Categorized | History

Dr. Reich’s Arrival to the United States

Article by Stephan Simonian M.D.

Dr. Reich’s Arrival to the United States

In August of 1939, Reich received a visa to travel to the United States.  On August 19th, he set sail on the last boat to leave Norway for the United States before WWII broke out on September 3rd.

Dr. Theodore Wolfe had a crucial role in Reich’s immigration to the United States and his role needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Dr. Myron Sharraf

Dr Myron Sharraf, himself a student of Dr. Reich, in Fury on Earth, which is a biography of Dr. Reich gives the following account:

“Confronted by the opposition of his enemies, the license requirement to practice therapy, and uneasiness of his friends, Reich no longer found Norway a viable home for his work. A possible solution emerged when, late in 1938 a psychiatrist came from the United States to study with Reich.  Theodore P. Wolfe, then 37 years old, had been born in Switzerland, and had acquired most of his medical and psychiatric training there before moving to America.  At the time he met Reich, he was a member of the Department of Psychiatry at the Columbia Medical School, and had done research for pioneering psychosomatic text, Emotions and Bodily Changes, written by his former wife, H. Flanders Dunbar.  Reich’s writings and his whole approach deeply impressed Wolfe, so he resolved to visit Norway, to undergo therapy with Reich, and to study his work first hand.

For Wolfe, as for many others, meeting Reich and his work, represented a turning point in his life.  As Gladis Mayer, Wolfe’s last wife, wrote in an obituary;

Dr. Theodore P. Wolfe

“Real” life began for Dr. Wolfe with his work with Dr. Reich. He would describe how everything he read, saw, heard, and felt changed in quality; and the vague impatient emptiness (he had previously experienced) began, with a great anxiety to be filled up.  A bond of gratefulness to Reich stemmed from that deepest core of himself which Reich had made accessible to him.  And he loved Reich, as Neill and Roknes and other old associates loved him.

In the course of his visit, Wolfe suggested that Reich move to America, where he could find a more congenial atmosphere.  Exhausted by Oslo’s situation, fearing the outbreak of a disastrous war in Europe, attracted to settling in America ever since 1933, Reich leaped at the idea.  Furthermore, Wolfe now offered to help facilitate the move.

Like others who at least in the early stages of their relationship with Reich, were  grateful for the contact with their “core”, Wolfe was prepared to expend endless energy to aid Reich and to further his own association with him.  On Wolfe’s return to the United States, he managed to obtain an official request from an academic institution for Reich to teach in the United States, an invitation that was necessary for a residence visa.  The new school for social research was prepared to make such an offer, after Wolfe and Walter Briehl, another American and an old student of Reich’s put up several thousand dollars guaranteeing Reich’s salary.  However the immigration question was so complicated at that time with the influx of refugees from Nazi Germany, that Wolfe had to pull strings through Adolf Behler, a high official in the U.S. State department for Reich to actually get the visa.  Reich meanwhile was waiting impatiently in Norway.  He had sent his secretary and laboratory assistant, Gertrude Geesland, ahead to New York in May 1939 to find a new home and to setup the laboratory.  Reich expected to follow in a matter of weeks, but the bureaucratic entanglement entailed a longer delay.

The months of waiting proved difficult.  In anticipation of an early departure, Reich had stopped his research, teaching and therapeutic activity.  He had sold his car to Ola Roknes and dismantled his apartment, staying with friends.  He and Elsa still saw each other, but she had definitely decided not to accompany him to the States then, although she did not exclude the possibility at a later time.

……Above all there was the steady drumbeat of his work.  He could not wait till the bureaucracy decided to let him leave.  With his talent for finding the good news in the bad, he had the feeling that the move to America, uprooting as it was, might help his work to go forward.  He also told Roknes that without his work he simply could not live.

In August 1939 Reich finally received his visa.  On August 19, he set sail on the Stavenyer Fyord, the last boat to leave Norway for the States before World War II broke out.”

In relation to this topic, we also would like to post excerpts from a letter that Dr. Reich wrote to the Minister of Justice on May 4th of 1939 requesting a passport.  This letter is published in Beyond Psychology, a book of letters and journals that spans from 1934 to 1939 and is significant because it reflects Dr. Reich’s uncompromising character when the truth was at stake.

To Minister of Justice Lie

4 May 1939

My dear Sir:

The following matter is extremely urgent, difficult, and embarrassing to me.  I have therefore taken the liberty of addressing this request for advice and assistance to you personally.

As a consequence of last year’s campaign against my scientific work, I have not received an extension of my residency and work permit for the past year and a half.  I now have an appointment to do research at Columbia University and require a traveling document in order to emigrate.  In accordance with instructions from Mr. Konstad, I duly approached the German embassy in Oslo. Mr. Annaeus  Schjodt, a lawyer, and Mrs. Constance Tracey can both testify to the fact that the German embassy issued a passport to me under the name of Wilhelm Israel Reich and bearing the stamp “Jew.”  The above name does not correspond with my other documents and I refused to accept a passport in which my name had been changed without my request.  My letter to the German embassy will attest to this.  Mr Schjodt then approached Mr. Konstad in order to obtain a Norwegian alien’s passport such as is customarily issued.  In response to this request Mr. Konstad replied that I was neither a Norwegian nor a stateless person and therefore not entitled to a Norwegian alien’s passport.  However, he was willing to issue me an identity paper bearing my photograph for the passage…

…This matter would be of no importance had I not already booked a passage for 20 May.  I fear that a delay in the issuance of the papers will not only render my passage on the scheduled date impossible but also cause me great extra expense.

I therefore urgently request that you, esteemed Sir, take the necessary steps so that a Norwegian alien’s passport can be issued to be by the beginning of next week.  Since I shall be employed by Columbia University in New York, the American consul in Oslo has promised me a nonquota visa.

This post was written by:

- who has written 64 posts on The Journal of Psychiatric Orgone Therapy.

Dr. Simonian is a general and child and adolescent psychiatrist. He completed medical school in Shiraz University, Shiraz Iran. He completed his general psychiatric residency training and fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at New York Medical College, Metropolitan Hospital Center. Concomitant with his psychiatry and child psychiatry training, Dr. Simonian completed the New York Medical College Psychoanalytic School Didactic Courses, including his own required personal psychoanalysis. In 1990, Dr. Simonian started his personal psychiatric orgone therapy, Reichian therapy, with Dr. Morton Herskowitz and in 1991 became a member of the Institute of Orgonomic Sciences (IOS), an Institute which is dedicated to promote and preserve Dr. Wilhelm Reich's work. Dr. Simonian started his private psychiatric practice in Milford, Massachusetts in 1984 and he was a chief of psychiatry department of Milford Regional Hospital for several years. He started his practice in Glendale, California since 2003. Dr. Simonian is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

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