Dr. Max Eitingon was one of Sigmund Freud’s most devoted and valued colleagues. In 1907, he came from Switzerland, where he was studying, to see Freud—the first, as Freud later put it, “to reach the lonely man” from another country.1 Freud did not take to him immediately but once convinced of Eitingon’s dedication he received him into his inner circle.2 In 1919, when that strange “secret council” was formed “composed of the best and most trustworthy among our men,” Freud himself proposed Eitingon as the sixth of the seven members.3 By 1922, after an association of almost a decade and a half, Freud wrote to him that his acceptance in Freud’s inner circle had not come easily but “ever since [I] have allowed you to render me every kind of service, imposed on you every kind of task.”4 Since his death in 1943, Max Eitingon has gone down in the history of psychoanalysis as one of its commemorated “pioneers.”5
The New York Times Book Review of January 24, 1988, published an article by Stephen Schwartz, a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Studies in San Francisco, entitled “Intellectuals and Assassins—Annals of Stalin’s Killerati.” The chief intellectual member of the “killerati” in the article was Dr. Max Eitingon.
According to Schwartz, “Dr. Max Eitingon was instrumental in preparing the 1937 secret trial in which the highest leaders of the Soviet Army, including the chief army commissar and eight generals, fell before the Stalinist execution machine.” Eitingon is said to have been drawn into the work of a “special unit [which] connived with Reinhard Heydrich of Hitler’s intelligence service.” Even more infamously, Eitingon was “involved in the murder of Ignace Reiss and the disappearance of General Miller” in 1937.
Max is also linked by Schwartz to his “brother,” Leonid Eitingon, “considered to be the KGB’s outstanding expert in operations against Russian anti-Communist exiles.” A book cited by Schwartz is said to “declare flatly” that Dr. Max Eitingon served Leonid Eitingon in the plot to abduct the anti-Soviet General Yevgeni Miller in Paris in 1937. Among the crimes attributed to Leonid is the murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.
If all this is true, Dr. Max Eitingon is one of the most remarkable cases on record of a double life or personality. In one of his incarnations, he was a man who had seemingly devoted his entire life to the advancement of psychoanalysis. In the other, he had belonged to a “special unit” which had carried out some of Stalin’s most murderous missions outside Russia.
My own interest in this case is twofold. When I first read the Times article, it struck me as a mixture of the true, the half true, and the improbable. The story of Dr. Max Eitingon seemed to be particularly suspicious, because no effort was made to explain how he could have lived his two lives at once. The KGB and its predecessors did not entrust the organization of…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.