Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mrs. Mozart, Viktor Frankl and the Lubavitcher Rebbe

How a Chassidic Master Affected the Trend of Psychology in the 20th Century

Note: A first and terribly incomplete draft of this article was posted on some websites and blogs. This version below is far more complete and authoritative, finalized after extensive research.  [Shirat Devorah was one of the blogs that published one of the first drafts, so here is the complete version]

Three Lives
This is a story about three remarkable lives which converged, in the most unlikely of circumstances, with extraordinary results. It is a story about a Jewish girl who became an opera singer, performing in front of Adolf Hitler; about a Jewish spiritual and Chassidic master, and a world-famous psychiatrist. [1]

It would have remained a secret if not for a strange phenomenon. The famed Viennese professor Victor Frankl (1905-1997), author of the perennial best-seller Man's Search for Meaning and founder of Logotherapy, would send each year before the High Holidays a donation to Chabad of Vienna. This began in 1981 when Rabbi Jacob and Edla Biderman arrived in Vienna to serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Austria and began sending an appeal to all the local Jews along with a Jewish calendar in honor of the upcoming High Holidays.

Nobody in the Chabad center or in the larger Jewish community could understand why. Here was a man who was not affiliated with the Jewish community of Vienna. He did not attend synagogue, not even on Yom Kippur. He was married to a devout Catholic woman. Yet, he would not miss a single year of sending a contribution to Chabad before Yom Kippur.

The enigma was answered only in 1995, two years before Dr. Frankl's death at the age of 92.

I Am the First Emissary
Marguerite Kozenn-Chajes (1909-2000) walked into the office of Rabbi Jacob Biderman, the ambassador of Chabad to Austria, who has since built the magnificent "Lauder Campus" in Vienna, infusing Jewish spirit and life in the country which gave birth to Hitler.

Marguerite, an 85 year old woman, was dressed very classy, and looked youthful and energetic. She told Rabbi Biderman: "I know you think you are the first emissary (shliach) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Vienna; but that is not the case. I have served as the first ambassador of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to this city, many years before you."

From the Chassidim to the Opera
Marguerite began to relate her story.

Her mother's maiden name was Hager. The Hagers were no ordinary Jewish family but descendants of the Rebbes of the famed Vishnitz chassidic dynasty. [2] Marguerite was born in Chernowitz, where she studied to become an opera singer, and then moved to Vienna where her career blossomed. She married a Jewish young man with the family name Chajes. [3] They had a daughter.

Marguerite performed during the 1930's in the Salzburger Festspiele (pronounced: Fest Shpile) -- The Salzburg Festival --a prominent festival of music and drama, held each summer in the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On 12 March 1938, German troops marched into Salzburg. The Anschluss -- the annexation of Austria by Germany -- was now complete, and Nazi ideology immediately began to affect the Salzburg Festival. All Jewish artists were banned, the leading Jewish conductors and composers were removed. Yet Marguerite Chajes was still performing.

For the Festspiele in August 1939, Hitler himself made an appearance at two Mozart operas. He did not know that one of the young women singing majestically was a young Jewess, a scion of a leading Chassidic family, Marguerite Chajes.

Shortly thereafter, the general management made a surprise announcement that the Festival would terminate on 31 August, a week ahead of the scheduled finale on 8 September. The reason was, supposedly, that the Vienna Philharmonic was required to perform at the Nuremberg Party Convention. But the Germans were brilliant deceivers. The true reason became apparent on 1 September when the German army invaded Poland and unleashed the Second World War, exterminating a third of the Jewish people, including Marguerite's family.

On the very night after her performance at the Salzburg Festspiele, close friends smuggled her with her husband and daughter out of Germany to Italy. From there she managed to embark on the last boat to the US before the war broke out just a few days later. Marguerite and her family settled in Detroit, where she became founder and president of the Pro Mozart Society of Greater Detroit, and acquired in her circles the name "Mrs. Mozart."

When she was asked in an interview why does a previously successful soprano work so avidly for the reputation of Mozart? Her answer was: "Because the idea of humanity is nowhere so convincingly expressed as in the work of Mozart."

Years passed. Marguerite's daughter grew up and married a doctor, who, in 1959, was honored at the dinner of a Chabad institution. In conjunction with that occasion, Marguerite had an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. [4]

"I walked into the Rebbe's room," related Marguerite to Rabbi Biderman, "I cannot explain why, but suddenly, for the first time since the Holocaust, I felt that I could cry. I -- like so many other survivors who have lost entire families -- never cried before. We knew that if we would start crying, we might never stop, or that in order to survive we can't express our emotions. But at that moment, it was as though the dam obstructing my inner waterfall of tears was removed. I began sobbing like a baby. I shared with the Rebbe my entire story: My innocent childhood; becoming a star in Vienna; performing in front of Hitler; escaping to the US; learning of the death of my closest kin.

"The Rebbe listened. But he not only listened with his ears. He listened with his eyes, with his heart, with his soul, and he took it all in. I shared all of my experiences and he absorbed it all. That night I felt like I was given a second father. I felt that the Rebbe adopted me as his daughter."

Two Requests
At the end of my meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I expressed my strong desire to go back for a visit to Vienna.   Margerata was, after all, a kind of self-appointed "propaganda activist" for Austria and its music and she craved to visit the city of her youth.

The Rebbe requested from me that before I make the trip, I visit him again.

A short while later, en route to Vienna, I visited the Rebbe. He asked me for a favor: to visit two people during my stay in the city. The first was Viennese Chief Rabbi Akiva Eisenberg, and give him regards from the Rebbe (the Rebbe said that his secretariat would give me the address and literature to give to Rabbi Eisenberg.) The second person he wanted me to visit I would have to look up his address myself. The Rebbe said that he headed the Vienna Policlinic of Neurology. His name was Dr. Victor Frankl.

You Will Prevail
"Send Dr. Frankl my regards," the Lubavitcher Rebbe said to me, "and tell him in my name that he should not give up. He should be strong and continue his work, with complete resolve. No matter what, he should not give up. If he remains strong and committed, he will certainly prevail."

Using the German dialect, so Marguerite would understand, the Rebbe spoke for a long time about the messages he wished to convey to Dr. Frankl. Close to forty years later she did not recall all of the details, but the primary point was that Frankl should never give up and he should keep on working to achieve his goals with unflinching courage and determination.

"I didn't understand what the Rebbe was talking about. Who was Dr. Frankl? Why was the Rebbe sending him this message? Why through me? I did not have an answer to any of these questions, but I obeyed."

Marguerite traveled to Vienna. Her visit with Rabbi Eisenberg proved to be a simple task. Meeting Victor Frankl proved far more difficult. When she arrived at the clinic they informed her that the professor had not shown up in two weeks, thus there was no way she could meet him. After a few failed attempts to locate him at the clinic, Marguerite gave up.

Feeling guilty not to fulfill the Rebbe's request, she decided to violate Austrian mannerisms. She looked up the professor's private home address, traveled there and knocked at the door.

A woman opened the door.

"May I see Herr Frankl please?" asked Marguerite.

"Yes. Please wait."

The first thing she caught sight of in the home was a cross, hanging prominently on the wall. (In 1947 Frankl married his second wife, Eleonore Katharina Schwindt, a devout Catholic. They had a daughter Gabriella.)

"It was obvious that this was a Christian home. I thought to myself, that this must be a mistake; this can't be the person whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe wanted me to encourage."

Victor Frankl showed up a few moments later, and after ascertaining that he was the professor, she told him that she had regards for him.

"He was impatient, and frankly looked quite uninterested. It felt very awkward."

"I have regards from Rabbi Schneerson in Brooklyn, New York," Marguerite told him. "Rabbi Schneerson asked me to tell you in his name that you must not give up. You ought to remain strong. Continue your work with unflinching determination and resolve, and you will prevail.

"Do not fall into despair. March on with confidence," Rabbi Schneerson said, "and you will achieve great success."

"Suddenly," Marguerite related, "the uninterested professor broke down. He began sobbing and would not calm down. I did not understand what was going on."

"This Rabbi from Brooklyn knew exactly when to send you here," Dr. Frankl told her. He could not thank her enough for the visit.

"So you see Rabbi Biderman?" Marguerite completed her tale, "I have been an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Vienna many years before you came around."

Forever Grateful
Rabbi Biderman was intrigued. Victor Frankl was now 90 years of age, and was an international celebrity. He had written 32 books which were ranslated into 30 languages. His book "Man's search for Meaning" has been deemed by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books of the 20th century. What was the behind the Rebbe's message to Victor Frankl?

"I called him a few days later," Biderman recalls, "and asked to meet him. But it was difficult for him to meet me in person. So we spoke over the phone. Initially he sounded impatient and somewhat cold.

"Do you remember a regards Marguerite Chajes brought you from Rabbi Schneerson in Brooklyn," Rabbi Biderman asked Dr. Frankl.

Suddenly, a change in his voice. Dr. Frankl melted. "Of course I remember. I will never forget it. My gratitude to Rabbi Schneerson is eternal." In the actual German words of Dr. Frankl: "Eich vel eim eibek dankbar zein." (I will forever be grateful to him.)

And Victor Frankl confirmed the rest of the story Marguerite had already explained to Rabbi Biderman, which revolves around one of the greatest debates in psychology of the previous century.

In the Camps
Victor Frankl was born in 1905 -- three years after the Lubavitcher Rebbe -- in Vienna.   The young Frankl studied neurology and psychiatry, and in 1923 became part of the inner circle of one of the most famous Jews of the time, Dr. Sigmund Freud, the "Father of Psychoanalysis" who lived and practiced in Vienna.

The "Final Solution" did not skip over the Frankl family.  Dr. Frankl relates in his memoirs of the war years that he had a chance before the war to go to America to write his books and build a reputation. Yet he was confused. Should he pursue his career and abandon his parents or should he remain with them? He arrived home from the American consulate, visa in hand, to find a large block of marble sitting on the table. Recovered by his father from a local synagogue razed by the Nazis, it was, Frankl recalled, a piece from a tablet bearing the first letters of the Commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." He let his visa lapse and stayed.

Victor's mother and father were murdered in Auschwitz; his first Jewish wife, pregnant, was murdered in Bergen Belsen. All of his siblings and relatives were exterminated. Professor Frankl was a lone survivor in Auschwitz (he had one sister who immigrated to Australia before the war.) After the war, he returned to Vienna where he taught neurology and psychiatry.

The Great Debate
Already before the war, and even more so during his three years in the Nazi death camps, Victor Frankl developed ideas which differed radically from Sigmund Freud. Yet the faculty of his department and the academic elite in post-war Vienna consisted of staunch Freudian scholars ("Freudesten," in Frankl's expression).  They defined Frankl's ideas as "pseudo-science."

Freud emphasized the idea that all things come down to physiology. The human mind and heart could be best understood as a side effect of brain mechanisms. Humans are like machines, responding to stimuli from within or from without, a completely physical, predictable and godless machine, albeit a very complicated machine.

Victor Frankl disagreed. He felt that Freud and his colleagues reduced the human being to a mere mechanical creature depriving him or her of his true essence. "If Freud were in the concentration camps," Frankl wrote, "he would have changed his position. Beyond the basic natural drives and instincts of people, he would have encountered the human capacity for self-transcendence. Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those chambers upright, with the Shema Yisrael on his lips."

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

He concludes that even in the most severe suffering, the human being can find meaning and thus hope. In his words, "Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how.'" A person was not a son of his past, but the father of his future.

After the war, Frankl returned to Vienna, where he developed and lectured about his own approach to psychological healing. He believed that people are primarily driven by a "striving to find meaning in one's life," and that it is this sense of meaning that enables us to overcome painful experiences. In the second half of his book, Frankl outlines the form of psychotherapy that he developed based on these beliefs, called logotherapy - the treatment of emotional pain by helping people find meaning in their lives.

But in the Academic Vienna of the 40's and 50's they defined Frankl's ideas as fanatic religiosity, bringing back the old, unscientific notions of conscience, religion and guilt. It was unpopular for students to attend his courses; his lectures were shunned.

"My position was extremely difficult," Frankl shared with Rabbi Biderman. "Rabiner Biderman!" Frankl said, "I could survive the German death camps, but I could not survive the derision of my colleagues who would not stop taunting me and undermining my success."

The pressure against Dr. Frankl was so severe, that he decided to give up. It was simply too much to bear. He was watching his life-work fade away. One day, sitting at home, he began drafting his resignation papers and decided to relocate to Australia where his sister lived. In the battle between Freud and Frankl, Freud would at last be triumphant. Soullessness would prove more powerful than soulfulness.

Hope and Resolve
And then suddenly, as he was sitting at his home, downtrodden, in walked a beautiful woman. She sent him regards from a Chassidic master, Rabbi Schneerson from Brooklyn, New York. His message? "Do not dare give up. Do not dare despair. If you will continue your work with absolute determination, you will prevail."

Frankl was stunned. Somebody in Brooklyn, no less a Chassidic Rebbe, knew about his predicament? And what is more -- cared about his predicament? And what is more -- sent someone to locate him in Vienna to shower him with courage and inspiration?

Frankl began to cry. He was deeply moved and felt like a transformed man. It was exactly what he needed to hear. Someone believed in him, in his work, in his contributions, in his ideas about the infinite transcendence and potential of the human person.

"That very moment I knew that I would not surrender. I tore up my resignation papers. New vitality was blown into me. I grew confident and became motivated."

Courage of "One Professor"
The Rebbe, we know from other sources as well, was well versed in the important debate which carried critical ramifications on the future of psychoanalysis and therapy. In a letter from May 31, 1962 (27 Iyar 5722) [5] he laments the fact that some psychiatrists and psychologists feel the need to begin "treating their patients by talking against G-d, against respect for a Higher reality, against respect of a father and mother etc. We need to research and explore how great are the benefits of this type of treatment? And even if this is important, does this approach not backfire as time passes?"

"It is obvious," the Rebbe continues in this letter, "that some doctors have helped and healed their patients in straight ways, especially since one professor found the courage in his soul to declare and announce that - contrary to the opinion of the famous founder of psychoanalysis - the faith in G-d, and a religious inclination in general, which gives meaning to life, etc. etc. is one of the most effective ways of healing etc.

"Nonetheless, due to several reasons, this philosophy has not penetrated the mainstream of these doctors..."

Clearly, the Rebbe is referring to the courage of "one professor," Victor Frankl, to stand up to the Freudian school and declare that discovering meaning in life is the primary cause for well-being and emotional health. As we have seen, part of this courage was inspired by the Rebbe himself.

The Conflict between Religion and Therapy
Why did the academic community dismiss Dr. Frankl?

In a letter dated June 19, 1969 (3rd Tammuz, 5729), to an Israeli psychiatrist, Dr. S. Stern-Mirz in Haifa, concerning one of her patients, the Lubavitcher Rebbe presents one possible reason. [6]

"I would like to take this opportunity to add another point, albeit this is her field, that the medical condition of ........ proves (if proof is needed in this area) the great power of faith - especially when applied and expressed in practical action, community work, observance of mitzvot, etc. - to fortify a person's emotional tranquility, to minimize and sometimes even eliminate inner conflicts, as well as "complaints" one may have to his surroundings, etc.

"This is in spite of the philosophy that faith and religion demand from a person the "acceptance of the yoke" - to restrain and suppress natural instincts and drives - and is, therefore, undesirable for any person, particularly in the case of a person who requires treatment for emotional anxiety.

"I particularly took interest in the writing of Dr. Frankl (from Vienna) in this matter. [7] To my surprise, however, his approach has apparently not been appropriately disseminated and appreciated. Although one can find numerous reasons as to why his ideas are not accepted so much, including the fact that such treatment is related to the personal lifestyle exemplified by the treating doctor, nevertheless the question [as to why it is not appreciated] still remains."

Use Me as a Reference
The Rebbe's relationship with Frankl is evident also from the following episode.

In the early 1970's (around 1973-74), Clive Cohen, studying psychology at the University of Leeds, visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  Clive, who began exploring the teachings of Judaism at the Morristown NJ Chabad Yeshiva, asked the Rebbe how to deal with the numerous conflicts between the contemporary study of psychology and the paradigms of Judaism.

The Rebbe suggested that he correspond with Victor Frankl on the matter. "If you wish," the Rebbe added, "you can use my name as a reference." [8]

International Influence
Back to the telephone conversation between the Chabad ambassador to Austria and Dr. Frankl.

"Indeed," Victor confirmed, "the words of Rabbi Schneerson materialized. My work soon began to flourish."

A short while later, Frankl's magnum opus "Man's Search for Meaning" was translated into English (first under a different title). It became an ongoing bestseller to this very day and has been deemed as one of the most influential books of the 20th century.The professor's career began to soar. The once-scoffed-at professor became one of the most celebrated psychiatrists of a generation. "Man's Search for Meaning" has been translated into 28 languages and has sold over 10 million copies during his life time. Frankl became a guest lecturer at 209 universities on all five continents, held 29 honorary doctorates from universities around the world, and received 19 national and international awards and medals for his work in psychotherapy.

His brand of therapy inspired thousands of other books, seminars, workshops, new-age and spiritual groups, which have all been based on Frankl's ideas of the unique ability of the human to choose its path and discover meaning in every experience. From Scot Peck's "Road Less Traveled" to Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits," and hundreds of other bestsellers during the last 30 years, all of them were students of Victor Frankl's perspectives.

Victor Frankl concluded his story to Rabbi Biderman with these words stated above: eich vel eim eibek dankbar zein, I will eternally be grateful to him, to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Chabad Is a Good Cause...
Not knowing who he was talking to, Victor Frankl added:

"A number of years ago Chabad established itself here in Vienna. I became a supporter. You too should support it. They are the best..."

Finally, Rabbi Biderman understood why he was getting a check in the mail each year.

Indeed, during a conversation with Rabbi Biderman, Frankl's non-Jewish son-in-law, Professor Alexander David Vesely, related that his mother-in-law, Eleonore Frankl, shared with him that her husband spoke of the Rabbi with "great respect."

Marguerite, who lived out her final years in Vienna, has become a close friend to Chabad in Austria. "She rediscovered her Chassidic roots, and became deeply involved in our work," Rabbi Biderman relates. She died in March 2000 and was interred in the Jewish cemetery in her beloved Vienna.

Daily Prayers
The story, though, is not over.

When Dr. Frankl was asked about faith in G-d, he regularly gave an ambiguous answer. Throughout his years he never displayed any connection to Jewish faith or practice.

Yet in 2003, Dr. Shimon Cowen, an Australian expert on Frankl, went to visit his non-Jewish widow, Eleonore, in Vienna.She took out a pair of tefilin (phylacteries) and showed it to him.

"My late husband would put these on each and every day," she said to him.

Then she took out a pair of tzitzis (fringes) he made for himself to wear.

At night in bed, the widow related, Victor would recite the book of Psalms. [9]

Indeed, Haddon Klingberg, author of "When Life Calls Out To Us: the love and lifework of Viktor and Elly Frankl", the only authorized biography of Viktor and Eleonore ("Elly"), writes:

"After his death I asked Elly if he actually made these prayers every day. "Absolutely. He never missed a day. Every morning for more than fifty years. But nobody knew this." As they traveled the globe Viktor took the phylacteries with them, and everywhere, every morning, he prayed. He uttered memorized words of Jewish prayers and Psalms."

"After Viktor died I saw his phylacteries for the first time. Elly had placed them in the little cubicle with his few simple possessions..."

Frankl's son-in-law also confirmed this fact to Rabbi Biderman: "My father-in-law would close himself off in a room every day for a little while. Once I opened the door and saw him with black boxes on his head and hand. He was annoyed about my intruding on his privacy. When he was taken to the hospital, however, his practice of putting on tefillin became public." [10]

It seems that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was determined to help Dr. Frankl get this message out to the world: We really do have a soul; the soul is the deepest and most real part of us; and that we will never be fully alive if we don't access our souls.
[1] For this essay I personally interviewed Rabbi Yaakov Biderman. The quotes in the story are not verbatim but completely accurate in content.
[2] Vishnitz was founded by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager in the 19th century. Vizhnitz is the Yiddish name of Vyzhnytsia, a village in present-day Ukraine. Followers of the Rebbe's of Vizhnitz are called Vizhnitzer Chasidim. Today its main centers are in Benei Berak, Israel and in Monsey, NY.
[3] He was a grandson of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes (צבי הירש חיות), who lived from 1805 till 1855, was one of the foremost Galician Talmudic scholars. He is best known for his work Mevo Hatalmud (Introduction to the Talmud), which serves both as commentary and introduction, as well as for his commentary on the actual Talmud. He was the nephew of Rabbi Zvi Peretz Chajes, who served as chief Rabbi of Vienna, from 1918 till his death in 1927. Another uncle was the publisher of the famous "Kozenn Atlas."
[4] Rabbi Sholom DovBer Shem Tov, the Chabad ambassador to Michigan, confirmed to me in a telephone conversation that he had some relationship with Chabad during those years. He did not recall details.
[5] Published in Igros Kodesh vol. 22 p. 227.
[6] Published in Igros Kodesh vol. 26 p. 156.
[7] One episode to illustrate this: A religious Jewish psychiatrist, Jacob Greenwald (today in Jerusalem), related that he was once invited by the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a visit. The Rebbe wanted to know if he was familiar with the writings of Victor Frankl and if they could be integrated into A Torah perspective of therapy. Greenwald was surprised of how familiar the Rebbe was with Frankl's works, "especially due to the fact that to the best of my knowledge his writings were available at the time only in German and Portuguese." (Related by Greenwald to Moshe Palace, who shared this episode with me. Palace did acknowledge that he heard this from Greenwald many years ago and would need to re-confirm details.)
[8] Mr. Moshe Palace (Monsey, NY) related this episode to me. He heard it directly from Mr. Cohen when the latter left the Rebbe's room.
[9] Rabbi Dr. Shimon Cowen shared all of these details with me in an e-mail exchange.
[10] Rabbi Leib Blatner, from Chabad of Arizona, related to me that during one Friday night dinner he was graced with a visit by Dr. Frankl's non-Jewish grandson. He, too, confirmed that his grandfather donned tefilin each day. Even when he went to the hospital, he would take them with him. "As he was taken for the final time to the hospital where he died, he told me he does not need them. I was surprised. Apparently he felt that this was the end.


Jean-Marie Rondeau said...

Very interesting story. Thank you.

in the vanguard said...

For more on Frankl, see here:

Dov Bar-Leib said...

I am speechless. Perhaps I will never begin to understand the depth of suffering during the Shoah. I have Frankl's famous little book that changed the world. I understand that it would have been impossible to convince this giant of the spirit in psychoanalysis to divorce his loving Catholic wife. Oh why, Oh why would HaShem send us such suffering that would cause us to have non-Jewish children who could not say Kaddish for us when we died? Dear G-d, I do not understand. I do not understand.

These Ashkenazic leftists here in Israel hate You because the depth of suffering of their ancestors has broken the back of Jews from the European crucible of 2000 years of utter hate. How will You heal them? How will You heal them? And when?

yaak said...

Interesting story.

Devorah said...

"Oh why, Oh why would HaShem send us such suffering that would cause us to have non-Jewish children who could not say Kaddish for us when we died?"

And who says Kaddish for the Lubavitcher Rebbe ???
Anyone ?