When the building burned down… Drummond Street Relationship Centre, Melbourne, 2000-2001 OR… Some questions about managing the frame in the time of Covid.


In these terrible days of Covid19,  when everything is under threat this little bit of history from my days at Drummond Street Relationship Centre in Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria comes to my mind.  “Drummond Street” formerly known as the Citizen’s Welfare Service of Victoria and, before that, as the Melbourne branch of the Charity Organisation Society of London,, has a long history of psychoanalytic work with couples and individuals. From the late 1970s Social  Workers were the main providers. Many of them were supported by Melbourne’s psychoanalytic community including members of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis.

One sunny day at the end of a long summer, just as the universities were about to open,  a terrible event occurred… and one that challenged what I had been taught about the management of the psychoanalytic frame… How does one think when the building in which one works is burned down. How do people cope when they have lost their space? I put this reflection forward for consideration… not because I know the answers. But this is what I remember of what was in my mind, then…


In late February 2000, at 9.00 am one Tuesday morning, I arrived at my workplace, a government funded counselling and therapy organization, to find that a fire had destroyed its interior overnight. I can still recall the fire engines. The boss was looking rather stunned and people from everywhere had gathered around. My precious notes, preparation for a couple therapy training course I was presenting that afternoon were trapped in my office on the third floor…There was not a chance that I would be allowed in. The stairs were falling down.

The organization’s employees were clinicians practicing psychoanalytic couple and individual psychotherapy. The damage was extensive. The buildings were not usable for over a year while repair work was carried out. ‘Drummond Street’ was a large three storey mansion created from three conjoined  terrace houses  built during the 1890s Melbourne property boom. They were linked together by a corridor. The arsonists had planned their hit well. They had set the fire where it would do the most damage.  I do not know the motive. My colleagues and I fantasized about a neighborhood dispute over a car park at the back of the building. At the very least the Fire was a massive intrusion into the therapeutic space we had all developed with patients. It is not as if the reality of the event could not be spoken about. We also had to continue to work with our patients through this disaster.

Be that as it may. In the weeks before we were able to secure another building for our work the fire raised a question for all of us… What was the organization? What is the therapeutic space? Where is it located? What is the nature of the space between patient and therapist/ analyst? And what is the relation of the physical space of the consulting room to the interior world created by the patient and analyst together? For is it that relationship and the meaning of it for the patient, and the analyst,  the real phenomenon that can bring relief and change. My analyst at this time was very helpful as I delineated these issues for myself. Had the organization died in the fire? Or not? There were some in my collegial group who said it did. Was the organization the building? And what happens when there is no building, or physical space, a consulting room, to symbolize the analytic relationship?

What did analysts do in the London Blitz when their buildings were damaged if not obliterated? Today the virus confronts us with similar questions as we quarantine ourselves and our practices and go online.

The theories we use these days have emerged from experience… Some people are not gifted with the capacity for theory…others are… it is something that Melanie Klein pointed out.

In these troubled times when so much is at stake as the virus moves through our communities as much as we try to prevent it… it offers an opportunity to explore this question about where, and how, psychoanalysis is located and managed.

Foraging in the Geroe archive: Finding Aileen Palmer’s lost thesis


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Archives are relicts of a life. Bits of paper, shopping lists, advertising fliers for stoves, oil heaters and cars, personal messages and notes, are clues to the day in day out matters that people think about. Clara Geroe’s archive has many such things, all tossed into a suitcase and left for posterity. One smiles to discover a note in Geroe’s handwriting scrawled upon the back of some learned paper:  ‘Would you like to dine with us tonight?’ To whom was it addressed? Probably the person was sitting next to her, both of them lulled into boredom by some psychoanalytic conference speaker or other. Was it the end of the day? Or just after lunch with another three lectures to go? Did she disagree with the speaker? Or had it  occurred to her that she had forgotten to extend that particular invitation?

These are the little things found woven into correspondence from colleagues, poems, a paper for her interest, books, pamphlets and even a recipe collection. Archives are treasure troves of oddments. Some discoveries are totally astonishing and unexpected.  Archive work is a risky business.

In her early years in Australia Geroe’s English teacher, the author and literary critic Nettie Palmer, introduced Geroe to her family: Vance, her husband and a leading Australian author, and her daughters, Aileen and Helen. It is a side story in Sylvia Martin’s excellent biography of Aileen Palmer, Ink in her Veins. Geroe, a  cultured woman, and deeply interested and knowledgeable in literature and the arts, may have appreciated the Palmer’s friendship. Aileen Palmer’s work during the Spanish War, and her driving ambulances in England during the blitz, would have been known to Geroe. Aileen Palmer also studied French literature at the University of Melbourne and wrote a thesis on Proust. At the time of publishing her book, Martin said, no copy of the thesis was to be found. When Aileen broke down after her return to Australia from London, it is possible the Palmers sought advice from Geroe. Martin discusses Aileen’s hospitalization and psychiatric treatment at length. For a time she was a patient of Geroe’s – something Martin also discusses in her book. Perhaps Aileen liked Geroe enough to give her a copy of her thesis. Maybe it was a forgotten loan only to turn up almost thirty two years after Palmer’s death in Geroe’s archive…

Here is the link to Aileen’s story retold  in Martin’s piece, The Lost Thesis, ‘published last week in the online journal,  ‘Inside Story’.


Geroe family archive goes to the State Library of Victoria -its final destination


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Finally after almost eighteen months of waiting, the State Library of Victoria has completed its extensive renovations. It is ready to receive Clara Lazar Geroe’s archive together with those of her husband, Vilmos Geroe. I had custody of these boxes of material while waiting, and of course, researching. But it was also a worry, particularly as the bushfire season hit. The boxes were safely stored in fire resistant storage units but… what if….? One lot of 18 boxes, as much as could be carried in the vehicle, was taken away ten days ago. The remaining 12 boxes were collected yesterday. I slept well each night following. Looking after such an important collection is a responsibility.

We know that Clara Geroe, Australia’s first training analyst, qualified in Hungary in 1931. She kept her membership paper, a study of the analysis of a young girl with anxiety neurosis,  articles she wrote while studying neurology in Budapest, publications made later when she was working as a child psychoanalyst. She had to leave her library behind when she came to Australia but brought a few precious items including a copy of Alice Balint’s original ‘Psychoanalysis of the Nursery’. Copies of Imago, articles and papers written by Hungarian colleagues, were stored alongside her drafts of papers and drafts of drafts. And of course there were letters, fliers, circulars, and all the bits and bobs of her world. How interesting it was to find the original program for the 1936 Olympics, for example. Was it a quick dash over to Berlin for the event? Most probably. And a diary of a journey through Austria in 1929. There is, of course, material about psychoanalysis in Australia, the original reason for my interest. But the condiments to this,  that make up a life, are irrevocably threaded through the boxes.

Willi’s work as a travel agent complements his wife’s work. He acted for members of the Hungarian community from Melbourne, on their trips home after the war. He focussed on Africa as a destination, and kept ever so detailed notes of everything he did.

We must pay Homage to Willi Geroe and his and Clara’s son George for the preservation of this archive. Alongside Clara’s basic sorting, Willi gathered things together, sorted and bundled everything together. He was something of a hoarder it seems, or was he a meticulous if not obsessional collector of information. Tax returns from 1940 onwards were all bundled together,,, and conveyed to the library..

This is a gathering of interest to scholars of immigration, culture and psychoanalysis across the world.

‘They could not take my soul’…Lydia Tischler 2017 – and inpatient psychoanalytic treatment.

The British based child psychotherapist, Lydia Tischler, is an editor of the classic text: The Family as In-Patient: Working with Families and Adolescents at the Cassel Hospital. The Cassel Hospital in Kingston upon Thames, was originally established for the treatment of shell shock patients during the Great War. Under the directorship of psychiatrist Tom Main who developed the practice of psychosocial nursing, the work evolved into psychoanalytically orientated inpatient treatment of families. 

Tischler and her group also had an effect in Melbourne, Australia. During the late 1980s the Melbourne Clinic in Richmond in Melbourne under the directorship of Dr Brian Muir, a psychoanalyst, who came from Britain and the Cassel Hospital for the job. He was the head of the adolescent and family unit there during the 1970s.  Joan Christie then the Clinic’s Director of Nursing, and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, was also involved. Patients with multiple and complex problems can need the supportive structure of the hospital in their psychotherapeutic journey. At least for a time. Some people with complex presentations cannot be worked with without such support. Their emotional world, so fractured by early, and accidental experiences, requires the consistency and availability of a safe secure environment.  As Marion Milner noted in her book, ‘The Hands of the Living God, an account of the analysis of a woman lasting more than twenty years, psychoanalytic treatment can enable the living of a productive life. Otherwise means a considerable demand on the public purse. It is one part of a complex policy debate over treatment efficacy, evidence and as others have pointed out, the reluctance of psychoanalysis to represent itself. 

The workings of the Melbourne Clinic project and the factors contributing to its ending are matters for historical research. I get the impression, at least as far as my memory goes, that this was an exciting and hopeful moment for psychoanalytic practice in this country. Why it ceased I do not know. 

These musings and  memories surfaced at the moment when I discovered Lydia Tischler’s interview online. Published in 2017 she speaks of her early life, the family’s arrest by the Nazis and the loss of her mother. Mengele’s nod to the right was enough to seal Lydia’s mother’s fate. Lydia Tischler was nodded to the right.

‘They could not take my soul’, she says.

Here is this most moving of interviews.   https://youtu.be/3lpTceEE3d8

Freud Conference, Melbourne, May 2020


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Each year on the third Saturday of May, in that space between autumn and winter,  Melbourne hosts the Freud Conference at the Melbourne Brain Centre in Parkville.  It was begunin about 1982 by a group of academics from the University of Melbourne,students of the late Professor Alan Davies. and the founders of the Melbourne Psychosocial Group. Among them were the philosophers, Douglas Kirsner and Ron Gilbert. Together with the political scientist and historian, Judith Brett, the group invited all who were interested to schlepp down to Lorne, a coastal resort a couple of hours  south of Melbourne, for a weekend of wining, dining, and talking about Freud.It featured long beach walks, lectures and time for contemplation, and reading in the final days of the indian summer.

When the conference moved to Melbourne in the early 2000s it became a day event but retained its status as an annual ‘must’ on the calendar, for all who wish to explore psychoanalytic thought and its application to society. Its attraction also lies in the fact that anyone with an interest in the subject can attend. It is not open to ‘members only’ to this or that psychoanalytic organisation, It is a space within which to give and receive knowledge, drawing on local and international developments.

Australia is a long way from Europe and the United States. It is not an easy trip but it is one that has been made often. A peek into Australia’s online newspaper archive will show how often a reporter would troop down to the docks to welcome people from their overseas study trips. Or someone would arrive for a lecture tour. The Freud Conference continues that tradition inviting internationally renowned  guest speakers to stand alongside local ones.  a long Australian tradition of looking outward, and inward, for knowledge development and exchange.

A scroll through the  Freud Conference blog hosted by Chris Hill, from the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australia, gives a taste of the event, and access to the papers that have been presented. Maryanne Prodreka representing the Australian Association of Group Psychotherapists, Ros Glickfeld from the Australian Psychoanalytical Society and Chris Hill constitute the organising committee.

Next year the the conference theme will be ‘Love in a Hostile Environment: Thoughts on the young adult, the couple and the society we live in’.

It is a reason to visit Melbourne too. The conference flier with details about registration etc is here. 

‘The man Who disturbed the world’s sleep’. Sidney J Baker’s review of Ernest Jones’s biography of Sigmund Freud, 1954


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Sidney J Baker’s name began appearing in the book review section of the Sydney Morning Herald from  February 1952, building on his reputation as a  journalist and linguist, he is renowned for his collections of Australian slang. Baker formed the hypothesis that language evolved from peoples’ experiences of their new environment.    In 1941 Baker had received a Commonwealth Literary Grant of 250 pounds to complete his work on Australian slang. Baker’s interest in language also marks appeciation of the transition people had to make from one culture and country to another. He recognized that migration did not mean exact transplantation, but that in the hiving away new developments occurred. From their arrival in 1700 Settler Colonials, the British migrants in a land far away from Home in England, found new words to describe their activites and sentiments, drawing from their own backgrounds and their interchange with indigenous people. Their’s was a singular langauge, indicating the emergence of a separate ‘Aussie’ identity. They were in a land far from their British roots. Baker’s question, at its root, is about how people responded, consciously and unconsciously. Language was an indicator.

His work struck a chord with readers. His books were widely read, he was in demand as a lecturer and commentator. He gained more work in his profession. A look through the Autralian National Lirary’s digitised newspaper collection, TROVR shows that in 1952 he had landed a job as a resident journalist with the Herald. We wsee that every week from February 1952 a feature article apeared, whether it was a book review, commentary on an idea aor further work on language or exploration. His interest in the mind is apparent in his carefully written   article on the history of hypnotism prompted by a Bill then before the British House of Commons.  There is a biographical study to be written about  Baker, who seems to have had left wing views as his article unionisation of art reflects.

Baker was also an editor, the International Journal of Sexology,  published  in Bombay from 1948, a reflection of his long standing interest in psychoanalysis.  It is unclear how he made its acquaintance. It is possible that Lotte Fink, a colleague on the editorial staff of the International Journal of Sexology, responded to his curiosity. Fink’s husband, Siegfried Fink, a Sydney based  neurologist and psychoanalyst, was an Associate of the Swiss Psychoanalytical Society, prior to the family’s escape to Australia. He retrained as a medical practitioner in order to continue psychoanalytic practice in Australia and was a founder member of the Australian Society of Psychoanalysts founded in 1952.

It is not surprising then that the first volume of  Ernest Jones’s biography of Sigmund Freud was *the* Book of the Week in the  the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 1 May 1954. ‘Freud was a man who “troubled the sleep of the world” by probing into the deep levels of human motivation. He was the first man to formulate methods of effecting radical changes in human personality. He explored and charted the unconscious. Herevealed the nature of infantilesexuality.’ Baker goes on: ‘for all the immense importance of these matters, however, Dr. Jones sees his greatest scientific deeds as his development of the “free association method” of analytical treatment and his self-analysis, which began in 1897’. 1897 is regarded by Jones as the ‘acme’ of Freud’s life.

Baker recalls meeting Ernest Jones ‘ a puckish old man and international authority on ice skating’ at a meeting of the British Psychoanalytical Society during his visit to London in 1951. There is is no better authority on Freud, Baker continued. He was the ‘oldest colleague of Freud’s still alive’. Baker details Jones’s account of Freud’s early life from 1856 to 1900, when ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ was published. Baker picks up on Jones’s account of Freud’s travel phobias, anxiety and depression, to wonder for himself about the effect of early experiences in Freud’s life upon his later. And whether it was possible that events in Australia could have had  an influence in Freud’s life. It is an interesting point. Transnational linkages in knowledge, news, trade, and culture have  been occurring for a long time.   Or is it an acknowledgement of the greatness of Freud’s thought he finds reflected in Jones’s work?

Here is Baker’s final paragraph.

Australian readers may find special interest in this study because it seems highly probable that this country had an influence in shaping Freud’s character. It came about this way: His father, Jakob Freud, was a woolmerchant in the Moravian town
of Freiberg when Sigmund was born] in 1856. As increasing sup plies of Australian wool fed the English market, imports from the Continent declined. Freiberg was among the centres affected. Things went so badly for Jakob Freud that, in 1859, when Sigmund was aged three, the family moved first to Leipzig and then to Vienna. Since Freud has taught that “the essential foundations of character are laid down by the age of three and that later events can modify but not alter thetraits then established”,  one may suspect that this event, involving a break with the home of a happy childhood, left a perma-nent mark on Freud’s personality.
The entire review, complete with illustrations,   can be read here.


Baker followed up with his own research. His early psychobiography  My Own Destroyer , a psychoanalytic study of the explorer Matthew Flinders was published by Angus and Robertson in 1962.




BOOKS OF THE WEEK (1954, May 1). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 10. Retrieved December 15, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27518122

FINK Siegfried born 7 March 1893; nationality German; FINK Lotte Augusta, age 41; FINK Ruth Annette, age 7, NAA: A997, 1938/174

“HERALD” SATURDAY MAGAZINE (1952, March 15). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved December 15, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18250066

Cut-Rate Art For Everyone (1952, April 12). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved December 15, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18261550


Anna Freud’s letters to Clara Geroe: another part in a ‘life’.


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Some years ago I submitted a paper to a refereed journal. It was based on an interview about Australia’s first training analyst  Clara Lazar Geroe, with her son, George Geroe. This wide ranging interview was conducted and recorded in the sitting room of George’s home. A portrait of his mother painted by her friend, the Hungarian born Australian artist, Judy Cassab presided, hung above the mantlepiece. The artist’s choice to ‘dress’ Geroe in peacock colours: green, teal, blue purple and yellow,  brought  her gravitas to the fore along with  her love for colour and life. An apt illustration of the liveliness with which George Geroe remembered his mother. He was generous with his time  and eager to contribute his bit to the historical record.

My paper was rejected. The scholar concerned did not agree that significant new source material I cited, or information I had gathered, was based on reality. To put it bluntly. The scholar has since passed away. Things have moved on.

Clara Geroe was attracted to life, colour and bohemia. She loved the city and the cultured coffee houses of 1920s and 1930s Budapest. She had trained as a psychoanalyst with Michael Balint as her training analyst, became a full member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic  Society in 1931 and departed for Australia, in flight from the Nazis, in 1940.  Migration was heart breaking for her. She left behind the people she loved and later learned that many of her colleagues: including the child analysts, Kata Levy, Edit Gyomeroi,  and Eva Rosenberg, had also been forced to find refuge in other countries. Another of these friends was Anna Freud who had fled Vienna with her father in 1938. ‘My mother loved Anna Freud’, George said. She had often spoken of Anna Freud to the family. George described how his mother had sent Anna Freud food parcels during the war; that she had stayed with Anna Freud during her trips to London.

And what had happened to Anna Freud’s  letters to Clara?  George did not know. His father, Willi,  had taken charge of Clara’s archive after her death. Ann Geroe, George’s wife,  was more forthright. Willi had destroyed them, she said.

I still have the correspondence in which the scholar rejected George’s account. He stated that ALL of Anna Freud’s letters were indexed. She had kept copies of everything, he said. That the friendship was Clara’s childrens’ fantasy was confirmed by the lack of letters. Of course they would say they had been destroyed. The fact was, the scholar assured me,  there. were. no. more. letters.

And so the matter rested.

Until this year.

In 2018  Clara Geroe’s papers were donated to the State Library of Victoria and, as I was assisting with this negotiation, the first access was to me. It has meant that the collection has remained with me rather longer than I had anticipated (hooray!) while the State Library finished its renovations. Which it just has.  Soon the papers will be off for cataloguing and eventually public access. Within these thirty  or so archive boxes there are references to Anna Freud in various lectures and a Christmas card or two.  Clara encouraged several young psychologists to study with Anna Freud. There is professional correspondence about these.  But no personal letters are to be found.

George Geroe’s death in February 2019 yielded still more boxes and…


In that batch I found a small yellow enveloped marked in Willi Geroe’s hand, ‘To be destroyed’ after Clara’s memorial service on 21 October 1981. It contains several  letters from Anna Freud written in the 1940s.  Enough to show that there was, indeed, a good friendship between the two women. And that Clara had sent food parcels to Anna Freud during WW2. That Willi may have intended to carry out his plan is signified by what looks like a knife cut across this envelope. Was he interrupted? I do not know. Or did he change his mind?

We may speculate why Willi acted as he did… and why it is that the scholar could not believe George’s account.




‘I am up against a hard task’, Clara Geroe and her papers – a project.

I have been working on Clara Geroe’s archive for the last twelve months. It is a scholar’s joy to touch the papers, to read her writings, the crossings out and rewording, as she struggled to find her way in the English language. Vitally, the State Library of Victoria has granted me a Regional Fellowship – with funds donated by the late Marion Orme Page, to do this. I have been given a gift, an opportunity with time attached to work in a raw archive, discovering stories hidden in the darkest corners ofa suitcase of letters, boxes of reports and a shelf full of books. The library’s resources will complement this collection with others in its keeping. Geroe was not alone in her migration from deep European culture to another perched on a land with a depth of history  they did not understand. Up until the early 1970s Australia’s colonial settlers called themselves ‘British’ even though many were born on Australian lands and had never seen Britain. A sort of turning away from the place they or their forbears had landed.

Geroe’s address books – there are multiple versions – help track her path. European addresses give way to British and Australian, modified again and again. Who she talked to, wrote to and remembered, are significant markers. These are clues to the woman: how she felt about her work and her very lonely task as the only fully trained psychoanalyst in Australia from the moment of her arrival in Melbourne on 12 March 1940. The way she shaped her thoughts and words, her guiding lights, and the people she loved, are part of her story. It follows the trajectory of many women whose emigration was forced upon them. Their arrival in a strange land was an abrupt culture shock. Some disembarked from the ship that brought them, took one look, and returned to Europe. Others made new careers, while others – such as the Melbourne philosopher, Raymond Gaita’s mother, and so movingly recorded in his book, ‘Romulus my Father’, were unable to manage the mental distress of migration. Clara Geroe, as she came to be known, was a highly educated, cultured woman, a product of the avant gard world of Budapest. As a result of Hitler’s rise to power in Europe she became one of a new generation of migrants – a Hungarian refugee in this colonial settler Australian place in the antipodes

Dr G. Lazar Klara trained in Budapest with the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society. She did not have the funds to undertake the training independently, the psychoanalyst Michael Balint explained in an interview in 1966. Instead she was taken on as a patient of the Hungarian Society’s Clinic and became one of Balint’s training patients. The Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytical Association(IPA) shows that her paper, on her treatment of a young girl, presented to the Hungarian Society in 1930, was followed by ratification of her membership in 1931. Geroe’s speciality was ‘pedagogic psychoanalysis’, following the idea that children should be brought up on psychoanalytic principles. Her focus on the treatment of children led to her involvement with the children’s clinic at the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society and later, her work with the Friends of the Children of Hungarian Labourers. In 1938 she was ratified as a ‘Trainer of Pedagogues’ by the IPA.

In her younger years  Geroe was one of a number of women analysts working in Hungary during the 1920s and 1930s. Anna Borgos, a Hungarian based scholar of women in psychoanalysis, shows that Geroe along with Kata Levy, Emmy Pikler, Alice Balint Eva Rosenberg and Edit Gyomeroi and Charlotte Balkanyi and others were in frequent contact with Anna Freud. After their own emigration to Britain, many found positions in Anna Freud’s Hampstead Clinic. Geroe maintained her connection with Anna Freud for many years – seeking and finding support from Anna Freud and, in return, during the bitter years of the war, sending food parcels and gifts for the Home children. During the late 1940s she encouraged several young Australian women psychologists to further their careers in London: Ivy Bennett, Cecily de Monchaux and Maria Kawenowka. Australia’s loss was England’s gain, or in Bennett’s case, the United States. All went on to significant contributions to the psychoanalytic world, choosing to not return to Australia.

“I am up against a hard task’, Geroe wrote in 1940. Her work in Australia was to train analysts alongside her clinical work with adults and children She was, early on, an employee of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis before joining its board in 1945 and moving full-time into her own practice. For the remainder of her life until her death in 1980 she held seminars for students and interested people, gave lectures, and became involved in the New Education Fellowship. In the early years she kept up her work as a pedagogic analyst all the while meeting her commitment to the training of analysts. And slowly, brick by brick, and with the help of others and often enough, opposition, she set up the frame  an institute. What kind of institute it was, and what it became,  and why, will be my focus for the next little while. A book for Routledge  is at the end of it, all going well. That is another gift… and the beginning of this journey. The posts that follow, along with others,  will peg out the process.



Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytical Association, 1930, 1931, 1932.

Anna Borgos, (2018) Girls of Tomorrow – Women in the Budapest School of Psychoanalysis, Norman Libra, Budapest, 2018.

Raymond Gaita, ‘Romulus my Father’, 2008.

Bluma Swerdloff, The reminiscences of Michael Balint. Tanscripts of interviews ( 6.8.1965 and 7.8 1956) Oral History research office, Columbia University, copy in University of Essex Library.






‘Vera Roboz was a follower of Szondi…’

Vera Roboz, nee Groak, is listed as an Australian psychoanalyst in the online dictionary of women psychoanalysts, Psychoanalytikerinnen: Biografisches Lexikon. The web-page Geni shows that Vera to have been born in Budapest in 1912, the third and youngest child and only daughter of Erno Groak, a prominent physician and Irma Groak, nee Pollatstek. Vera’s brother, Bela, born in 1901 and, also a physician, perished in the Ukraine in 1943. Irma Groak and Gyula Groak also died during the war years.Vera and her husband Pal Roboz emigrated to Australia via Vienna in 1957  following the Hungarian uprising against Russians. At that time Pal Roboz was a leading paediatrician in Budapest and Vera, the head of the Department of Criminal Psychology at the Remedial Teacher’s college in Budapest. ( Boros: et al; Psychology and Criminal Justice…)

The Lexicon entry  mentions that Vera Groak was a follower of Leopold Szondi, a psychologist whose theory of fate analysis was predicated on intergenerational transmission of a familial unconscious. Szondi seems to have provided an alternative theory of development to that of Freud and Jung, a third based upon the notion of a familial unconscious.

So who was Szondi?

My account here is drawn from an internet search, and an exploration of Youtube… I am open to correction here and apologize for errors. My acquaintance with Szondi is very new. I have put links to the sources I have used.

Leopold Szondi ( 1898 -1984) was a Hungarian born psychologist and the creator of Fate Analysis and the Szondi Test, a projective test akin to the Rorscharch test. For Szondi human fate is  constituted by the elements as self-, character-, social-, mental-, spiritual- fate. In a short account of Szondi’s life, Dr. Enikő Gy. Kiss from the University of Pecs, notes that”Szondi’s   theory of object choice – „ object choice guided by the ancestors”-, which he later named genotropism, was published in 1937.

Szondi ‘came to the concept of genotropism through the discovery of the choice of illnesses. In pursuance of the research they have gathered data of a thousand child and their fifteen thousand relatives. The examination of family trees had helped him realize the similarities between illnesses amongst the families of spouses. According to his observations the traumas and sicknesses were often the consequences of the familial genotype and not due to other factors. This way the familial heredity is responsible for the sickness of the primarily weak organ. In Szondi’s concept, not only the choice of illnesses but also the choice of occupation, spouses and friends is also due to its familial heredity. These thoughts have lead to the notion of the familial unconsciousness, which is rooted in the latent familial heredity everyone carries along. The familial unconsciousness appears in our choices, and according to Szondi’s concept, our fate is a continuous line of the choices we make”.( Kiss).

Vera Groak appears to have  joined Szondi’s laboratory shortly around the time of the publication of his work “Analysis of Marriages in 1937. An attempt at a theory of choice in love.’ This work even made it into a Sydney based Australian paper called ‘The World’s News’ in 1940. Szondi did not get much publicity in Australia in 1940. News from Europe was hard to get by then. The war was underway.

However the journalist explained it thus:

Dr. Szondy holds that real harmony and understanding between two persons, particularly those who are married to each other and must consequently betogether all or most of the year, year after year, are possible only when the couple belong to the same Instinct Group. That is, they must have suffered through experience or vicariously the same hurts and pains. They must have similar sympathies for those things and
persons to whom sympathy is due. They  must have the same biological urges and psychological suppressions and complexes. And they must have come into the world with the same intuitive instincts, which can only come through genetic inheritance from their forebears. The last is most important of all.


Others in Vera’s group were Ferenc Mérei, Klári Sándor, György Garai, Zsuzsa Kőrösi and Imre  Molnar. Her future husband, Pal Roboz, a paediatrician also joinedSzondi’s  laboratory and the work with disabled children. The training program also involved psychoanalytic treatment, exploring with the patient the meaning of his object and life choices. The intention of freeing the patient from the constraints of  familial unconscious patterns down generations to greater freedom of choice…

In 1944 Szondi went from Hungary to Belsen on the Kastner train. The original intention was for the train to go straight to Switzerland but it was diverted to Belsen where the passengers remained for six months. Eventually after negotiations with Eichmann a ransom was paid for him and the other 1300 odd passengers. The train eventually ended its journey in Switzerland. Szondi lived in Zurich for the remainder of this life.Vera Groak Roboz and her husband appear to have remained in Hungary.

In later life Szondi recorded an interview with Jaques Schott,  which can be found here. It’s interesting viewing, ( with a transcription in German and then. for me, into English, with the aid of an online translation feature)  not least for Szondi’s description of his life’s work. He also remarks upon the criticism he received about his rather Calvinistic approach… implying a sort of asceticism and attempt at anonymity. Overall though, it is an interesting story.