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HISTORY

The Tragic Life Of Freud’s Most Talented Niece

It would appear that the name Freud is tainted with both talent and dark histories, and it all started with the eldest son of Jacob and Amalia Freud, a Jewish couple born in the Austrian Empire. But today we’re not going to discuss Sigmund’s life since it’s really well-known by most. Instead, we’re going to focus on the tragic life of one of his nieces, Martha, who despite her tormented life, managed to leave a bright and hopeful legacy through her illustrations and books.

As the youngest of Marie (Sigmund’s sister) and Moritz Freud’s (their cousin) three daughters, Martha was born in Vienna to a bourgeois family. The family eventually moved to Berlin when she was only nine years old. From a young age she developed a love for arts, which led her to pursue a career in illustration and painting in London. She proved to be willing to do anything to make her mark in the art world. At the age of 15 she changed her name to Tom Freud since she believed it was the best way to be renowned and valued in the sexist world she was living in. 

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Tom, as she was called for the rest of her life, grew up surrounded by the greatest minds of the turn of the century, not only her uncle, but also the important acquaintances of the family. Back in Berlin she became immersed in the intellectual and artistic avant-garde circles, which allowed her to perfect and enhance her visions about art. Soon she found her true artistic passion: illustration. Tom focused her career on the illustration of children’s books, a field she grew to love. She even ventured to write a few books that were highly praised by the critics. Walter Benjamin was someone who gave her best reviews.

Initially, she started by illustrating classic children’s literature including important folk tales, so relevant after the First World War. Hitler and his followers’ ideology consisted in enhancing and worshiping Germany’s traditions and, naturally, folk tales and educating children within these ideals was a priority. Later on, she started writing and illustrating her own stories. It was at this time, in 1920, when she met Jakob Seidmann, a Jewish journalist whom she married soon and with whom she had a daughter. 

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Together they started a project to promote Hebrew culture and traditions through literature. They joined who would become National Poet in Israel, Chaim Nachman Bialik, and other partners, to open the Ophir Publishing House. Little did they know that this was going to set their doom. The Publishing house only managed to publish four books due to the economic crisis and rising anti-Semitism reigning in Germany. Moreover, the Seidmann couple had invested all their money in the business and their partner Bialik didn’t give them a cent. Besides that, many Jews saw the imminent danger they were facing and decided to flee to the land we now know as Israel. Bialik was one of them.

Bialik didn’t only leave the country without giving them their part of the money, but he didn’t even finish his 5 book contract with the publishing house. Fully indebted, Jakob sent him many desperate letters asking for his help, but there was no reply. Desperate, the couple sold all their belongings, but it wasn’t enough to cover their debt. Jakob’s pressure to overcome their financial situation led him to a dark place and, after some time, he committed suicide in his house. That event marked Tom terribly and sank her in a severe depression. She stopped eating and had to be hospitalized. Her famous uncle had to treat her, but all the Freud family’s attempts were futile and she passed away in 1930, just a few months after her husband’s death. Their daughter, who was barely 7 years old, was taken in by her aunt (Tom’s sister, the actress Lily Freud) with whom she moved to Prague, but just before the war erupted, she migrated to Israel, where she lived for the rest of her life.

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The story of Tom Seidmann, like some of the other Freuds, is dark and tormented. Out of the 7 siblings Sigmund had, four (including Tom’s mother) died in concentration camps. Yes, Freud is one of the most important names in history, but it also seemed like a family curse only a few managed to escape. In Tom’s case, despair and depression proved a deadly combination. Yet, her illustrations and books have earned a lot of importance after her grandchildren rediscovered and published them. Yes, she had a tough life, but through her illustrations, she managed to transport us into her own fantasy world.

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