Ernst Federn

1914 (Vienna) - 2007 (Vienna)


"I venture to claim that some of the perpetrators suffer from an illness of the self, which causes their wishes to be of the kind that cannot be fulfilled within the boundaries of the law."

Ernst Federn was born in Vienna on 26 August 1914. His father, the psychoanalyst Paul Federn, was an employee of Sigmund Freud. In 1928, Federn, who had a Trotskyist orientation, became involved in the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ). He studied law in Vienna. Starting in 1934, he participated in acts of resistance against National Socialism and Austro-Fascism.

In March 1936, Federn was arrested for the first time. He was released in July and was forbidden to study. He was arrested again in November for "high treason", then released because of insufficient evidence in July 1937. The Gestapo arrested him on 14 March 1938, the day he gave notice of his intended marriage with Hilde Paar. Following incarceration in Vienna, he was taken to Dachau Concentration Camp in May 1938 and, as a "political inmate" and a Jew, to Buchenwald on 24 September 1938. There he worked as a night guard until 1942 and then as a mason.

Following liberation, Federn went first to live in Brussels, where he married Hilde Paar in February 1947. He put out some initial publications on psychology. In January 1948, he emigrated to New York. He worked in family counselling and psychotherapy in New York and Cleveland, Ohio, treating, among others, drug addicts. In 1954, he became a citizen of the USA. He published on the psychoanalysis and psychopathology of National Socialism, published the writings by Paul Federn and, with Herman Nunberg, the minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. In 1972, he returned to Austria, where he played a decisive role in drawing up the Austrian penal code. From 1973 to 1987, Federn was the socio-psychological advisor for the penal institutions Stein and Favoriten (work with prisoners, supervision of guards). He was awarded the title of professor in 1979 and became an honorary member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1988.

Ernst Federn died in Vienna on 24 June 2007.