Archetypes / C.G.Jung / History / Science

Female Archetype of Sabina Spielrein – queen or wise women?

This essay is about Sabina Spielrein (1885-1942), female archetype of the Queen (in exile), or Russian Jewish Wise Woman connected with the two leading pioneers of the first hour – C. G. Jung and Sigmund Freud. I like to make the case, that she could have completed a triad in the theoretical development of psychoanalysis – the female wise women archetype – had she stayed Jungian. Thus I will focus on herself and her achievements, rather than on her role in a relationship triangle with Freud and Jung. Sometimes not he (or she) misses a moment of history, but fate or history itself rejects a significant person, choosing a darker alley rather than a great moment. This essay explores Spielreins’s potential and real contribution to psychoanalytic theory and her enigmatic political dimension  after she moved  back  to the USSR, shortly before Lenin’s death in January 1924.

Scope and Structure

Secret Symmetry

Secret Symmetry

Most know from Sabina Spielrein, that she was patient and presumably a lover of of C.G. Jung and later a psychoanalyst herself.  Spielrein, who could have been a decisive Jungian, switched sides to Freud and his soulless materialistic Viennese psychoanalyst school -largely irrelevant and discarded today. It seems tome that Freud (and to a lesser degree C.G. Jung) used and belittled her. Supposedly on advice of Freud Spielrein moved 1923 to Russia, conveniently forgotten by the psychoanalytical community and out of the way. After 1923 she has published only one scientific paper. Freud borrowed freely her ideas, and his daughter Ann assumed her role in child psychology. All what we do know about here later life, is that her brothers were killed by Stalinist purges in the late thirties. Five years later she and her daughters vanished 1942 in a SS massacre on the Jewish community at Rostov on Don, Spielrein’s birthplace. Thus I like answers to following questions on or from Sabina Spielrein:

  • Psychological Dimension –  Female Archetype of Sabina Spielrein;
  • Theoretical work of Sabina Spielrein;
  • C.G. Jung and Sabina Spielrein
  • Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein
  • Sabina Spielrein in Russia after 1923
  • Sabina Spielrein in psychoanalytic history

I have touched the life of Sabina Spielrein in a former article briefly, but will try to approach her in this essay by her own accounts or those of C.G.Jung and Sigmund Freud:

  • Spielreins’s doctoral thesis and her famous publication  “Die Destruktion als Ursache des Werdens” Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen IV. Band 1912  (available as pdf).
  • Her recently discovered diary and letters to Jung and Freud published in  “A secret symmetry” by Aldo Carotenuto (original in Italian).
  • Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung Briefwechsel Freud / Jung Fischer Verlag 1974 (also available by Princeton University Press);
  • The second must-read scholarly analysis, “A Most Dangerous Method” by John Kerr, 1993.

In order to get more historical and evidential context  I used:

  • History of the Bolshevik Revolution  by von Rauch (Wiesbaden 1955)
  • Historical Analyses around location and time listed in the reference section. Rostov on Don is located 500km (300mi) from the current Crimea  Crisis area.  The city, occupied by German troops twice, saw the first major retreat of the German forces in WWII on their way to Stalingrad.
  • Finally Marton’s somewhat dry documentary My Name Was Sabina Spielrein (2002) and the juicy edutainment  “A Dangerous Method (2011)” by David Cronenberg which may also be called a “A Marketable Distortion”. When dealing with historical characters, freedom of art does not allow a severely distorted portrayal.

Please bear in mind this is an essay not a scholarly work, be the judge if Sabina Spielrein could have been a successful Jungian instead a Freudian  who fell between all chairs, the two major psychoanalytic schools and cynically purged by both major totalitarian systems.

The triangle –  Jung – Spielrein- Freud interaction

jung sabina freudThroughout his life, Freud experienced competitive feelings in male-female-male triangles (John and Pauline; Wilhelm Fliess and Emma Eckstein ; C.G. Jung and Sabina Spielrein) with a male intimate companion.   It is perhaps ironic that when Sigmund Freud – who lived by the psychoanalytic theory that sexual desire was the prime driver for human beings – found out his young protégé, Carl Jung, was having an extra-marital affair with Sabina Spielrein. Sabina Spielrein, seems not the only female patient with whom C.G. Jung had an relationship, he was a decidedly heterosexual man of impressive stature, but it seems this one was serious by nature. In Spielrein’s letters she writes about wanting to have a “Aryan-semitic” child, and as she tests actually Freud’s theory with thos of C.G. Jung it seems that really this is meant on a a metaphorical level – merging the two complete different psychoanalytic systems together.

Freud was viewing Jung as protégé and innovative and original heir to psychoanalysis. Jung, however, soon questioned some of the basic tenets of Freudian theory. Freud’s reaction to the defection of Jung, and later that of Alfred Adler, was to close ranks and further guard his theories. C.G. Jung’s view fit nicely to contemporary thinking, that innovative conservatism, which is called for to protect freedom -and- the world environment as well as western heritage. C.G.Jung’s cultural roots were decisively neo-romantic drawn to symbolism and irrationality or at least mystic and he uniquely connected psychology and religion. In politics he questioned democracy and rejected socialism preferring elitism – like Nietzsche which is quoted extensively by Spielrein. Jung criticized also the rationalistic, “disenchanted” view of the world, Freud’s hostility against religions and contradicted him on many theses. Freud was to one-dimensional and a product of a special, narrow and bourgeois short overcome period, Freud not Jung became mainstream, Spielrein deserted Jung and of course Freud’s materialistic view appealed to the left.

Psychological Dimension – Female Archetype of Sabina Spielrein

Until 1980, Sabina Spielrein was represented in the work of Sigmund Freud in the psychoanalytic literature by four footnotes; also it is mentioned several times in the Freud-Jung correspondence (1974). Through her relationship with Jung, Sabina Spielrein had a direct effect on Jung’s own ideas, particularly the Animus. She was his first and prototype of Anima.  Her second paper talks about the death instinct a concept that Freud would later adapted as part of his own theory. These marginal existence, in psychoanalytical history only changed when you have a box of highly interesting material discovered late seventies during renovation work in the basement of the Palais Wilson in Geneva from the early days of psychoanalysis. Aldo Carotenuto, a Jungian analyst, was notified and immediately recognized the importance of the matter. It was Sabina Spielrein’s namely correspondence with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and her diary.

Her diary and her letters to Freud and Jung constitute the greater part of  the book “Secret Symmetry” of Mr. Carotenuto, a Jungian analyst and a professor of psychology at the University of Rome. There are also a number of letters from Freud to Spielrein, but, most unfortunately, the Jung family will not release Jung’s letters to her, although Carotenuto has been allowed to quote from them.

The subject –  her diary



Over 25 years ago, diaries of Sabina Spielrein and letters she received from Jung and Freud were found in the basement of the Wilson Palace in Geneva (the Psychology Institute where she worked used to be there).

The documents were published for the first time by Italian psychoanalyst Aldo Carotenuto. He understood that the discovered materials would once again confirm the liaison between Jung and his patient, his subsequent pupil, that Freud was also  involved there quite sinisterly. Carotenuto (either out of gentleman’s solidarity, or because of his respect to the founders of psychoanalysis) supplied the letters with polite comments.  The diary covers the years 1909 to 1912. They paint a picture of a bright, young completely healthy young woman concerned with her doctor thesis. It is also a good account to her time growing up, and shows also it seems the typical conflict of young Jewish female if they fall in love with a Christian man.

Sabina Spielrein fell deeply in love with Jung during her treatment, a love that she knew must remain secret due to his marriage and the ethics of his profession. Jung was first attracted to Spielrein at Burghölzli. In the records at Burgholzli Hospital on his treatment of Spielrein, Jung wrote an entry in his own handwriting on January 29, 1905. He states that he had visited Spielrein the previous night, “reclining on the sofa.” He describes her manner as “oriental” and “voluptuous,” and her face as bearing “a sensuous, dreamy expression” (Covington and Wharton, 96.) Both Spielrein and Jung’s feelings for each other continued to deepen in subsequent years. They shared a passionate interest in psychoanalysis that further bonded them.

The object – Letters between C.G. Jung and Sigmund Freud about “Die Kleine”

Hidden Censorship

Hidden Triple Agenda – Jung and Freud writing about Sabina

Spielrein’s mental health “affliction” appeared at age seventeen, although she had been beset with problems throughout her young life. She was taken to the ( Burghölzli) Burgholzli Treatment and Care Institution (or Psychiatric Clinic) in Zurich on August 17, 1904. Spielrein became the first patient of Carl Jung, ten years her senior. She remained an out-patient in treatment  with Carl Jung for years after her hospital discharge June 1, 1905.  Jung wrote to Freud in October 1906 (one of their first letters (4J and 5F), seeking his opinion about a “severe case” he had involving a young female Russian student. During the course of her treatment, Sabina Spielrein became the friend and then most likely mistress of Jung. So almost one year later, in June 1907 he had to ask for advice again, telling Freud that Sabina Spielrein had made inappropriate demands to have a child with him and since he declined was badmouthing him. Indeed  the letters to Jung speak of an Semite-Aryan child ,she wanted to have with him, but that seems purely metaphorical. Freud responded professional, saying in essence that is the risk of their trade. Later the stormy love affair between Jung ans Spielrein that continued until the spring of 1909 was discussed between them. To what degree the relationship was sexual remains an inclusive subject. Jung eventually ended the affair, to save his marriage and his career. A rumor was maliciously circulated in Vienna and Zurich about an affair he allegedly had with a student. Initially, both Jung and Freud thought Spielrein was the origin of the scandal as an act of revenge against Jung for ending their relationship.

Together, Jung and Freud plotted against her, later it seems Freud plotted against Jung. The next milestone was a letter from Freud to Jung in October 1911 telling him that Freud had admitted Spielrein in his Psychoanalytic Society (273F).  From that on about 10 letters refer to Spielrein#s publication in the context of an inferior pupil and an afterthought. Both men refer to her as “Die Kleine” with Jung always emphasizing how much work ans support she needs to correct her publications. Freud and Jung mostly share quite destructive criticism of her. In a letter and of march 1912 (F311) Freud  gives Jung a hint that he discussed with Spielrein same “intimate things”  with her (about her relationship with Jung).  After that the tone between Jung and Freud (and vice verso) becomes frosty and only few letter were exchanged.

The Symbol – history and culture

We are faced with the peculiar finding of psychoanalysis, the well-founded belief in the healing power of recollection, has been persistently objected in its own historicization.  Handing down of a wrong diagnosis – severely disturbed person with or with out sexual undertones – ensures that in the hagiography of psychoanalysis everything remains the same.

The recent very Freud friendly movie “A Most Dangerous Method” put her gain in the category “sexual troubled” (not sure if pervert or liberated was suggested) focusing at a shallow relationship  triangle story  – sex sells. The juicy sex scenes seem to be dreamed up totally, as the most explicit you may find in the letters is “writing poems together. The history of psychoanalysis is littered with the discarded psyches of the women whose diagnoses were key to the fame of the great masters. One such woman was Sabina Spielrein.  At least Elisabeth Márton´s film “My name is Sabina Spielrein” relates, re-stages and remembers the tragic story of Spielrein’s life as gleaned from a box of her papers discovered in 1977 in the cellar of Geneva’s former Institute of Psychology.

Sabina Spielrein, even after her death, fell victim to the severe struggle for affirmation of positions in  hierarchy or political viewpoints. Several years ago a work by Peter Kuter under the title Modern Psychology was published in Germany. The scientist depicted a genealogical tree of the psychoanalytical school and mentioned Sabina Spielrein. Russian scientists were astonished to see that when the book was translated into Russian in 1997 in St.Petersburg, the Spielrein was dropped off the genealogical tree.

As always, history is the story of the past, told for present purpose, but the purpose stayed. the same and the patient psychoanalysis is not healed.

Achievements of  Sabina Spielrein

In 1911, Sabina wonderfully defended a thesis on the subject “On psychology of material on one schizophrenia case”. The same year, she delivered a report “Destruction as the cause of formation” at one of the popular Freud’s “Wednesday” sessions. It was that session when Sabina expressed the idea of a strong connection between Thanatos and Eros, the instinct of death and the instinct of creation (and species survival).
Spielrein has been considered by some as the model for Jung’s concept of the anima. She deepened both Jung and Freud’s understanding of transference and counter-transference. The relationship between Jung and Spielrein  demonstrated that a therapist’s emotions and humanity could not be kept out of the psychoanalytic relationship between analyst and patient. Freud claimed as cold materialist, using science as shield and serious front-end, psychoanalysts would be able to function from an objective and neutral position in their work. C.G. Jung spiraled in the most productive crises after his split, (with Spielrein and Freud),but eventually stabilized  became an accomplished empirical psychoanalyst  and continued to have outside affairs with pupils and colleagues (next  in line was Toni Wolff).

It is hard to explain the oblivion into which Spielrein fell until recently. Neither Ernest Jones in his standard work on Freud (1953), nor Peter Gay’s magnum opus, Freud (1987), nor even Nancy Chodorow, who wrote on the contribution of women to psychoanalysis (1987), mention her in their writings. Her primary role in child psychology has been wrongly attributed to Anna Freud or, alternatively, to Melanie Klein.
Despite of that, Spielrein pioneering work in their specialty area child analysis have remained unnoticed. In psychoanalytic reception still Freud’s daughter Anna or Melanie Klein is regarded the founder of child psychoanalysis At this time twenty-five publications of Spielrein were published, ten of them dealing with  child-analytical issues. We must ask ourselves: What forces are at work here and foreclose psychoanalysis from remembering and historicization of their origin mythology?

The making of a psychoanalyst

Sabina Spielrein enrolled in the spring of 1905 at the medical faculty of the University of Zurich and rents a room in district, which is called on Zurich « Russian colony ” Although Sabina Spielrein does not need to worry financially, their years of study in Zurich are difficult and overshadowed by her relationship with Jung. It has become more complex , oscillating between therapeutic relationship , idealized teacher – student relationship , friendship and love affairs. In the winter semester 1910/11 Sabina Spielrein concludes the study of medicine. In her dissertation , she examines “the psychological content of a case of schizophrenia ( dementia praecox )”, which was the first psychoanalytic dissertation of a woman. It proves Spielrein linguistic sensibility and talent in capturing and deciphering of unconscious mental processes.The text was published 1911 as first dissertation ever in the ” Yearbook for Psychoanalytical and Psycho-pathological Research ”  .

The summer semester spends Spielrein in Munich, where she writes a comprehensive meta-psychological speculation. The theme develops a theory that the sex drive consists of two antagonistic components a ” creative” and a ” destructive instinct “. The text ” Destruction as cause of becoming ” will be 1912 also published in the prestigious  Yearbook  side by side with an article of C.G. Jung.  It is a common misconception, that her most famous publication entitled Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being which was published in 1912, is Dr. Spielrein’s doctoral dissertation. Although praise and multiple references to her by C.G. Jung, the article fell into obscurity, and her ideas were taken by Freud.

In April 1912 Sabina Spielrein returned to Rostov and married the Russian-Jewish doctor Pawel Naumovich Sheftel, but the couple moved to Berlin , where Sabina gives birth in December 1913 to her first daughter. Shortly after the beginning of  first World War II , we find her again in Zurich and Sabina Spielrein spends her last three years in Switzerland  in Geneva. She published several articles in professional journals and lectures on psychoanalysis and education at the Institute Rousseau and works clinically and makes training analyzes of , among others, Jean Piaget . In the autumn of 1923, Sabina Spielrein leaves Switzerland for Russia to return to her family from where she never returns.

C.G. Jung and Sabina Spielrein

In the summer of 1904 her parents sent Sabina to the Burghoelzli mental hospital in Switzerland; the diagnose was mental hysteria (debilitating hysterical/sexual complex). When she was first admitted, Jung described Spielrein as being unable to look anyone in the face, keeping her head bowed and sticking out her tongue ”with every sign of loathing” if anyone touched her. Attacks of depression alternated with weeping, laughing and screaming. The eighteen year old girl Sabina Spielrein and a thirty year old unknown doctor C. G. Jung started as of a patient-doctor relationship with a powerful transference and counter-transference between Spielrein and Jung. Jung was troubled by the strong emotions his former patient stirred in him and sought out advice on the matter from Freud, thus beginning their correspondence and relationship. Being convinced of the ideas of Sigmund Freud, he applied methods of the psychoanalyst from Vienna on Sabina for the first time. Jung described success of medical treatment of the young Russian girl with usage of these methods in letters to his friend and teacher.

Jung didn’t conceal the fact that Sabina fell in love with him (it is frequent in medical practice when female patients attribute features of a hero, father or God on their doctors). He wrote, the girl “sincerely” told she wanted to give birth to his son whom she wanted to name Siegfried. The liaison between Sabina Spielrein and Carl Gustav Jung lasted for five years. It may be that these relations turned out to be some kind of a catalyst for C.G. Jung scientific development and luring Sabina Spielrein away from Jung. Freud wrote to Sabina: “We will be happy to meet you even further if you wish to stay with us, but you must learn to discern the difference between friends and enemies (I mean Jung).”

The medical treatment went successfully. In a year Sabina felt perfectly well, and the head physician of the clinic and boss of C.G. Jung, famous psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler allowed Jung to let his patient to enroll at the Zurich University medical school for studies.

Letters between Spielrein and C.G. Jung

For years Spielrein moved endlessly, seemingly incapable of settling anywhere or with anyone. Meanwhile, says Kerr, ‘Jung was busy making her immortal.’ In the years following the First World War, Jung developed a means of categorizing the conscious. He invested the Anima with all sorts of qualities, some exhilarating and some dangerous which, Jung wrote, he’d recognized in ‘a woman… a patient, a talented psychopath who had become a living figure in my mind’. Jung’s Anima model was Sabina Spielrein.

Spielrein corresponded with Jung until at least 1919 and with Freud until 1923. The published letters cover the years 1911 to 1918 with forty six letters from Jung (only quoted unfortunately not released) and twelve of Spielrein. The topics are strictly of psychoanalytical content.
Jung was married with two children, and it is clear that his relationship with Spielrein was inappropriately intimate (whether it was sexual or not is not proven).  Jung and Spielrein’s letters discussed theory at length. Just as Jung and Freud became increasingly distrustful of each other and possessive of their ideas, so too did Jung and Spielrein.

When he read her university dissertation on schizophrenia Jung told her, ‘I am surprised by the abundance of excellent thoughts, which anticipate various ideas of my own. But it is good that others see things the same way as I do.’

He commented on to her next paper, ‘Destruction as a Cause of Coming into Being’ (written immediately after she graduated with top honors),  ‘As I read your paper I find uncanny parallels with my own new work.’  Spielrein clearly exploded, for his next letter exclaims, ‘You are upsetting yourself unnecessarily again!’ His reassurance that, ‘your study is extraordinarily intelligent and contains splendid ideas whose priority I am happy to acknowledge as yours,’ is undercut by his assertion that, ‘I express myself so differently from you in my work that no one could imagine you had borrowed from me.’

Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein

Spielrein also sought help from Freud, initially requesting a consultation with him in 1909, but Freud declined due to his discussions with Jung about his relationship with Spielrein. Spielrein eventually met Freud in Vienna in October 1911. He was greatly impressed with her.

In autumn 1911 leaves Zurich and moves to Vienna to work with Sigmund Freud. Spielrein became an elected member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. She is now twenty-five. The minutes of the club meetings show that they vividly involved in the discussions and lectures. Freud earns to appreciate and even sends her patients. There has always been a question about the extent of the relationship between Freud and Spielrein on many levels, and also about just how much of her work Freud may have adopted as his own, giving her little or no credit. Dr. Spielrein’s life ended in obscurity when she was only 55, Freud continued to increase in stature and reputation.

At that time, Freud listened to the report of the young psychoanalyst indulgently and said the speech was “logically well-composed”. Only in several years, he himself expressed the dual theory of attractions; at that he didn’t refer to Spielrein’s report delivered in 1911, that anticipated Freud’s later ideas of attraction to death. In 1930, when Freud once again mentioned his former resistance to the theory of attractions, not a single word was said that criticism of that kind was given in response to Sabina Spielrein’s article.

Letters between Spielrein and Sigmund Freud

The published letters cover the years 1909 to 1920 with twenty letters from Freud (fortunately included) and two of Spielrein. The first May 30th 1909 reads like a job application. The next is already an request to mediate between her and C.G. Jung. The last fragments talks about her about “declaring her self to “our (Psychoanalytical) Society” a “treachery which Dr. J. cannot forgive”. She first wrote to Sigmund Freud in 1909, met him in 1911 in Vienna, and continued meeting and corresponding with him at least until 1923, to some eventually developing into more of Freudian than a Jungian in her work.

A women which wants to make it, has an affair with her analyst which happens to be also important for her psychoanalytic career. She consults 1909 another analyst – which happens to be the psychoanalytic father disappointed from his heir – to help sort out her ensuing problems. A tricky situation, for the analysts even and especially if the analysts were Jung and Freud in a love hate relationship. Spielrein continued to correspond also with Jung and Freud during this time, despite the destructive split that occurred between the two men in 1912.

In a 1909 letter to Freud she writes: ”Four and a half years ago Dr. Jung was my doctor, then be became my friend and finally my ‘poet,’ i.e., my beloved. Eventually he came to me and things went as they usually do with ‘poetry.’ He preached polygamy; his wife was supposed to have no objection, etc., etc.” By 1909 Jung was trying to separate from her emotionally but continued to see her and gave her help with her dissertation. In 1910 Spielrein records that at one time Jung gave her his diary to read and said that no one else could understand him so well as she did. Then he abruptly alters his tone, addresses her formally in letters and signs himself ”Dr. Jung.” Spielrein confides in her mother, who has received an anonymous letter which says that Jung is ruining her daughter. Her mother writes to Jung, to whom she is obviously grateful for the great improvement in her daughter’s condition, begging him ”not to exceed the bounds of friendship.” Jung writes back an appalling letter.

Spielrein then writes to Freud asking to see him. As usual, Freud behaves outwardly correct. He writes to Jung requesting information. Jung reveals that Spielrein is a patient about whom Freud knows something already, since not only was she the subject of a lecture given by Jung in Amsterdam but she was also the person referred to in an earlier letter to Freud in which Jung complained that a woman patient had ”kicked up a vile scandal solely because I denied myself the pleasure of giving her a child.” Jung goes on, ”I have always acted the gentleman towards her, but before the bar of my rather too sensitive conscience I don’t feel clean. …” In a subsequent letter, Jung reveals that he has seen Spielrein again, that she was not the author of the rumors he had attributed to her and that he himself was to blame, not only for encouraging her but also for trying to defend himself ”in a manner that cannot be justified morally.’

The Freudian Case against Spielrein

The reappearance of Spielrein ‘s diaries , letters and  scientific publications in the eighties were not taken on by the Freudian psychoanalysis as kick-off to revitalize memory. Rather, Spielrein was subsequently honored with a distorted , one-sided form diagnosis  of severe mental disorder , a psychotic who broke with reality. Aldo Carotenuto called it ” veritable schizophrenic episode ,” Bruno Bettelheim a ” schizophrenic disorder ” or a ” severe hysteria with schizoid features ” ; Max Day spoke of ” borderline “. Happily Freudian took C.G. Jung (!) as witness , who presented the “Case Spielrein” at the International Congress of Psychiatry and Neurology in 1907 in Amsterdam.

A closer look shows that Sabina was not the lunatic ill patient not, as today’s analyst – about Carotenuto, Bruno Bettelheim or Max Day – want to make us believe. Sabina has been able to exploit the situation in Burghoelzli and developed a perspective that suited their preferences and their talent. So Jung and Spielrein got over a rapidly developing crisis. Soon after she sits  – herself still patient – on the doctors table, participating in the clinic’s health studies and deals with diagnosis. It shows a remarkable success of Jung’s theory and practice – and that some very gifted psychoanalyst have crises on her own. C.G. Jung was smart enough to forbid the document of his crisis during lifetime, probably aware of the dangers of an “vicious psychoanalytical community” as a friend of mine, a Jungian psychoanalyst, liked to refer to both psychoanalytic schools.

Conflicts of and between Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung

Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung  began  to correspond with each other in April 1906. During the next seven years they corresponded regularly , usually at intervals of a few days. This extensive correspondence of approximately 360 letters  has been published 1974  for the first time. The  Freud–Jung relationship dominated the history of the psychoanalytic movement, until relations were finally severed early in 1912. If you read their published correspondence today, it is impossible to distinguish issues of passionate friendship, academic rivalry and theoretical conflict in their relationship. Freud was explicitly looking for a son and heir for the psychoanalytic movement. Jung seemed both to be seeking a father figure for his psychic security but soon rebelled against him.The overlay with letters from Spielrein show remarkable ambitious women whom seems to have used her special talents to consciously or unconsciously deepen the conflict between the two alpha men. Its pure speculation, but I could envision both men were happy when she left Switzerland and was no trouble anymore. If so, for very different reasons.

The major Player- Jung, Salome, Elijah

The major players in the Red Book- Jung, Salome, Elijah

After years of exchange differences between Jung and Freud became increasingly evident 1912. Besides the professional dissent the conflict comes to a head until the opposites finally be unbridgeable. It is exciting to witness based on the selected documents the inevitable entanglement to its tragic failure. As with the correspondence between Spielrein, Freud and Jung the correspondence between Jung and Freud has become essential to understanding the evolution of psychoanalysis – and the virtually insurmountable challenges facing woman who sought to contribute in any role other than that of patient, pupil, wife, daughter, lover or groupie with or without scientific credentials. But also the vicious underpinnings of the “publish an perish” science. Both man belittled Sabina Spielrein and she after she switched sides, Spielrein became dangerous to Jung and was used by Freud.  Freud, an utterly correct pedant could not resist mention Jung’s philandering and Jung had not scruple to step in the psychoanalytic society after Freud had to emigrate.

For Jung , Spielrein’s company as patient, pupil and lover in those days may have triggered partially his career breakthrough but surely may have led breaking away from Freud. In “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, Jung seemed to indicate that all his most important insights stemmed from his unconscious fantasies in the years 1913–18 during his creative illness after the break with Freud and Sabina Spielrein. Certainly, at this point, his former patient Toni Wolff became a necessary substitute to him.  Toni Wolff became the established mistress and important collaborator. During this crises  Jung created the Red Book, published posthumous much later, which was to together with the Seven Sermons to the Dead, the seed of his work. Jung was plagued by visions of blood, an underground river with a blond male corpse, a scarab, a red new sun in the prelude to the First World War. A brown-skinned man  told him to
kill the hero, Siegfried. A fantasy figures of Elijah accompanied by a young girl, Salome taught him about the importance of the unconscious. A number of studies have noticed what is pretty evident if you studay the Red book, that, in Elijah and Salome, he had versions of the two important people he had just lost, Freud and Sabina Spielrein. For Spielrein the separation has been a disaster which has still has consequences today.

Sabina Spielrein in Russia after 1923

Spielrein eventually married the Russian Jewish physician Pawel Naumowitsch Scheftel on June 14, 1912; they had the first child in Berlin daughter in 1913. During World War I, Spielrein continued to live in Switzerland while her husband remained in Russia fighting with his regiment based in Kiev.

Sabina would have made a wonderful career if she had made it there stayed in Europe.  But in 1923, on recommendation of Sigmund Freud, Sabina Spielrein got back to Russia. For 1.5 years she lived in Moscow, then she moved to Rostov, where she lectured at the University and worked as a doctor.
Only few in the Russia or her hometown Rostov on Don, where Sabina was born, studied and later perished, know details of her private life and scientific activity. The woman is still a mystery, even now and despite the fact she always involved with public figures  as friends, doctors or teachers.

Freudian bloom

Sabina Spielrein

Sabina Spielrein

From 1914 to 1923 Dr. Sheftel had lived with Olga Snitkova with whom he fathered daughter Nina in Russia while Sabina married lived an worked in Switzerland..In 1922 her mother died. In 1923, yielding to calls from parents, brothers and husband, as well as to Freud’s urging her “to accomplish important work at the side of Wulff and Ermakov” in Moscow, she returned to Russia.
In spite of the mantle of Freud and successes in Moscow, e.g., lecturing and teaching at the State Psychoanalytic Institute, as head of the section on child psychology at Moscow University and had an appointment at the State Psychoanalytic Institute and co-worker at the State Children’s Home and Laboratory “International Solidarity,” Spielein abruptly returned to Rostovand reconciled with her husband Sheftel  in 1924 and in June 1926 their second daughter Eva was born. The Bolsheviks printed Freud’s writings. Under patronage of Trotsky, the Russian psychoanalysis (strictly speaking Freudian) experienced at the beginning of the twenties a short bloom. The Bolshevik revolution, already ruthless by Lenin’s design, succumbed after Lenin’s death to evil and inhuman Stalin. Under his rule, the USSR degenerated into a brutal tyranny of its own, aptly symbolized in George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm”.  After the brilliant Leon Trotsky (chosen by Lenin as his successor) had to emigrate to Mexico, all intellectuals in the Soviet Union were in great danger. Trotsky was killed 1938 with an ice pick by a Stalinist agent, in Mexico-City. Intellectuals, who stayed, had either to adapt totally and opportunistically or perish in a niche. After 1925, when Stalin began repressing psychoanalysis, would have been risky. Spielrein worked as school medical psychologist. Spielrein must have chosen the latter, she moved from Moskow for Rostov on Don, from then on working mostly practical-therapeutic.

Recently discovered personal information sheet of the Soviet People’s Commissariat of National Education , ” Narkompros ” , confirm that Spielrein had from September 1923 three appointments : as a research assistant at the State Psychoanalytic Institute in Moscow, as pedological doctor in the town of the Third International (a type of children’s village ) as well as Head of the Section of child psychology at the First Moscow University. In Moscow Spielrein founded together with Ivan Ermakov Dimitrievitch and Moshe Wulff, the first Institute for Psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union. It was also the first state psychoanalytic training institute in the world.  1921-1924 of the Psychoanalytic Institute experiments were performed with liberal collective education in early childhood in the orphanage Laboratory, which served the ’68 movement as a model for their sexually charged socialist children shops.

Communist Terror

Spielrein brothers had become successful scientists.Then psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union was prohibited.  It was a hard life, Sabina aged rapidly, a bent woman, wearing old-fashioned clothes and shoes. The husband died of a heart attack in 1937. Thereafter Spielrein made a friendship pact with Olga Snitkova to take care of each other’s children in case one predeceased the other. Her middle brother Isaak was interned in Stalin’s concentration camp in 1935 never to return; brothers Jan and Emil were shot as enemies of the state in 1938. Father Nikolai died of grief in 1938. Isaak’s wife and daughter Menikha (see below) survived in Central Asia.
So all three brothers of Spielrein were arrested and killed under Stalin’s reign of terror  by the National Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) : Academician Isaak Spielrein, researcher of labor psychology in the Soviet Union, Emil Spielrein, dean of the biology department in the Rostov State University, and Ian Spielrein, dean of the electrotechnical department in the Moscow Energy institute.

The many deaths of Sabina Spielrein –  unreliable sources

Aldo Carotenuto assumed 1982 in his book “Secret Symmetry” Spielrein’s death year around 1937 which would connect hers to the fate of her brothers. Spielrein’s death may remains a mystery to me at least in the web – which comes up with three dates for her death but no real proof.

  • According to many web articles “Swedish journalist M. Ljunggren”, had discovered her fate. I have found no primary sources for this on the web yet. I did find a David Ljunggren, a journalist who speaks English, French, Russian and was stationed from 1989 to 1995 in Moscow where he covered the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • In the book, “Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis” it is written that Dr. Ljunggren supposedly brought evidence that she was killed 1941 – which would be during the first occupation which lasted only eight days.
  • There is indeed a Magnus (M) Ljunggren, who professor for Russian literature. In the book of Andre Karger / Christoph Weismüller (Editors) “Ich hieß Sabina Spielrein – Von einer, die auszog, Heilung zu suchen” he contibuted a chapter about Sabina und Isaak Spielrein.

However, the only base (and a credible one too) of all those repeated inaccurate net claims seems to come from Henry Zvi Lothane or Henry Lothane,  a clinical professor of Psychiatry, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He wrote in a short paper that the wive and  Isaak’s wife and daughter Menikha survived in Central Asia. According to him  Menikha Isaakovna a physiologist and biochemist, was discovered in 1982 in Moscow by the Swede Magnus Ljunggren. Menikha Isaakovn had a perfect command of German. Henry Zvi Lothan quotes now a letter of Menikha Isaakovna in 1994:

“In November 1937 I decided to travel to Rostov, to my grandfather. Sabina asked me whether I believed what was being written in our newspapers about the cruelties perpetrated by Germans. She added, she had lived for many years in Germany and could not believe what is being printed in our newspapers, since she knows the high level of the German culture, of the people who gave the world Goethe, Heine, Schiller and many well known and outstanding people. I told her that I believe what was written about the Germans, I told us many stories and gave us underground literature from Germany, publications with descriptions of Nazi crimes. Obviously, I was unable to convince her. Cut off from contacts with the West, Spielrein did not know what was going on in Germany nor was she aware of Jung’s boundless admiration for the Nazis, inspired by Hitler’s Mein Kampf, aired on Radio Berlin in 1933.

The first occupation of Rostov during WW II lasted for 8 days in November of 1941 whereupon the Germans were repulsed by the Red Army. On July 27 1942 the Germans reoccupied the city. Last time Spielrein was seen in August marching with her daughters in a long column of some 27,000 Jews towards the immense Zmeyovskaia ravine, on the outskirts of Rostov: all were gunned down and thrown into the mass grave, where a museum now stands. Some commentators saw in Spielrein’s staying there as acting out her death instinct, a case of wild analysis, trivializing her martyrdom. In the hospital she wrote her last will: on her grave an oak be planted in her memory with a sign “I was once a human being and my name was Sabina Spielrein” while another inscription read: “And let young life play at the entrance of the tomb and let indifferent nature shine with outer splendor”.

A lot could be said to “Jung’s boundless admiration for the Nazis, inspired by Hitler’s Mein Kampf, aired on Radio Berlin in 1933” –  here an absurd formulated claim.  A single interview was used in rouge claims more than once to smear C.G. Jung  largely unfounded. But this is not the topic – if you are interested in facts regarding this see here and here. Jung was certainly not ‘a Nazi’,  as he did not give support for their policies. I take the view of the  Jungian theorist Andrew Samuels, who has written extensively on this aspect of Jung and concluded that, Jung’s lifelong struggle against the influence of Freud was, tragically, behind a good part of his offensive comments on Jews. In retrospect I believe that Jung was willing to engage with what was unfortunately an European Zeitgeist in order to gain the upper hand for his theory.

In any case, of all the unfounded rumors about Spielrein’s death in her many historizations, Henry Zvi Lothan’s quote smells genuine and plausible, but it has to be noted, it reads like second or even third hearsay of an unknown source. There is a gap – Menikha seems not have stayed in Rostov between 1937 and 1942. The eye-witness account had been later obtained and may be very well a conscious or unconscious myth.

Fascist Terror

In any case, it is possible even likely, that Sabina Spielrein met a tragic end in her hometown 1942 if not by Stalin’s purges. As a strategic bridgehead, Rostov suffered in World War II  twice the occupation by the German Wehrmacht. It is a fact, that when Hitler’s troops conquered the strategic city on 27 July 1942 the second time, tens of thousands of civilians were killed. According to repeated copy cat web entries Sabina Spielrein was last seen by neighbors in the summer of 1942 , supported by her two daughters, Renata and Eva, in a group of Jews. It is another fact, that during the occupation civilians and captured Red Army commissars were driven through the streets to the outskirts ; there, in the deep gorge that is called Zmiyevskaya Balka (the Snake Gully) they were killed by men of command 10a from the “Einsatzgruppe D”. Mainly consisting of Security Police and the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) as well as Gestapo, this special non-military forces were mobile and partly stationary ideologically trained mass murders, reporting directly to  SS leader Heinrich Himmler.  In accordance with different sources, there are 18-27 thousand people in that common grave, and each of them was with his individual story. Sabina Spielrein with her daughters Renata, 29, a talented cellist, and Eva, 14, who could have become a wonderful violinist shared this fate. Her husband had died a few years earlier..

It has been also said  that in the years after the first occupation of Rostov, that even in 1941 Sabina Spielrein refused to leave the native city or to hide.  She explained the decision not to leave Rostov to the second wife of her husband. Before the war, the abandoned women understood perfectly well that each of them may be sent to the Soviet GULAG camps, that is why they agreed that the one who remains alive will bring up all children.Scientist Movshovich studying history of the Rostov region wrote: “By the time of the second occupation of Rostov, Spielrein very likely had already no illusions anymore”. However, all the same she refused to save her daughters: a friend of Sabina’s offered to give forged documents to the girls as they could have passed for Armenians. It is a mystery why Sabina Spielrein several times rejected methods of salvation.

Sabina Spielrein in psychoanalytic history

Compared to other sciences and professions, psychoanalysis appears quite open to the participation of women. This is especially true for the early period, as the way of the role of the analysand to the profession of psychoanalyst not very far and not once was unusual. In the history of psychoanalysis is Sabina Spielrein, however vain. In Ernest Jones’ standard work “Sigmund Freud” (1953) she is not recognized; in Peter Gay’s magnum opus, “Freud” (1987) she is only briefly mentioned in the context of Freud’s concept of the death instinct. Nancy Chodorow, dealing at least with the “contribution of women to the psychoanalytic movement and Theory” (1987), forgets her completely.Ellay Zaretskey drops her name four times, with Jung having a affair, together with Piage, as female psychoanalyst in Russia and one sentence about her death (without date and source).  The more the writer is leaning toward Freud, the more she is deliberately minimized, it seems. Almost like zhis is an act of repression, which is well-known defense mechanism according to Freud. Repression acts to keep information out of conscious awareness. However, as always memories about Spielrein don’t just disappear; they continue to influence the behavior of the psychoanalytic scene. Maybe they this consciously by forcing the unwanted information out of our awareness, which is known as suppression which is most likely. The last movie, “A Dangerous Method”,  makes  a romantic soft porn out of her story. After that movie many articles came up, but nobody seem to value her publications or even bother to read them.


There are many parts of Sabina Spielrein’s life that remain a mystery and there is continued controversy regarding specific dates and activities in her life .  She faced many obstacles, both because she was a woman working in a predominantly male profession and because she was Jewish during a period of violent antisemitism. Not only her tragic death cut short a life of promise, but it also seems even more her decision to move to the Freudian branch, which has been connected to the political left. Lured by the false promises of revolutionary  communism to Russian intellectuals  and her subsequent relocation to the USSR maybe by bad advice,  silenced her voice and relieved the scientific community of an inconvenient and outspoken competition.

The psychoanalytic concept of repression is based on the axiom that an earlier event A suppressed by a later event B. Thus, event A obtains new meaning and now unfolds pathogenic effect. For this operation, the concept of ” deferred action ” was coined. The question of the displacement can be applied to the history of psychoanalysis itself. One could say: First, Sabina Spielrein was forgotten. There were plenty of reasons. She reminded the psychoanalytic movement inevitably on the traumatic break between Freud and Jung in 1913. Spielrein was also an independent and rather odd person who did not allow scientific apparatchiks clamp their interests on her. She repeatedly kicked the structures of alpha males (and their groupies). She did not (want to) understand the rules of international psychoanalytic association, and with regard to questions of scientific priority did not bother with dangerous rivalries like Freud’s daughter Anna. She didn’t make it in the West and moved to the even more dangerous settings of the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. Sabina Spielrein, even after her death, fell victim to the severe struggle for affirmation of positions in psychoanalytical hierarchy or political viewpoints.


  • Carotenuto, Aldo. A Secret Symmetry: Sabina Spielrein Between Jung and Freud. New York: 1982.
  • Kerr, John. A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. New York: 1993.
  • Spielreins’s doctoral thesis and her famous publication “Die Destruktion als Ursache des Werdens” Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen IV. Band 1912 (JdP_IV_1912_1_SpielreinJung).
  • Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung Briefwechsel Freud / Jung Fischer Verlag 1974 (also available by Princeton University Press)
  • Henry Zvi Lothane, MD The real story of Sabina Spielrein: or fantasies vs. facts of a life
  • Karen Hall, Sabina Spielrein in the Jewish Women’s Archive
  • Ellay Zaretskey, Secrets of the Soul New York: 2004

Selected Works

Spielrein published thirty psychoanalytic papers in French and German. The majority of them have not yet been translated into English. Her two most significant works were her dissertation on schizophrenia, which contributed greatly to understanding the language of schizophrenics, and her second work, “Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being”. As you can see after her reconciliation with her husband 1923 in Russia she wrote only one more paper.

  • “Über den psychologischen Inhalt eines Falles von Schizophrenie (Dementia Praecox).” Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen (1912): 3:329–400;
  • “Die Destruktion als Ursache des Werdens.” Johrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen (1912) 4:465–503;
  • “Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Kindlichen Seele.” Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse und Psychotherapie (1912) 3:57–72;
  • “Mutterliebe.” Imago (1912) 2:523–24; “Selbstbefriedigung in Fusssymbolik.” Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse und Psychotherapie (1913) 3:263;
  • “Traum vom Vater Freudenreich.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychotherapie (1913) 1:484–486;
  • “Das unbewusste Träumen in Kuprins Zweikampf.” Imago (1913) 2:524–525; “Die Schwiegermutter.” Imago (1913) 2:589–591:
  • “Der vergessene Name.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1914) 2:383–384;
  • “Tiersymbolik and Phobie bei einem Knaben.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1914) 2:375–377;
  • “Zwei Mensesträume.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1914) 2:32–34;
  • “Ein unbewusster Richterspruch.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1915) 3:350;
  • “Die Äusserungen des Oedipuskomplexes im Kindersalter.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1916) 1:44–48;
  • “Das Schamgefühl bei Kindern.”Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1920) 6:157–158;
  • “Zur Frage der Entstehung und Entwicklung der Lautsprache.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1920) 6:401;
  • “Das Schwache Weib.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1920) 6:158;
  • “Verdraengte Munderotik.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1920) 6:361–362;
  • “Renatchens Menschenentstehungstheorie.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1920) 6:155–157;
  • “Russische Literatur.” Bericht über die Fortschritte der Psychoanalyse 1914–1919, Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag (1921);
  • “Schnellanalyse einer kindlichen Phobie.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1921) 7:473–474;
  • “Briefmarkentraum.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse, (1922) 8:342–343;
  • “Qui est l’auteur du crime?” Journal de Geneve 2 (January 15, 1922);
  • “Die Entstehung der kindlichen Worte Papa und Mama.” Imago (1922) 8:345–367;
  • “Schwiez.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1922) 8:234–235;
  • “Rêve et vision de étoiles filantes.” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (1923) 4:129–132;
  • “Die drei Fragen.” Imago (1923) 9:260–263;
  • “L’automobile: Symbole de la puissance male.” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (1923) 4:128;
  • “Ein Zuschauertypus.” Internationale Zeitschrift für ärztliche Psychoanalyse (1923) 9:210–211;
  • “Quelques analogies entre la pensée de l’enfant, celle de l’aphasique et la pensée subconsciente.” Archives de psychologie (1923) 18:306–322;
  • “Einige kleine Mitteilungen aus dem Kinderleben.” Zeitschrift für Psychoanalytische Pädagogik (1923) 2:95–99;
  • “Die Zeit im unterschwelligen Seelenleben.” Imago (1923) 9:300–317;

During her time in the USSR and posthumous

  • “Kinderzeichnungen bei offenen und geschlossenen Augen. ” Imago (1931) 16:259–291;
  • “Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 39 (1994) 2:155–186;


  • “Ich hiess Sabina Spielrein (My name was Sabina Spielrein)”. Sweden: 2002.
  • “A Dangerous Method” by David Cronenberg: 2011