Reichs also E. Jacobson, E. Fromm, G. Gero and some others took part. Their goal was to unify Marxism and psychoanalysis. In 1930 Fenichel became a member of the German Psychoanalytical Society. After the Hitler ‘a fascist party (NSDAP) had taken over the political power in Germany, Fenichel moved to Oslo where he helped to form the Norwegian psychoanalysis. In 1934 he started to write and send so called circular letters (Rundbriefe) to his political “small circle”, colleagues from Berlin “Kinderseminar”. In autumn 1935 (September/October) he moved to Prague to take over the leadership (instead of Frances Déri who moved to Los Angeles) of small psychoanalytic group consisting of Jewish analysts (Annie Reich, Stef Bornstein, Henry Loewensfeld) who emigrated from Hitler’s Germany, and also of some Czechs (and some others). This group had started its work in summer 1933. Fenichel stayed in Prague until the beginning of May 1938, when he moved to Los Angeles in the USA. In Prague he wrote 29 circular letters/Rundbriefe.

Otto Fenichel published around forty articles between “Introjektion und Kastrationkomplex” (1925) and “Neurotic Acting Out” (1945). Building on his works, and upon countless other analysts of his time, Fenichel produced his famous encyclopedic textbook of 1945 Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis, which belonged for a long time to basic readings in majority of psychoanalytic institutes in the world.

Fenichel’s work Problems of Psychoanalytic Technique (1941) is until now inspiring reading, still today recommended to students of psychoanalysis. Fenichel’s essay on Anti-Semitism is excellent original work in which external and internal realities are integrated into deep insightful understanding of anti-Semitic and xenophobic behaviors. After his emigration to the USA Fenichel was hiding his interest in Marxism but he has never given up an idea that broader social factors – external reality – play an important part if the formation of neurotic disorders. Strong belief in Marxism was historical error of many left intellectuals in the 30ties (XX.century), and Fenichel belonged to them. Nevertheless, external reality and its influences (not only traumatic ones) cannot be overlooked in current psychoanalytic theorizing. Because of detrimental external reality Fenichel had to repeatedly emigrate (Oslo, Prague, Los Angeles). Nazi and communist ideologies interfered severely also with the development of Czech psychoanalysis (psychoanalysis had to be kept dozens of years in the social underground).

Fenichel with his complicated personal traumatic history, with his Freudian orientation, with his substantial contribution to origins of Czech psychoanalysis, with his extensive stress on external social reality, and with his wandering Marxism, with his tremendous effort to spread and develop Freudian psychoanalysis – all this fits well to Czech psychoanalytic mind as it had been formed during the XX. century. It is then more than logic that the Czech Psychoanalytical Society has decided to organize in Prague regular Fenichel Conferences devoted to his legacy. We plan to choose psychoanalytic topics and their overlap to philosophy, history, politics, and social sciences. We want to choose various Fenichel’s works or ideas and let them test by current psychoanalytic views. We plan to have small discussion groups on each conference. We plan to invite not only psychoanalysts but also professionals from other specialities. We will welcome as participants also students from various universities. We would like to create a forum for open exchange of psychoanalytic ideas and concepts within current multi-theoretical psychoanalysis, and to create a dialogue with other humanities.

Written by

Michael Sebek


The Czech psychological-psychiatric community became acquainted with psychoanalysis in 1920 through the lectures of prof. Jaroslav Stuchlík (1890 – 1967) who was in touch with E. Bleuler and C. G. Jung during his studies in Switzerland and later in Vienna he met S. Freud and A. Adler. The new psychology wasn’t deemed acceptable by the biologically orientated Prague psychiatric clinic and so he left for Slovakia to Košice, where his psychoanalytic students included Emmanuel Windholz and Ján Frank later became analysts themselves.

A second strand in the origin of Czech psychoanalysis includes the group of Russian emigrants which formed around the seminars on psychoanalysis in Prague given by prof. Nikolaj Jevgrafovič Osipov (1877 – 1934), who was in correspondence with S. Freud. After his untimely death some members of his group (including Theodor Dosužkov) formed the Prague psychoanalytic group with Emmanuel Windholz, after his return from his training analysis at the Berlin institute 1931. In 1933 German analyst Frances Déri emigrated to Prague from Nazi Germany and provided training analysis to two other members of the Prague group, Richard Karpe and Ján Frank. Emmanuel Windholz continued his personal training analysis with Frances Déri. Other training analyses were provided by two emigrées from Vienna, Steffi Bornstein and Kristine Olden from Vienna. Theoretical seminars began in autumn 1933, which included the participation of Annie Reich from 1934.

The Vienna Psychoanalytic Society took over the role of developing the Prague group at the congress in Luzern. Weekend seminars and supervisions were provided by the Viennese analysts Edward Bibring, Robert Waelder, René Spitz, Paul Federn, Ernst Kris and August Aichhorn. In 1935 Frances Déri was replaced as the leading figure in the Prague Group by the outstanding analyst Otto Fenichel, under whose leadership the Prague group became an official Study Group at the  IPA Congress in Marienbad in 1936, with Windholz becoming the first president. This was the first IPA congress to be held in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), 77 years later the IPA returns to the Czech Republic, with the 48th congress here in Prague.

It is important to state that the pre-war population of Czechoslovakia included many German as well as Czech speakers (the majority if Czech Jews were also primarily German speaking), and many were bilingual in both languages, so there didn’t  exist any language barrier between Prague members of the group and their German speaking teaching guests. All this disappeared during the Second World War. The period of psychoanalysis bloomed till Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Third Reich in March 1938, following which most psychoanalysts emigrated from Czechoslovakia. The only one to remain here and continue psychoanalytic practice and training was the Russian Theodor Dosužkov. (1899 – 1982). During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938 – 1945) he continued to give psychoanalytic seminars and analyzed interested people at his neurological practice. There were more than twenty people in this group. Our society continues to be grateful to Dosužkov for keeping psychoanalysis alive in our country during the worst period of our history.

Immediately following the war contact with the IPA was re-established. Otakar Kučera and Ladislav Haas were accepted as direct members who were able to train new candidates. The professional library was enlarged and a formal psychoanalytic training institute was founded. Between 1946 and 1948 three psychoanalytic Yearbooks were published and the group around prof. Viškovský continued in the publication of the complete works of S. Freud. However, this resurgence of psychoanalysis following the defeat of Nazism was short lived. After the communists came to power in 1948 the group went underground. Psychoanalysis was officially declared as bourgeois pseudoscience and private medical practice was banned. Some members of the group left for fear of their existence.

During the sixties, in the period leading up to the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968, the communist regime rather gradually became more liberal and open, and in this environment the the existence of the unofficial underground psychoanalytic group and its institution became the “secret everybody was speaking about”. However, again this period of opening up of the society, and psychoanalysis, was brought to an end, along with many other hopes, with the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. However, despite the new conditions of ‘Normalization’, secret analytic practice and candidates’ training went on, and underground psychoanalysis survived. Members of group worked officially as psychiatrists and psychologists in state institutions. Their work with analytic patients, seminars, teaching and meetings of necessity took place after working hours in their private flats.

A further necessary precaution was that patients who were supporters of the communist regime were not accepted for psychoanalysis. Those known to work secretly as psychoanalysts were not allowed to publish professionally and to develop in their scientific-academic careers. At times psychoanalysts also lost their official employment, which was very dangerous if one didn’t get another job immediately. The “the obligation to work” operating at that time meant that those who were not employed were threatened with imprisonment for “parasitism”. In the sixties and seventies, when the border was open to other East European Soviet satellites, four colleagues from Warsaw passed their training analyses in Prague.  Visits to Prague were very dangerous for western analysts. But still some took the risk, for example prof. Widloecher, prof. Harald Leupold-Loewenthal and René Diatkine along with other members of Parisian Society.

Finally, the break of the long isolation of Czech analysis began with the conference in Budapest in 1987 where Han Groen-Prakken lead the way with integrating Eastern European countries into the IPA, which is now the Han Groen-Prakken Psychoanalytic Institute for Eastern Europe, a joint creation of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) and the European Psychoanalytical Federation (EPF). Afterwards we had visits by Han Groen-Prakken, Roland Baker, and later Joseph and Anne-Marie Sandler to give lectures and supervision. On the eve of the Velvet revolution in the summer of 1989 five of us (Fischelová, Kocourek, Mikota, Šebek, Vacková) were accepted as direct associated members of the IPA. Rolf Kluewer, Anette Vatillon and Nikolaas Treurniet came regularly to supervise us to Prague.

After the fall of iron curtain we believed that our journey to reach the status of a Component Society would be easy. Many Czech analysts left their jobs in state institutions and founded legal private psychoanalytic practices. The Czech Study Group was established, along with our institute gaining official recognition. Jiří Kocourek found the Psychoanalytic Publishing House that among other projects finished the complete works of S. Freud in the Czech language. Thanks to the help of the Sponsoring Committee and Liasion Committee, with Friedrich-Wilhelm Eickhoff as chairman accompanied by Haydée Faimberg and Rafael Moses, in 2004 the Czech Psychoanalytic Society was established as a full Component Society of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Now the society consists of 35 members (12of them are the training analysts) and 26 candidates.

Generally, one of the main tasks of the younger generation of Czech analysts is to find a way out of domestic forms of psychoanalysis, derived from the long years of oppression. These people try to cultivate a more dignified, open and international psychoanalysis. The process of stepping out of the shadow of the past and joining the mainstream of international psychoanalytic culture is not easy, hampered as it is by the years of isolation and the many ways psychoanalysis has developed around the world, which have been evolving continually and without major traumas. However, although this has undoubtedly limited us in our development, it also encourages contemporary Czech analysts to raise a new generations of candidates and members who are less affected by the past. Czech psychoanalysis wants to reflect also on positive aspects of the Central European mentality which represented the bridge, the place of synthesis, between many different schools of thought, between the West and the East.


Česká psychoanalytická společnost


Ministerstvo kultury ČR Židovské muzeum v Praze New York University Prague