By Harold P. Blum and Eva D. Papiasvili



  You are invited to join us in our reflections of the memorable psychoanalytic adventure in the birthplace of Sigmund Freud.   A blend of, at times serious, at times a bit humorous account, this report contains the input of many other voices, and the authorship could more correctly read: by the Symposium Participants. As a matter of style, we have referred occasionally to the two of us in the third person.  However, we wish to assure everyone that we do not usually speak of ourselves this way.

            The SYMPOSIUM  “PSYCHOLOGICAL BIRTH AND INFANT DEVELOPMENT” was held in Pribor, Czech Republic on August 4-5, 2013, immediately following he IPA Congress in Prague. Co-sponsored by the Margaret Mahler Foundation and the Sigmund Freud Archives, the Symposium was oversubscribed and required all the resources of the small town of Pribor and some of the resources of adjacent towns of Hukvaldy and Koprivnice.

During his first three years and five months, which he spent in Pribor, Sigmund Freud was known to everyone as “Sigi”.  Pribor is the place of his pre-Oedipal and the beginning of his Oedipal years, his “psychological birth”, and his infancy. As he would later come to postulate, those would be the years most difficult to re-discover, reconstruct, and imbue with meaning. 

The Symposium emphasized psychoanalytic and developmental theory, comparing and integrating Freud’s own memories and reconstructions of his early childhood with new historical data and contemporary theories. Little Sigi’s early life in Pribor was to become an inspiration for our further dynamic and developmental thinking.  

To accomplish this, a prominent international faculty was enlisted, as was an international organizing committee with additional teams of volunteers that included the Pribor Society of Sigmund Freud, which would facilitate production of the Symposium on the Pribor-Czech side.  After almost two years of intense transatlantic communications, some 130 of us set out for Pribor. 

Who is “us”? 

We are a diverse and inclusive group: several presidents and vice-presidents of the IPA (past and present); editors of psychoanalytic journals; presidents of national psychoanalytic societies; directors of institutes; training and otherwise seasoned analysts; analytic candidates and “analytic pre-candidates”  - the future of psychoanalysis (many of whom, at the Symposium’s close, proceeded to enlist in analytic training); and several scholars in related fields.  We come from 20+ countries.  Many of us trace our own roots to this part of the world.

There is also among us the great granddaughter of Sigmund Freud Jane McAdam Freud, an internationally acclaimed artist in her own right; and a representative of the US Embassy in the Czech Republic Robert Zimmerman, who would end up buying the marionette of Sigmund Freud, made by a local artist, to display at the US Embassy in Prague.

Founded by a Royal Decree in 1251 C.E., the picturesque town of Pribor sits in the midst of the unspoiled beauty of the Lassko/Valassko region of the Beskydy mountain range of Moravia.  A place of extreme seasonal temperatures, the summer heat sometimes reaches 40 C (102 F) and is commensurately unspoiled by air conditioners. The extreme summer temperatures of 2013, according to the Royal Climatological Society, were likely comparable to those of the 1850’s – Sigi’s years in Pribor. 

To say that Mother Nature does not overly coddle the children of Pribor would be an understatement.  Those of us who resort to a tad of psychoanalytic humor under these conditions of “detachment from familiar urban comforts”, are looking forward to our accelerated growth produced by this  “womb” or “greenhouse of Pribor”. 
One hundred thirty miles north of Vienna and one hundred eighty miles east of Prague, the town counted only about 4,500 inhabitants of whom 3% were Jews, at the time when Freud family lived here. In addition to Freud’s father Jacob and his mother Amalie, there were his half-brothers Emanuel and Philip, and Emanuel’s wife Maria and their children John and Pauline, who were Sigi’s playmates.

Today, Pribor lives by Sigmund Freud’s awakened legacy:  There is Sigmund Freud’s statue, Sigmund Freud Square, the Sigmund Freud Museum, and the restored Sigmund Freud’s Birth House with his plaque and a bronze replica of his analytic couch.

Cultural Program and Reception
On the eve of August 4, at 17:30/5:30 pm, under colorful Symposium banners flying over the entrance to Sigmund Freud square, the ensemble “Ostravica”, in traditional costume, has assembled. Pribor town officials, the officers of the Pribor Society of Sigmund Freud, and 50% of the Symposium participants sit on sun-drenched benches. Local residents, who know better, cool off under the stone arcades lining the square. 

Unfazed by the one hour delay of the buses bringing the rest of the analysts, and after confirming that the football/soccer match at the local club starts much later (“only an idiot would play anything in this sun”), Pribor residents agree to wait and join the 50% of Symposium participants in displacing their frustration onto the heat: “We are all cooking in it together.”

At  18:30/6:30 pm, the buses with remaining 50% of psychoanalysts arrive and the ensemble starts performing the music and dances that inspired composer Leos Janacek’s “Lassko Dances”.  Everybody on the square – the dancers, singers, musicians, sound technicians, local residents, Symposium participants and town officials are immersed in the experience.  Nobody mentions the heat anymore… (“What heat?”).    

The evening continued with the invocation speech and the toast by the Mayor of Pribor Milan Strakos, followed by the  “wine and canapés” reception for everyone at the historical Baroque Piarist College, now the Freud Museum. 

Scientific Program of the Symposium
In the morning of August 5, at 9:30 am, a number of dignitaries graced the opening of the Symposium, introduced by Harold Blum, Chair of the Symposium, and Eva Papiasvili, Chair of the Organizing Committee. Robert Zimmerman, Senior Representative of the U.S. Embassy in the Czech Republic brought up a provocative issue about the goals of psychoanalysis: are there any limits to adaptation? Stefano Bolognini, the President of the IPA, in his heartwarming video address, highlighted “the sense of continuity between the past, present and future as intrinsic to psychoanalytic vision and culture”.  Martin Mahler, the President of the Czech Psychoanalytic Society spoke of the origins of psychoanalysis in the Czech Republic and the reciprocal enrichment of the Symposium in its Pribor venue.  Harold Blum, the Executive Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, spoke of the concept of the Symposium as a contribution to the development of psychoanalysis in its birthplace and as a fitting sequel to the IPA Prague Congress. Marie Supova, the President of the Sigmund Freud Society of Pribor issued the welcome to the “First Intercontinental Psychoanalytic Meeting in Sigmund Freud’s Birthplace” on behalf of the Pribor citizenry.

The Symposium then proceeded with a series of original papers and discussions, addressing various aspects of early development.

Vaclav Burianek’s paper “Paradise Lost and Trauma Mastered” presented new data in the life of little Sigmund, a window on his early object relationships and the influence of the surrounding culture. He proposed that the development of psychoanalysis represented Freud’s creative mastery over his early traumas experienced in Pribor, and a sublimation of his wishes for the return of the idealized Pribor Paradise. Any parallels with our own motivation to become psychoanalysts?        

The paper of Anni Bergman “Attachment and Separation-Individuation: Two Ways of Looking at the Mother/Infant Relationship” was fashioned as a unique longitudinal study of the multifaceted relationship between the Attachment, Separation, and Adult Adjustment, as demonstrated over time in the life of two sisters. It was presented by its editor Linda Mayers .

The panel of “Multiculturalism, Multilingualism and the Birth of Psychoanalysis” contained two papers:

First, Martin Mahler explored the wider socio-cultural background of the origins of psychoanalysis. He observed that psychoanalysis was born within the liberal Jewish community of central Europe and built by marginal people, who thrived on otherness. Creative transformation of conflicts between orthodoxy and assimilation, and between Hebrew and Classical Greek traditions may have been among the sources of inspiration for the birth and evolution of psychoanalysis.

Then, Eva Papiasvili highlighted the aspect of Freud’s pre-symbolic and early symbolic development and traced how the “Ursprache” of Pribor pressed behind other symbolic codes throughout his life’s work. Weaving together multiple meanings of words in his original writings, she proposed that Freud’s access to a variety of symbolic codes, crucial for his discovery of the unconscious and of psychoanalysis, was initially facilitated by the nanny who spoke with him in Czech and exposed him to Liturgical Latin, in addition to his family’s Yiddish and German. 

Otto Kernberg, speaking on “The Relationship between Neurobiological and Psychodynamic Development”, proposed a general developmental frame that integrated the psychoanalytic theory of development, with neurobiological aspects of development – particularly social cognition, the theory of mind, and the complex issue of empathy.  Clinically highly relevant was his reformulation of the concepts of interpretation, mentalization as well as structural change, for Borderline conditions. 

Harold Blum, speaking on “Reconstructing Freud’s Prototype Reconstructions”, stipulated that the process, depth and complexity of Freud’s initial reconstructions dating back to October 1897, are a hallmark in the evolution of psychoanalysis and the history of ideas.  He proceeded to highlight all elements of Freud’s early life with his parents in one room they rented from the landlord in Pribor.   Documenting how Freud anticipated current concepts of ambivalence, splitting and object relations before drive and affect theory, he affirmed the overriding developmental significance of his mother Amalia.  Freud likely displaced and split-off aggression away from his mother onto his father Jacob, nursemaid(s), and nephew John.
Haydee Faimberg, in her discussion of Blum’s paper, stressed the  “après-coup” aspect of reconstructions, as exemplified by Freud’s analysis of A. Kardiner.

Informal discussions among the participants and faculty began during the first coffee break and continued through lunch and into the streets. Plenty of momentum was organically generated for the three afternoon discussion groups.

The “Art in the Life of Sigmund Freud” group was led by Jane McAdam Freud and Adele Tutter. As per Linda Mayers and Elsa Blum, the lively discussion developed about various kinds of artistic expression valued by Freud, including his preferences in art in terms of period, medium and content. The group felt Freud seemed drawn to art to which he could attribute meaning, based on its symbolism. Other considerations included Freud’s interest in landscape architecture as being an example of “hide and reveal”; his “silent communications” with his sculptures and the relaxation of having a different audience after listening all day; as well as the use of his objects as his  “ witnesses”.

Charles Hanly and Haydee Faimberg co-led the “Reconstruction” group.  Harold Blum reported the spirited interchange revolving around the themes of memory, various retrospective and prospective processes, operative throughout the life span, and the sources and validation of data for reconstruction.

Vaclava Probstova and Eva Papiasvili co-led the “Socratic” roundtable discussion on “Multilingualism and Multiculturalism in Psychoanalysis”. Vaclava, Martin Mahler, Marco Conci, Antonio Corel, Eva and others shared enriching experiences of working in a “second” or “third” language. To the relief of those in the room who until this point considered themselves “sadly mono-lingual”, it was observed that unconscious communication presents still another language altogether, and in that sense, we are all conducting psychoanalysis in a multilingual context. 

At the close of the Symposium, Marie Supova led a private tour of the restored Sigmund Freud House and the Pribor town square, including the churches young Sigi frequented on Sundays with his nanny. Both, the Freud House and the church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary were opened off-schedule just for us, with Marie successfully prompting the organ master to give an impromptu performance of a Bach Toccata and Fugue to which young Sigi might have been exposed. 

Quiet in Freud’s Birth House
As experienced by many, and verbally expressed by Harold Blum, reading and thinking about the complexity of the Freud family life in one crowded room, could not substitute for the actual experience: “ The sights, sounds, movements, smells, vibrations, physical and emotional resonance of life in this confined space, with no running water or plumbing, came to be experienced forcefully only while being there…” Analysts were taking their time; quietly climbing the stairs, and watching their colleagues do the same, taking in both, the absence of personal space, and the increased closeness, in silence.

Nobody wanted to leave. Czech Television and the press, discretely present throughout, finally got their interviews. The analysts continued with their animated reflections, well into the night, sitting on benches and on stone walls.

The aftermath
Responses from participants started coming several days after the Symposium and, as of this writing, have not yet ceased.  The examples describe a “Pribor-unique” experience:  “An extraordinary meeting….” from Paris; “…how much I got out of it….” from New York; “…fantastic, incredibly successful, astonishing…” from Prague; “…got to know…friendly people and a rich culture…and my colleagues in a deeper way….” from Toronto; “…absolutely amazed by the atmosphere that was created in Pribor and the openness of both the presenters and the participants! True peak experience …”, from Prague; “.…an explosion of knowledge of…Freud’s history…connecting with my own roots,  my history, and the current state of psychoanalysis…” from Chicago;  “I enjoyed meeting your group…It was an honor…My warmest regards…” from the US Embassy; “…an atmosphere of unifying and integrating…an invitation to continuity…without destructive tendencies…mothering was more than good enough…” from Prague.  “…Pribor alive with activity…a second coming of Freud! He was born in Pribor all over again at the Symposium…” from Jane McAdam Freud, back in London.  “…Perhaps the most important event I have ever been to…” from Helsinki, echoed from Prague, “…I do not remember that any professional meeting would leave me with such a deep impression as this Symposium in Pribor…”.  “I continue to enjoy, remember, reflect and integrate the rich Symposium…the experiences of the presentations and the experience of the town… I have continued to ‘harvest’ that experience ever since… The whole experience has made me even more aware of the unique mind Freud had, … very evocative for my own receptivity to my patient’s and my own understanding of ‘history’…”,  from Beverly Hills in California.

Metaphorically, the Symposium in Pribor could be viewed as a multidimensional  “après-coup”, “nachtraglichkeit”, the back and forth “deferred action” in its own right. The parallels of discovering the roots of Sigmund Freud, of psychoanalysis and of ourselves, were reverberating, both explicitly and implicitly, throughout.   

As if the Symposium acquired a life of its own, the reality of it surpassed our wishes and hopes, and we feel a deep sense of enrichment and gratitude.



The authors of emails’ excerpts above: Barbara Burrows, Vaclav Burianek,  Haydee Faimberg and Antoine Corel, Jane McAdam Freud, Tomas Havelka , Norman Kohm,  Aira Laine, Martin Mahler, Tomas Perich, Norbert Riethof, Leigh Tobias  and  Robert Zimmerman.  We also thank others for countless similar communications, which already cannot be published here, for reasons of space limits.

Symposium pictures courtesy of: Elsa Blum, Vaclav Burianek, Anita Katz, and David Papiasvili



 The Lawn of Yellow Dandelions where little Sigi possibly played with John and Pauline (referring to one of the screen memories). Photo courtesy of Vaclav Burianek  Sigmund Freud Square - View from the tower of the Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary. Photo courtesy of Vaclav Burianek    Sigmund Freud Square – View from the ground entrance of the Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary. Photo courtesy of Vaclav Burianek  Cultural Program: The Ensemble "Ostravica" performs in Sigmund Freud Square. Photo courtesy of Elsa Blum  Analysts sitting in Sigmund Freud Square, watching the Ensemble  “Ostravica” perform.  Photo courtesy of Vaclav Burianek       
 Gathering at the Reception Hall of the Piarist College – Sigmund Freud Museum. Photo courtesy of Vaclav Burianek  Audience listening to a presentation in the Cultural Hall Auditorium.  Photo courtesy of David Papiasvili    Sigmund Freud’s statue by sculptors F. Navratil and Z. Makovsky.  Photo courtesy of Elsa Blum  Vaclava Probstova, Martin Mahler, Otto Kernberg and Leon Wurmser in front of Sigmund Freud’s Birth House. Photo courtesy of Vaclav Burianek  Anita Katz on the bronze sculpture of Sigmund Freud’s analytic couch, in front of Sigmund Freud’s Birth House in Zamecnicka (Locksmith) Street. Photo courtesy of Anita Katz