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Karl Abraham, a pioneering psychoanalyst whom Sigmund Freud called “my best pupil,” died at 48, probably from lung cancer, on this date in 1925. He first studied psychoanalysis with Carl Jung, then came into Freud’s circle and became Freud’s close ally and collaborator. In 1910, Abraham founded the Berliner Society of Psychoanalysis, and throughout World War I he was president of the International Psychoanalytic Association. He served as analyst for Melanie Klein and several other British psychoanalysists, and as mentor for several influential German practitioners. His principal psychoanalytic speculations were about infantile sexuality, fixation, and mental illness; one of the rare conflicts he had with Freud involved Abraham’s pursuit of the reality of child molestation in Victorian circles after Freud had instead begun to interpret the reports of his patients as fantasies. In 1920, Abraham published a psychoanalytic paper about the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and its rituals, in which he viewed much of the Bible in terms of Oedipal vacillations between rebelling against and returning to the favor of the Father God.
“Psychoanalysts have been occupied for a long time with the difficult question of what the psychological conditions are which determine the form of the neurotic disease to which the individual will succumb. It is as though he had a choice between different illnesses and led by unknown impulses selected one or other of them.” —Karl Abraham