archives, Australia, contested realities, immigration, Not being believed., Oh well... it happens sometimes and then you just have to deal with it., reaching behind the myth, refugee, source material, The unexpected things you find in archival research
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.