On psychoanalysis in Budapest

The text below was originally published in: Loewenberg, Peter, Thompson, Nellie L. (eds): 100 Years of the IPA. The Centenary History of the International Psychoanalytical Association 1910-2010. Evolution and Change. London, Karnac, pp. 95-106, 2011
With the kind permission of the author.

On psychoanalysis in Budapest
André Haynal (Geneva)

Around 1900, when Hungary was still part of the Habsburg monarchy, it was the first among the non-German speaking countries where psychoanalysis attracted a considerable following. The “Budapest School” is characterized by a number of seminal ideas and independent features, which are epitomized in the personality and the activities of Sándor Ferenczi and some of his followers. The outstanding figure Sándor Ferenczi (1873-1933) was representative of the typical Judeo-Hungarian urban culture in Budapest.  His father had Magyarized the name from Fraenkel to Ferenczi.  He came from a family of immigrants from the then eastern provinces of Austria (Galicia). His father was the proprietor of a bookstore and publishing house in Miskolc, an industrial town in the North of Hungary. Ferenczi spoke Yiddish with his mother and German during his medical studies at the University of Vienna, which meant his cultural background was partly German.

According to Freud, Ferenczi’s works “have made all analysts into his pupils” (1933c, p. 228), adding that it would be „impossible to believe that the history of our science will ever forget him” (ibid., p. 229). As a matter of fact, Ferenczi strongly influenced the whole psychoanalytic movement, especially the practice of psychoanalytic treatments. In Freud’s view, however, “[t]he need to cure and to help had become overpowering in him” (ibid., p. 229; trans. mod.). Nevertheless, Ferenczi opened up new vistas, whose importance is increasingly being recognized. It is because of his influence that the original analytical model of analysis as a series of dream analyses changed to a view of analysis as the process of the development of a relationship in the analytical situation, from the inner perspective of an encounter, and the mutual, interactive relationship between analysand and analyst. Under his influence, psychoanalysis changed from a model, rooted in association psychology and interpretation of symbols, to the experience of an intellectual and affective process and the encounter between an empathetic analyst and his or her patients, rather than a merely rhetorical exchange between the two (cf. Haynal, 2002).

On an institutional level, in accordance with Freud’s views and convictions, Ferenczi was one of the founders of the International Psychoanalytical Association (Jones 1957, p. 173, writes even “actual founder”). Although he had recognized the pathology of such associations, for example he wrote that “in most political, social and scientific organizations childish megalomania, vanity, admiration of empty formalities, blind obedience, or personal egoism prevail instead of quiet, honest work in the general interest” (Ferenczi, 1911, p. 302). He hoped, nevertheless, that psycho-analytically trained individuals would be best adapted to found an association that would combine the greatest possible personal liberty with the advantages of family organisation. For Ferenczi, “it would be a family in which the father enjoyed no dogmatic authority, but only that to which he was entitled by reason of his abilities and labours. His pronouncements would not be followed blindly, as if they were divine revelations, but, like everything else, would be subject to thoroughgoing criticism, which he would accept, not with the absurd superiority of the pater familias, but with the attention that it deserved.” (Ferenczi, 1911, p. 303).

Eighteen years later, recalling that it was on his initiative that the International Psychoanalytical Association was founded, Ferenczi wrote:
It groups all those who are interested in psychoanalysis and who do their best to preserve the purity of psychoanalysis according to Freud and develop it as a separate scientific discipline. On establishing this association I had decided in principle to admit as members only those people who adhered to the fundamental thesis of psychoanalysis [today, personal analysis is also a part of the entrance conditions]. I believed and still believe that a productive discussion is only possible between people who think in the same way. Those who have adopted other basic principles as a starting point would do just as well in having their own centre of activity. (Ferenczi, 1928, p. 428)

Ferenczi was elected in 1918 as President of the IPA, but the collapse of postal and telephone communication in Central Europe forced him to resign from this position. As well, after having launched the first issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, it was taken over by Ernest Jones (1879-1958), his former analysand and future rival. Ferenczi explained “I have therefore asked (…) Dr. Ernest Jones, who from his central geographical position and knowledge of the conditions (…) seemed the most suitable person, to undertake this task, and he has consented to do so, as also to act for me as President of the ‘International Psycho-Analytical Association’” (Ferenczi 1920, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, pp. 1-2). The question of the possibility of his reelection as President of the IPA was raised in the correspondence between Ferenczi and Freud in the end of the 1920s and the early 1930s (Falzeder et al., 2000, letter September 18, 1931 and passim), an attempt on Freud’s part to bring Ferenczi closer again to himself and his colleagues, to give up his technical experimentations in the treatments of deeply regressed patients. Ferenczi refused and Freud opted for Jones (Paskauskas, 1993).
Moreover, Ferenczi, like Freud, was deeply convinced that psychoanalytic training should also be open to non-physicians, an idea which met strong resistance, especially in North-America.
In 1913 Ferenczi founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Association in Budapest. The first secretary was István [Stephen] Hollós (1872-1957). He specialised in the care of psychotics (Hollós, 1926) and became director of the asylum “Lipótmezö” (Leopold meadow). Among the original figures in the early psychoanalytic group in Budapest was Melanie Klein (1882-1960), who, because of her depressive moods, had been in therapeutical analysis with Ferenczi from 1916 to 1920 (Grosskurth, 1986). Encouraged by the latter, while still in Budapest, she began to develop her technique of analysing children’s play. She first belonged to the Budapest -- and then to the Berlin -- school of psychoanalysts, until she eventually found a new home in 1926 in London.  Klein was also greatly influenced by the outstanding figure of Karl Abraham. She was in analysis with Abraham from early 1924 until his premature death in 1925. He was disciplined, exact, respectable, and scientifically oriented, a good organizer with a clear mind – who exerted a fundamental influence on Klein’s theories, including her concept of the “depressive position.”  On the other hand, Ferenczi – who was less reserved, and a charming, charismatic personality, interested in the arts and literature, and full of ideas – impressed her with his therapeutic style of work. She was also influenced by the emphasis he put on the mechanisms of introjection: identification and projection in a relational closeness between the two protagonists of the psychoanalytic encounter. Starting with Ferenczi and the analysts around Klein (P. Heimann, H. Racker), the role of the analyst, his sensitivity and the question of counter-transference came increasingly into focus (Balint, Benedek, etc.).  Moreover, Klein postulated a very early and differentiated fantasy life in the infant, a position which led to intense controversies (King & Steiner, 1991).

Possibly under the influence of Ferenczi – and his personal problem who made him complain about his mother and what he felt as her lack of affection for him – the study of the role of the mother became important in his analytical orientation. This trend of thinking was followed by many of his successors. Perhaps the Budapest culture in general may have been, under the cloak of a patriarchal system, a more ‘matriarchal’ one. The list of analysts of the Budapest school, who were interested in children, mothers, pre-genitality, and direct infant observation, is a long one. For example Alice and Michael Balint, Géza Roheim and others looked beyond oedipal manifestations and investigated earlier experiences.

Of the pioneers with deep interest for the development of children, let us mention Alice (1898-1939) and Michael Balint (1896-1970), and Sándor Radó (1890-1972) furthermore for the initiation of direct infant observation the Hungarian emigrants René A. Spitz (1887-1974) and Margaret Mahler (1897-1985). A late literary testimonial, a reflection and a gleam of this sensibility, is the moving autobiographical description of the extreme traumatism from Nazi thugs suffered by Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész in his adolescence (Kertész, 1975). The investigation of depressive moods was further deepened by Radó and Robert Bak (1898-1974) , among others.

Let us return to the historical development after the end of the First World War. The tragedy of the post-Habsburg years  begins with a short-lived, communist post-war period. The so-called Republic of Councils of Béla Kun in Hungary was followed by the White Terror, whose victims are estimated to number 5,000, among them about 3,000 Jews (Fischer, 1988). Ferenczi writes in this context :

After the unbearable “Red Terror” , which lay heavy on one’s spirit like a nightmare, we now have the White one. For a short time it seemed as if they would succeed in moderating te parties toward a just compromise, but in the end the ruthless clerical-anti-Semitic spirit seems to have eked out a victory. If everything does not deceive, we Hungarian Jews are now facing a period of brutal persecution of Jews, They will, I think, have cured us in a very short time of the illusion with which we were brought up, namely, that we are “Hungarian of Jewish faith”. I picture Hungarian anti-Semitism – commensurate with the national character-to be more brutal than the petty-hateful type of the Austrians.
It will very soon become evident how one can live and work here. It is naturally the best thing for Ψa. to continue working in complete withdrawal and without noise.

Ferenczi to Freud, August 28, 1919, letter 819 in: Falzeder, Brabant, 1996 p. 365.

Imre Hermann (1889-1984) and Michael Balint (1896-1970) were also persecuted, and Ferenczi was subjected to retaliatory measures, particularly expulsion from the Budapest Society of Physicians. Moreover, he also lost his professorship at the University. Due to the political climate in Hungary, many intellectuals, including a number of psychoanalysts, were forced to emigrate:  Charlotte Balkányi, Edit Ludowyk-Gyömröi, Lilla Vészy-Wagner went to London; George Devereux and Béla Grunberger to Paris; Robert Bak, Sándor Feldmann, George Gero, Sándor Lorand, Endre (Andrew) Petö, Sándor Rado, Rene Spitz, and Géza Roheim to New York City, David Rapaport, after a short stay in New York went to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka KS. and then moved to Austen Riggs in Stockbridge Mass ; Franz Alexander and Therese Benedek settled in  Chicago.

 The reestablishment of fascism in Hungary reached its climax with the German occupation on March 19, 1944. It is generally estimated that two thirds of the approximately 800,000 Jews in Hungary (that is, some 550,000), were victims of National Socialism. The Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society mourned the loss of six of its 26 members, and of two of their eleven candidates (Nemes, 1985).

Due to the advance of the Soviet Army in 1944 and the siege of Budapest, the deportation of Jews could no longer be continued. Members of the fascist Arrow Cross Party forced Jewish citizens out of their houses, which were marked by the yellow star, and even those under the protection of foreign embassies, were often rounded up and shot at night on the lower steps  of the stairs along the banks of the Danube.  Hollós and/or his wife would have been killed, too, if – for some unkown reasons, according to some sources perhaps through the intervention of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg – the killing  had not miraculously been stopped. In a letter to Paul Federn, Hollos writes that “Of the “approximately 200 barefoot and half-naked people some 60 had already been forced into the Danube.” (Hollós, Letter to Paul Federn, February 17, 1946 in: Hollos, 1999). Hollós goes on to recount this experience and his immediate reaction to this traumatic situation: “We had to leave the last pieces of our clothing in the house of the Arrow Cross men, stand near the river, and wait until they had finished with those before us. These were clear and unmistakable signs of what awaited us. And despite all that, it did not enter my consciousness that something would happen to me and to my wife. A great alteration of the ego  had to take place within myself, by which the utmost danger lost its significance. […] Through this alteration of the ego, our judgement was so distorted that we believed those henchmen; for they told us they would bring us to the ghetto. […] It lasted a second, and it lasted an eternity. In this sudden fall of my ego I was simultaneously numbed and clairvoyant; I took a sudden, but fundamental look at my life, taking stock” (Hollós, ibidem).

These were unbelievable times, with inconceivable incidents, and incredible gestures. For example, the story of how the Budapest psychoanalyst Ilona Felszeghy, crossed the nearly frozen Danube from Pest to Buda on a provisional pontoon bridge to rescue Ferenczi’s remaining papers from the ruins, and then succeeded in sending it to the West.

A new wave of difficult times followed. After the communists’ rise to power in 1948-49, and under the influence of Stalinism and the repressive cultural policy of Zhdanov, psychoanalysts  – or at least those who stooped to doing so – first had to condemn psychoanalysis as a “bourgeois ideology,“ and then had to  renounce it altogether  in the developing people’s democracies. This was also the case in other countries, for instance in France, where such declarations were issued by analysts such as S. Lebovici, F. Kestemberg, or J. Kestemberg (Bonnafé et al., 1949).

During this campaign against the psychoanalytical “ideology,” the analytical society in Hungary decided at the meeting of the 8th of February 1948 to disband (Szöke, quoted by Meszaros, 2008 p.11). Hermann and Lily Hajdú, former and acting presidents, respectively, were in favour of voluntary dissolution. They shared in the opinion of those who thought that it would be dangerous in this new era to have an independent society with close ties to the West. In any case, about a month later, all other non-communist societies and organizations, from the boy scouts to the chess clubs, were disbanded. With the dissolution of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society, the connection with the IPA was severed, too. 

The truly heartbreaking history of cultural life in Hungary is connected to the deeper and even more tragic history of psychoanalysis under the influence of individuals like George (György) Lukács (1885-1971). The son of a banker, and a widely admired, particularly in France, Olympian, Marxist-Leninist philosopher, who contributed to the atmosphere of ideological denunciations. His personal drama was that wished to be more a Marxist rather than a Leninist. After the revolutionary government of Imre Nagy, in which he served as minister of education and culture, he was deported by the Soviets to Romania. In 1958, unlike Nagy himself, Lukács was not hanged, having made a narrow escape, and could then lecture on the happy future promised by Leninism.  This was the same G. Lukács who, in 1919, had signed Ferenczi’s appointment as a professor in psychoanalysis, but in 1949 wrote that psychoanalysis could no longer be tolerated.

As a symbolic act, a sarcastic satire against psychoanalysis by Gyula Illyés, was staged in a leading theatre in the centre of the city. Psychoanalysis should not be taken seriously any more.

Following the dissolution of the psychoanalytic society a number of psychoanalysts were arrested. It seems that there were several reasons why psychoanalysis in particular was so vehemently attacked:
- Firstly, anything to do with the psyche and human behavior was to be viewed from an ideological standpoint which combined Pavlovianism and the ideology of class struggle.

- Secondly, psychoanalysis was perceived (similar to religion) as a dangerous ideological rival, and was consequently denounced as “bourgeois and decadent.”
- Thirdly, investigations of social phenomena and attitudes,  e.g., the roots of anti-Semitism, as explored in the postwar book by  Imre Hermann (1945) were dismissed as decidedly anti-Marxist, and thus qualified as “unscientific.”
- Fourthly, those who worked with children of the Holocaust, and thus came in contact with Zionists, were viewed as traitors. Many were imprisoned for years for their alleged conspiracy with a hostile foreign movement, among them Székàcs–Schönberger and  András József (in 1953). When the latter was released after years of imprisonment, he was a human wreck and died shortly thereafter. To the end, he refused to talk about anything that he had endured in prison. As early as 1947 Schönberger tried to analyze in a would-be-stimulating paper (Schönberger, 1947) the connections between the works of Freud and Pavlov – naturally, to no avail. Soon afterwards the works of Freud and others were destroyed.

There were even two Stekelian analysts – who had previously not been accepted as candidates by the Hungarian Society – who collaborated with the secret police in (?) the torture of political prisoners (Bonnard, 1954; Mészaros, 2008; Tabajdi & Ungváry, 2008).

Male analysts, such as Hermann, Rajka, and others, took positions in communal outpatient clinics, so as not to be denounced as “work-shy elements.” Married women were able, given the secure income of their husbands, to conduct a few analyses, mainly with children (Mészaros, 2008).

The history of psychoanalysis in Hungary has been called a “history of horrors.” The fate of the Gimes family, for instance, is a tragic drama of Shakespearean proportions. Miklós Gimes sen., died in the deportations of 1944. In 1945 his wife, the analyst Lilly Hajdú-Gimes, following her son and her daughter, enthusiastically joined the Communist Party. She became the director of the aforementioned asylum, “Lipótmezö,” from 1953 until 1956. After the events of 1956, she had to step down from her position as director of the psychiatric clinic. Her illusions of the communist ideals were shattered, and so was her courage to face life. In the course of the regime’s retaliatory measures

after 1956, her son, who after the War had been a communist journalist but had sided with Imre Nagy and the reform communists, was sentenced to death as one of those accused in Imre Nagy’s trial and was executed in 1958. Her daughter and her family (Gimes’s son-in-law and four grandchildren) managed to escape and fled to Zürich, Switzerland. Lilly Hajdú-Gimes, who suffered from a severe arthropathy, was not allowed visit her daughter and her grandchildren in Switzerland. Three times her request was rejected, the last rejection being irrevocable. In 1960, deprived of her last hope, sick and lonely, she committed suicide (Schiess, 1999).

After the last emigrations, around 1948-49, the year of the communist takeover, those who were left behind were also left alone in their mourning. Deprived of their oxygen supply from the outside, and effectively cut off from contacts beyond the Iron Curtain, they fell victim to their fears and the horrors of loneliness. During the period from 1948 to about 1980 psychoanalysis essentially went underground. This situation inevitably implied a certain complicity between analyst and analysand concerning the values of decent human ethics, rational thinking and anti-totalitarian attitude, which could have been seen by the authorities as an anti-regime conspiracy. It did, in turn  modify inevitably the shape of the setting of analysis. Was it possible under such circumstances to afford the luxury of playing à la Winnicott? Hungarian psychoanalysis became a serious, sometimes rigid, affair, good for the morale of those involved, How the state of the larger society may have influenced the practice of analysis, we will illustrate through one of Hermann’s cases.

Imre Hermann (1889-1984), who wrote his most important works before the Second World War, is in fact one of the most important figures of this epoch. In the 1950’s and 1960’s his book, Psychoanalysis as a Method, [add to bibliography] was one of the basic analytic textbooks in Central Europe.  His theory (1926) of the instincts of clinging and of going-in-search, based on observations of animals, exerted a great influence and was considered by many  as a valuable amendment to the original psychoanalytic drive theory  and was further developed by John Bowlby in his attachment theory. Probabely his work also influenced the research of René Spitz.

As Hermann became during the 2nd WW more and more closely involved with the communist resistance against the Nazis, his life after the War stayed still influenced by politics. One of his patients was among those who were sentenced to death and executed in the Rajk mocktrial in 1950, and suddenly he, too, was in danger. We may assume that, had that analysand mentioned Hermann’s name to the secret police, he would have been harassed, questioned, or arrested (which, however, was not the case). Hermann can rightly be seen as someone who was instrumental in maintaining the continuity of analytic teaching and research, despite the formal dissolution of the Society, despite ideological attacks, despite economic reprisals, even despite some life-threatening situations.

Perhaps because Imre Hermann reached a very old age, he allowed himself to be bogged down by details and petty compromises and lived in a bitterly-felt isolation. He was offended by the loss of his contacts in the IPA, and experienced this as a rejection. In contrast to those who had died early (like Ferenczi) and were remembered nostalgically, and those sons and daughters, who had emigrated to other countries (like Balint) and successfully established themselves in their new psychoanalytic homes, Hermann’s life seems to have remained unfulfilled and his innovative views (unlike those of Ferenczi and Balint) tended to be lost.

A rapprochement with the IPA was proven possible no earlier than the 1970’s, and eventually led to the (re-)admission of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society (through negotiations conducted by György Hidas), first as a Study Group in 1975 and in 1989 as a component society of the IPA.

From the 1980’s on, the Hungarian Society re-established the structures of education, the analytic treatments and research. It retrieved its historical roots and traditions. Moreover, a Ferenczi Society was founded to develop further contacts with the cultural environment, and for setting up a museum relating to the history of the Budapest School in a  house formerly owned by Ferenczi. In order to support these projects, the Sigourney Award was generously granted to this Ferenczi Society in December 2008. Hungarian psychoanalysis in spite of its brilliant, influential legacy and burdened by its tragic history is nowadays struggling for a new life in the middle of the cultural crisis and a ruined economy left over by 40 years of communist regime.


Bonnafé L., Follin S., Kestemberg J., Kestemberg E., Lebovici S., Le Guilland L., Monnerot E., Shentoub S. (1949): La psychanalyse, idéologie réactionnaire, La Nouvelle Critique, Nr. 7, pp. 57-72.

Bonnard, Augusta (1954): The Metapsychology of the Russian Trials Confessions, Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 35: 208-213.

Falzeder, Ernst, Eva Brabant, André Haynal (eds) (1996): The Correspondence of Sigmund and Sándor Ferenczi. Vol.2, 1914-1919. Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.

Falzeder, Ernst, Eva Brabant, Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch, André Haynal (eds) (2000): The Correspondence of Sigmund and Sándor Ferenczi. Vol. 3, 1920-1933. Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.

Ferenczi, Sándor (1911): ‘On the organization of the psycho-analytical movement’. In Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psycho-Analysis. Karnac, London, repr. 1944, pp. 299-307.

Ferenczi, Sándor (1920): Open Letter. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1: 1-2.

Ferenczi, Sándor (1928): ‘Über den Lehrgang des Psychoanalytikers’. Bausteine zur Psychoanalyse, Band iii: Arbeiten aus den Jahren 1908-1933. Huber, Bern, 1964. [Not included in English editions of Ferenczi’s works.]
Freud, Sigmund (1933c): Sándor Ferenczi, SE 22: 227-229.

Grosskurth, Phyllis (1986): Melanie Klein. Her World and her Work. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass.

Harmat, Paul (1988): Freud, Ferenczi und die ungarische Psychoanalyse. Diskord, Tübingen.

Haynal, André (1988): The technique at issue. Controversies in psychoanalysis from Freud and Ferenczi to Michael Balint. Karnac, London

Haynal, André (2002): Disappearing and Reviving. Sándor Ferenczi in the History of Psychoanalysis. Karnac, London.

Hermann, Imre (1926): Sich-Anklammern – Auf-Suche-Gehen. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, 22: 349-370. 

Hermann, Imre (193): A pszychoanalízis mint módszer. Budapest: Novák. German: (1963) Psychoanalyse als Methode. Köln and Opladen: Westdeuscher Verlag.  French: (1979) La psychanalyse comme méthode Paris: Denoël

Hermann, Imre (1945): Az Antiszemitismus, Budapest, Biliotheca; also : Psychologie de l’antisémitisme. Paris: L’Eclat

Hollós, Istvan [Stephan] (1999): Brief an Paul Federn vom 17.2.1946, Luzifer-Amor 23: 18-19.

Hollós, Istvan [Stephan] (1926): Mes adieux à la Maison Jaune [Farewell to the Yellow House]. Le Coq-Héron, n100, 1986.

Jones, Ernest (1957): The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 1919-1939. New york: Basic Books.

Kertész, Imre (1975): Fatelessness, Vintage, London, 2004.

King, Pearl, Steiner, Riccardo (1991): The Freud-Klein Controversies 1941-1945. London, Tavistock-Routledge.

Mészaros, Judit (2008): A pszichoanalízis, mint az imperializmus házi pszichológiája [Psychoanalysis, the Psychology of Imperialism]. (Hungarian Manuskript).

Paskauskas R. Andrew (ed.) (1993): The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones 1908-1939. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.

Schiess, Regula (1999): Wie das Leben nach dem Fieber, Psychosozial-Verlag, Giessen

Schönberger  Istvan (1947): A feltételes reflexek tana és a mélylélektan [The doctrine of conditioned reflexes and depth psychology].  Orvosok Lapja, 3, 1226-1230

Tabajdi, Gábor & Krisztián Ungváry (2008): Elhallgatott múlt [The Past Kept Silent]. Corvina, Budapest.


André Haynal
20 B Gradelle
Ch-1224 Geneva