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Sophie Freud, Critic of Her Grandfather’s Gospel, Dies at 97

Sigmund Freud’s last surviving grandchild, she fled the Nazis in Vienna, became a professor in America and argued that psychoanalysis was a “narcissistic indulgence.”

Sophie Freud, who fled the Nazi onslaught in Europe and escaped to the United States, where, as a professor and psychiatric social worker, she challenged the therapeutic foundation of her grandfather Sigmund’s theories of psychoanalysis, died on Friday at her home in Lincoln, Mass. The last surviving grandchild of Sigmund Freud, she was 97.

Her daughter Andrea Freud Loewenstein said the cause was pancreatic cancer.

Professor Freud, who taught psychology at Simmons College (now Simmons University) in Boston, devoted her career as a psychosociologist to the protection of children and to introducing feminism into the field of social work.

One of the few surviving members of her family to have known Dr. Freud personally, she was raised in what her mother called an “upper-middle-class Jewish ghetto” in Vienna in a turbulent household in which her parents led separate lives and her grandparents, aunts and other relatives from all sides mingled.

“I was designated as a Freud, a distinction which carried its own problems,” Professor Freud wrote in “Living in the Shadow of the Freud Family” (2007), an amalgam of letters.

Still, she survived her parents’ estrangement; bitter feuds with her brother; a rocky relationship and reconciliation with her mother; 40 years of marriage until she divorced her husband (“because I could not imagine becoming old with a man at my side”); and raising three successful children — all without ever having undergone psychotherapy herself.

“I’m very skeptical about much of psychoanalysis,” she told The Boston Globe in 2002. “I think it’s such a narcissistic indulgence that I cannot believe in it.”

Professor Freud and several of Dr. Freud’s other grandchildren visited him every Sunday either at his country villas or at Berggasse 19, his home and office in Vienna. They were ushered in promptly at 12:45 p.m. for a 15-minute audience, before lunch was served punctually at 1 p.m. (Inheriting his punctuality, Professor Freud kept an alarm clock at the front of her college classroom.)

While fuzzily whiskered, Sigmund Freud was not remembered by his granddaughter as palpably warm. But each Sunday, until she was 14, he would engage in small talk with Sophie and give her eight shillings, enough to buy a ticket to the Burgtheater, she said. He also performed an integral if less ceremonial role.

“These grandparents kept an eye on the tumultuous household that my mother and father had created,” Professor Freud wrote in a journal article in 2007. “There was his protective presence.”

Decades after her grandfather’s death from cancer in 1939, Professor Freud considered many of his fundamental theories, from “penis envy” to transference, to be outdated — “brilliant as well as questionable,” as she put it

While he often challenged the Victorian era’s patriarchal view of female sexuality, she wrote, “he mirrored in his theories the belief that women were secondary and were not the norm.” As for his conclusion that “women are forever falling in love with their male therapists,” she said, he sanitized such attachments as transference.

“He said it doesn’t matter, women get over it afterward,” Professor Freud said, “but I disagree. Women then go to another therapist to get over that one.”

She ratcheted up her criticism in an interview for a Canadian television film, “Neighbours: Freud and Hitler in Vienna” (2003), saying, “In my eyes, both Adolf Hitler and my grandfather were false prophets of the 20th century.” They shared, in her words, “the ambition to convince other men of the one and only truth they had come upon.”

“Never could he be wrong,” she said.

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Professor Freud’s book, an amalgam of letters, was published in 2007.Credit…Praeger Publishers

Miriam Sophie Freud was born in Vienna on Aug. 6, 1924. Her father, Jean Martin Freud (known as Martin), was Sigmund Freud’s eldest son and a lawyer who became the director of Dr. Freud’s Psychoanalytic Publishing House. Her mother, Ernestine (Drucker) Freud, was a speech therapist who was known as Esti.

Sophie tried to make the most of her childhood, despite her parents’ feuding and the animosity between her and her older brother, Walter. Only when she was enrolled as a teenager in Vienna’s most progressive girls’ school, the Schwarzwaldschule, did she excel as a student.

Vienna was seething with virulent antisemitism by the mid-1930s and largely welcomed Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938. Only after his daughter, Anna, was detained and interrogated by the Gestapo was Dr. Freud finally persuaded to evacuate the family. He and his wife and Anna settled in London, where he died at 83 within weeks of the outbreak of World War II.

Sophie’s father, too, fled Vienna for London in May 1938, taking her brother. Sophie and her mother embarked on what in peacetime might have been an idyllic odyssey but was instead a harrowing pursuit for sanctuary. An initial stop in Paris was followed by a 400-mile bicycle trip to the French Riviera, a cruise to Morocco, a flight to Portugal and finally a third-class crossing to the United States.

“When my brother, many years later, heard of my criticism of one of our grandfather’s theories,” Professor Freud recalled, “he said to me, ‘Without grandfather, the Nazis would have made lampshades with your skin.'”

Sigmund Freud’s four sisters died in the Holocaust. (Walter eventually joined the British Army, helped capture a German air base and served as a war crimes investigator and a chemist. Martin Freud became a tobacconist in England.)

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Sigmund Freud in his Vienna office in 1930. Each Sunday, until she was 14, he would engage in small talk with Sophie and give her eight shillings, enough to buy a ticket to the Burgtheater, she said.Credit… Bettmann/CORBIS

Sophie and her mother arrived in New York in November 1942, homeless and virtually penniless but soon to reunite with Esti’s sisters.

Sophie applied to Hunter College in Manhattan but was rejected because her mother had not yet established legal residency. But her uncle, Edward Bernays, the public relations pioneer who was a nephew of Sigmund Freud’s, arranged for her admission to Radcliffe, in Cambridge, Mass., and paid her tuition. (Her introductory English course was taught by a young professor, the poet Delmore Schwartz.)

In 1945, the summer before her last semester at Radcliffe, from which she graduated with a degree in psychology, she married Paul Loewenstein, an engineer and Jewish ?migr? who had escaped from a French prisoner of war camp. They had met in France.

They divorced in 1985. In addition to her daughter Andrea, a novelist, Professor Freud is survived by a son, George Loewenstein, who teaches economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; another daughter, Dania Jekel, chief executive of the Asperger-Autism Network in Watertown, Mass.; five grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

Professor Freud earned a master’s in social work from Simmons College in 1948 and a doctorate in social welfare from Brandeis in 1970.

She went on to work in clinics and mental hospitals and as an adoption specialist in a welfare agency. She also worked at Tufts University in Boston, helping teachers of young children deal with parents.

Hired as a professor at Simmons after earning her doctorate, she was named head of the human behavior program. “As soon as I was teaching my first class, I knew that I had finally found my true calling,” she wrote.

“I said goodbye to the psychoanalysts,” she recalled.

For years Professor Freud rode a red motorbike to campus until she begrudgingly relinquished it to a student when she was in her late 70s. She officially retired in 1992 but continued to teach.

While she regularly exercised to ward off illness — swimming in and jogging around Walden Pond, near her home in Lincoln, west of Boston — she was also a great believer in fate.

“I think that one has only 5 percent liberty in how to control one’s life,” she wrote.

Upon her own death, she said, she would reflect on a litany of what she viewed as inevitable natural and man-made catastrophes — global warming, deforestation, plagues.

“I shall think of the sorrow of my children, and of the sorrow of my grandchildren for their children, in this harsh new world,” Professor Freud wrote, “and I will leave the world with relief thinking of all that will have been spared me.”

Maia Coleman contributed reporting.

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