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Sterba, Editha


Editha Sterba (née von Radanowicz-Hartmann) 8.5.1895/Budapest – 2.12.1986/Detroit
Richard Sterba 6.5.1898/Vienna – 24.10.1989/Grosse Pointe, Michigan

Editha Sterba was born in 1895 in Budapest as the daughter of the Austro-Hungarian army officer Heinrich von Radanowicz-Hartmann, a Catholic of Croatian birth. Initially she was tutored privately, and in 1907 and 1908 she attended Sacre Coeur in Prague. Later, thanks to her father’s high social rank, she was allowed to attend the Kaiser Franz Josef Gymnasium for Boys in Vienna’s neighboring city of Baden, where she was the only girl among 300 boys (R. Sterba 1985, 25). After her graduation she matriculated at the University of Vienna in 1915, studying German and classical philology and later switching to psychology and musicology. In 1921 she completed her studies with a dissertation on Viennese song entitled “The Wiener Lied from 1789-1815” (E. Sterba, Curriculum Vitae, cit. in Mühlleitner 1992, 328). At the advice of the psychoanalyst Otto Rank, for whom she worked as a secretary at the International Psychoanalytic Press, she began psychoanalytic training, which she completed in 1928. In 1923 she met her later husband, the Viennese physician and psychoanalyst Richard Sterba, who she married in 1926 after divorcing her first husband (R. Sterba 1985, 46).

Richard Sterba was born in 1898 in Vienna as the son of the Catholic mathematics and physics teacher Josef Sterba and the seamstress Mathilde Fischer. He attended a public Gymnasium, from which he received a special “wartime diploma” that allowed him to finish school early and enter service in the Austro-Hungarian army as a lieutenant. Following the war’s end he began his medical studies at the University of Vienna, and after his graduation in 1923 he worked as an assistant physician at Vienna’s Wilhelminen Hospital. During his military service Sterba had already developed an interest in Freud’s writings, and in 1924 he began psychoanalytic training under Eduard Hitschmann.

Editha and Richard Sterba numbered among the first graduates of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society’s training institute, which had been founded in 1925. Both were admitted to the Society as associate members in 1925. Editha Sterba served as the secretary of the training institute and as a proofreader and editor at the International Psychoanalytic Press (ibid., 46), where she edited Freud’s Gesammelte Schriften (Collected Writings) together with Anna Freud and A. J. Storfer. Richard Sterba worked at the Vienna Society’s clinic (ibid., 44). In 1928 he was accepted as a full member of the Society, and the next year he was appointed training analyst. Editha obtained full membership in 1930 and together with her husband established a private practice in Vienna. She had replaced Flora Kraus at the Society’s parents’ counseling center in 1928 (Mühlleitner 1992, 328) and beginning in 1932 cooperated with August Aichhorn, Anna Freud and Willi Hoffer in operating a further parents’ counseling center for the Society. In addition to operating his private practice, Richard Sterba also served as the librarian of the Society and was a member of its governing board.

Following the National Socialist takeover, Richard and Editha Sterba decided to emigrate to the USA via Switzerland, even though Richard Sterba, who was not of Jewish descent, had been offered the opportunity to habilitate at the Vienna University Clinic for Neurology and Psychiatry by the clinic’s director Otto Plötzl (Sterba 1985, 166). Initially Richard and Editha Sterba settled for a short time in New York before moving on to Chicago, where Richard Sterba worked as a training analyst between 1939 and 1946 and operated a private practice with his wife. In 1946 the Sterbas moved to Detroit, where Richard Sterba assisted in the founding of the Detroit Psychoanalytic Society, of which Editha Sterba was also a member. During the preceding year Richard Sterba had received a professorship at the Wayne State University College of Medicine in Detroit (Mühlleitner 1992, 332). Richard Sterba died in 1989 in Grosse Point, Michigan.

In the USA Editha Sterba worked for the Jewish Family Service, for which she developed treatment methods for youths who had survived the Holocaust. She was a member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, the Association for Child Analysis and, from 1955 onward, the Michigan Psychoanalytic Association. Beginning in 1953 she served as an advisor for child psychiatry at the newly founded Department of Psychiatry at Wayne University. In addition to her work at the Michigan Children’s Hospital, she was also an instructor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan and was involved in the foundation of numerous institutions, including the Children’s Service of McGregor Center, the North-East Detroit Guidance Clinic and the George and Anna-Marie Roeper City and Country School, a training institute for nurses (ibid., 329). Editha Sterba died in 1986 in Detroit.

First and foremost, Editha Sterba’s work centered on child analysis. Her regularly conducted case study discussions with Anna Freud soon attracted so much interest that a “seminar for child analysis” was included in the official curriculum of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society’s training institute (Sterba 1985, 46). She frequently accompanied August Aichhorn on his counseling rounds at various Viennese schools, and later she herself was entrusted with the management of several counseling centers. In 1934 she was also put in charge of the introductory seminar for child analysis.

In his first scientific writing, entitled “An Examination Dream” (“Ein Prüfungstraum”), Richard Sterba dealt with his rebellion against his domineering and sometimes tyrannical father. The article was published in the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse in 1927. A number of studies also resulted from Sterba’s experiences in the “Technical Seminar” led by Wilhelm Reich. They included writings such as “Concerning Latent Negative Transference” (“Über latente negative Übertragung”) (1927) and “The Dynamics of the Dissolution of the Transference Resistance” (“Die Dynamik der Bewältigung des Übertragungswiderstandes”) (1929), which were also published in the_ Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse._ The lecture he held at the international congress in 1932 on “The Fate of the Ego in Analytic Therapy” (“Das Schicksal des Ichs im therapeutischen Verfahren”), in which he introduced the expression “therapeutic splitting of the ego”, elicited the sharp criticism of many of his colleagues. Paul Federn, Helene Deutsch and others objected that splitting of the ego only occurs in cases of psychosis, while Anna Freud defended his approach (ibid., 93 ff.).

Encouraged by A. J. Storfer, Sterba in 1931 began work on a Psychoanalytic Dictionary (Handwörterbuch der Psychoanalyse), whose first installment appeared on the occasion of Freud’s eightieth birthday. The plan of producing sixteen installments could not be realized on account of the National Socialist takeover, and thus a total of five installments were published up to 1936, with the dictionary’s last entry being Größenwahn (i.e. megalomania; ibid., 101 ff.). In 1931 Sterba published an article on “Problems in Sublimation Theory”, in which he compared Freud’s statements on sublimation and established a scale of sublimation results.

Editha and Richard Sterba’s most famous work was the study published in 1954 on Ludwig van Beethoven and his Nephew (Ludwig van Beethoven und sein Neffe), which was translated into French and German. With the help of the “depth-psychological insights of psychoanalysis” they subjected the previous Beethoven biographies to a “radical revision” and concentrated “primarily on depicting the psychological relationships and motivations” of the artist (E. and R. Sterba 1954, 15). Richard Sterba’s autobiographical memoirs of the Psychoanalytic Association in the 1920s and 1930s were published in English in 1982 and subsequently in German translation.

_Text: Christiane Rothländer
Translation: Christopher Barber



Editha Sterba**

(1929), Nacktheit und Scham. In: Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik 3, S. 48-67.

(1933), Ein abnormes Kind. Aus einer Kindergeschichte und Behandlung. In: Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik 7, S. 5-38, 45-82.

(1933), Aus der Analyse einer Hundephobie. In: Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik 7, S. 433-452.

(1935), Ein Fall von Ess-Störung. In: Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädgagogik 9, S. 99-105.

(1936), Schule und Erziehungsberatung. In: Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik 10, S. 141-201.

(1949), Emotional problems of displaced Children. In: Journal of social Casework 30, pp. 175-181.

Richard Sterba**

(1927), Ein Prüfungstraum. In: Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse 13. S. 456f.

(1927), Über latente negative Übertragung. In: Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse 13, S. 160-167.

(1929), Das Problem des Kunstwerks bei Freud. In: Die Psychoanalytische Bewegung 1, S. 197-206.

(1929), Zur Dynamik der Bewältigung des Übertragungswiderstandes. In. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse 15, S. 456-470.

(1930), Zur Problematik der Sublimierungslehre. In. Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse 16, S. 370-377.

(1931), Einführung in die psychoanalytische Libidolehre. In: Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Pädagogik 5, S. 49-103.

(1934), Das Schicksal des Ichs im therapeutischen Verfahren. In: Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse 20, S. 66-73.

(1936), Handwörterbuch der Psychoanalyse, Wien.

(1953), Clinical and therapeutic aspects of character resistence. In: Psychoanalytic Quarterly 22, pp. 1-20.

(1956), The anxieties of Michelangelo Buonarroti. In: International Journal of Psychoanalysis 37, pp. 325-330.

(1982), Reminiscences of a Vienese Psychoanalyst, 1982.
dt.: (1985), Erinnerungen eines Wiener Psychoanalytikers, Frankfurt a.M.

Editha und Richard Sterba

(1954), Beethoven and his Nephew. A Psychoanalytic Study of their Relationship, New York.
dt.: (1964), Ludwig Beethoven und sein Neffe. Tragödie eines Genies, München.


Brainin, Elisabeth/Kaminer, Isidor, J. (1982), Psychoanalyse und Nationalsozialismus. In: Psyche 36, S. 989-1012.

Izner, Sanford M. (1990), Obituary Richard F. Sterba. M.D. (1898-1989). In: International Journal of Psychoanalysis 71, pp. 531f.

Krystal, Henry (1987), Editha Sterba, PhD 1895-1986. In: Journal of the Michigan Psychoanalytic Association.

Mühlleitner, Elke (1992), Biographisches Lexikon der Psychoanalyse. Die Mitglieder der Psychologischen Mittwoch-Gesellschaft und der Wiener Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung 1902-1938, Tübingen.

Zusammengestellt von Christiane Rothländer


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