This article was last modified on March 13, 2010.

A Freudian Theft?

Who is the proper owner of “Dreams in Folklore”? And where will the manuscript end up? These are the questions I wish to raise from the following history, which covers not only old psychological theory, but modern concerns over propriety.

The Story Up Until Now

In early 20th century Vienna, David Oppenheim was a follower and collaborator with Sigmund Freud. Oppenheim was a contributing member of the Wednesday Group, and helped shape the emerging field of psychoanalysis. His background was philology, the study of ancient texts, and his passion was the advancement of human knowledge.

Not surprisingly, Oppenheim and Freud worked on a variety of projects together, but probably none more ambitious than a study called “Dreams in Folklore”, which consisted largely of Oppenheim’s retelling of dreams from classic stories, and Freud’s analysis of these dreams, often placing sexual intentions into stories that may not otherwise be seen as sexual. Some of the dreams clearly revolve around urination and defecation, but are twisted into sexual desires by Freud.

Before this manuscript could be completed and published, there was a rift in the psychoanalysis community. Alfred Adler had started taking his own standpoint on a variety of issues, and Freud saw this heresy as unforgivable. Adler was expelled from the group, and those who sided with him were soon to follow. David Oppenheim chose to follow Adler’s group, and the manuscript (in Oppenheim’s possession) was seemingly doomed to obscurity.

Around the time of the First World War, Freud destroyed all the manuscripts in his possession. “Dreams in Folklore”, buried in Oppenheim’s study, became the only known manuscript from this period, making it suddenly quite valuable. It remained in Oppenheim’s possession, presumably until 1943, at which time he passed away at Theresienstadt, a Polish settlement where the Nazis sent the Jews to die. Oppenheim suffered from diabetes, and his condition was exacerbated by malnutrition, dysentery and depression. Miraculously, his wife Amalie survived.

Amalie passed in 1955, and the manuscript fell into the hands of her daughter, Doris Liffman. Seeing the value such a manuscript would have for the public, she entered into correspondence with the Freud Archives in New York, and eventually sold the original to them.

A special volume was published that contained the text of “Dreams in Folklore” in both German and English, with a preface written by Dr. Bernard Pacella, which confirmed that the Freud Archives had purchased the manuscript from Doris Liffman.

Things became more interesting when Professor Peter Singer, nephew of Doris Liffman and grandson of David Oppenheim, requested to see the manuscript while writing a history of his family. The Freud Archives, now accessible through the Library of Congress, had only a photocopy and advised Singer to contact Bernard Pacella directly.

Pacella referred Singer to his son-in-law, Dr. John Oldham, who was now in possession of the manuscript. Singer was allowed to see it in Oldham’s New York office, and Oldham informed him that Pacella — not the Archives — had purchased the manuscript from Liffman. Pacella later confirmed this, despite being contrary to Liffman’s correspondence and the preface of the published version.

It seemed that Pacella had taken Archives property into his own possession. A theft of history, if you will.

The Current Situation as of 2010

As Singer’s book was published in 2003, I was curious as to the current location of the manuscript. It was my impression that the book insinuated a theft and that printing such an accusation might “shame” Pacella into returning the manuscript to the Freud Archives. I was incorrect.

My search began in early March 2010. I first tried to contact Pacella, who I learned through a quick search was now deceased. He had passed away on February 15, 2007 at the age of 94. Any part he had to play in this matter he was now excused from.

I next contacted Dr. Harold P. Blum of the Freud Archives, to see if the manuscript had been returned. He checked and found that the Archives had a photocopy of the manuscript (presumably the same one Singer found), but not the original. He did not know where the original was, but expressed interest in acquiring it should it be found.

Checking with Professor Singer, he informed me that he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the manuscript beyond what he had written in the book. He assumed that it still remained in the possession of Dr. John Oldham.

This left only one option, contacting Oldham directly. He was quite courteous and straightforward with his response. “The original manuscript of Dreams in Folklore belonged to my father-in-law, Bernard Pacella. Bernie gave the manuscript to me and my wife, and we had it in our possession for several years. Bernie then desired to have it back, and we returned it to him. Bernie has since died, and the manuscript is part of his estate while his will is being probated.” I passed this update on to Blum and Singer.

Singer found Oldham’s claims questionable, and inquired whether the Freud Archives kept transacting records that would verify if Doris Liffman had sold the manuscript directly to the Archives. He also included his sister Joan Dwyer and cousin Michael Liffman in on the discussion.

Dwyer, in turn, added her own expert opinion. “Certainly it is appropriate that the Freud archive check its records and see what it can establish as to the circumstances of the purchase from Doris. As a semi-retired Melbourne lawyer, though no expert in probate matters, I would think this should be done promptly and probably legal advice should be obtained as to whether some caveat or other document should be lodged with the probate office asserting that the Freud archive claims an interest in the document in question. The matter could be urgent as there may be some time limit on asserting the claim.”

I will keep this article up-to-date as the matter develops.


Singer, Peter. Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna. HarperCollins, 2003.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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