Dr. Walter Federn
My first contact with Dr. Walter Federn came through my acquaintance
with his father.
I knew Paul Federn from the days of my sojourn in Vienna in 1933.
As the president of the International Psychoanalytic Association,
he chaired that year the monthly meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic
Society of which Sigmund Freud was the founding member. At one meeting
that spring at which I was present, the discussion became rather emotionala
chapter dealing with telepathy in the new book by Freudwas the
theme. Freud, as usual, due to his poor health (he was undergoing
repeated surgery on his cancerous jaw) was absent, but his daughter
Anna was present. The subject of telepathy, foreign to the tenets
of psychoanalysis, caused visible and audible consternation among
the assembled members of the Society, mostly psychoanalysts, well
known for their publications in Imago or in the International
Journal of Psychoanalysis. (In the latter, medical or clinical
problems were the usual subject. At that time there was also a third
periodical of the analytical movement in Vienna, Psychonalytische
Bewegung, and in it I published a paper on Psychoanalytic
Glimpses of the art of Dream Interpretation according to the Tractate
Brakhot, I prior to my coming to Vienna.)(1)
Only Paul Federn and I sided with Freud and spoke up. After that
meeting, Federn and I spent the rest of the evening in a Viennese
cafe, and though I soon left for homeI was then living on the
hills of Carmel, above Haifa, Palestine, our friendship can be dated
from that day.
Paul Federn and his son Walter fled Vienna and resided in New York
since the beginning of the Second World War.
Walter Federn, whom I first learned to know in New York, got his
Ph.D. in Egyptology under Prof. C. Junker at the University of Vienna.
Walter wore his hair long, had very bushy eyebrows, and looked almost
like a mediumand actually, for a while I feared that he might
read in my thoughts the scheme of my reconstruction of history, and
make this my discovery his own. It was in February, 1941, after one
of our chance meetings at the Public Library at Forty-second Street
in New York that I decided to discuss with him my entire reconstruction,
conceived almost two years earlier. For about two hours we walked
forth and back the length of the sidewalk along Bryant Park adjacent
to the Library: Snowflakes were falling and it was already dark. I
was narrating and he listened, all enchanted. From then on he never
ceased to answer my very numerous inquiries, mostly in the field of
Egyptian bibliography, but also in the area of Egyptian philology
and other cognate fields. He soon became rather convinced that the
conventional chronology, and therefore also the ancient history of
Egypt, are not built on unshakable foundations. Though recognizing
the striking correspondences between the Egyptian and Biblical histories,
as brought out in my work of reconstruction, he was not ready to follow
the decisive surgery which it contains, with centuries
moved along the scale of time. Yet, in the spirit of constructive
criticism, in the letter exchanges that we had, on numerous occasions
he led me to manifold sources and references; the perusal of our correspondence
that embraced many years and hundreds of letters demonstrates his
great patience (I would return to raise the same question again and
again) and great store of knowledge and great generosity with his
time and efforts.
One evening in the spring of 1950 I was in the home of the Federns.
Paul Federn, expressed to me his worries about his sons future,
knowing that Walter was not well prepared to deal with lifes
hardships. I did not yet understand the reason for his worry that
night, nor the reason for the promise he asked of me and also received
that I should take care of Walter; I understood only the following
day when I read of Paul having shot himself. He had been suffering
from cancer of the bladder and was facing a second surgical intervention.
His wife had died of heart disease a few months earlier.
After the death of his father, Walter Federn moved from Central
Park West to Forest Hill, where he lived until his end. A roomy apartment,
protected from noise, was the only luxury he permitted himself.
On September 30, 1958, after some seventeen years of our contact,
Walter wrote to me in a dramatic communication that he had finally
become convinced of the full truth of my reconstruction. He wrote:
30. Sept. 1958
Lieber Dr. Velikovsky, Ich habe Ihnen folgende geradezu weltererschuttern
jedenfalls mich selbst erschutterende, Mitteilungen zu machen .
. . das allerwichtigste: Ich bin jetzt der festen Ueberzeugung,
dass Ages in Chaos richtig ist, und habe eine
fast unuebersehbare Fuelle von Beweismaterial. Der 2. Band muss
nun grossenteils neu geschrieben werden. Die Folgen fuer die gesamte
Altertumswissenschaft einerseits, fuer meine weitere Lebensgestaltung
andererseits, sind unabsehbar.
September 30, 1958
Dear Dr. Velikovsky,
I have the following report to make to youit is quite world-shaking,
and shattering for me personally, report to make . . . the most
important: I am now of the firm conviction that Ages in Chaos
is right, and I have an unmatched grasp of the scholarly
literature. The second volume must by and large be written anew.
The consequences for the discipline of ancient history on one hand
and for my future life on the other, are unforseeable.
Most sincerely yours
His concession was followed by vacillations; yet to the end it was
his conviction that the accepted way of writing history was decidedly
wrong. He could think history simultaneously in both versionsand
this was a great asset to me; thus he could draw my attention to quite
a few data that were in conflict with the accepted, and in harmony
with the reconstructed history.
When I settled on writing Oedipus and Akhnaton, conceived
much earlier, before my coming to the United States on the eve of
World War II, and the subject of my library research from then until
April 1940, Dr. Federn was helpful again, and drew my attention to
a few supporting data even outside the field of Egyptology, like the
Iranian sanctity of incest.
For some time Dr. Federn taught Egyptology at the Asian Institute
in New York, where he had very few pupils (neither Columbia University
nor any other university in the area had a course in Egyptology, and
only the Metropolitan Museum of Art had Egyptologists on its staff).
One or two of his pupils went to work in Egypt. For a while among
his pupils was the leading Assyriologist Max von Oppenheim of the
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, who would come especially
from Chicago. After the closing of the Asian Institute, Walter translated
works of Late Renaissance Latin (Paracelsus and others) into German
for a medical doctor and author.
Toward the end of his life Federn first became solitary and very
seldom left his apartment, then completely discontinued his visits
to the Egyptological Department of the Brooklyn Museum; then, for
a longer time, he became bedridden; yet he remained mentally alert
and when he could write only with great difficulty, he would answer
my calls from Princeton.
Walter Federn died on July 28, 1967, in his fifty-seventh year.
I wrote his necrologue for The New York Times He was of a fragile
body, unmarried, and given to no pleasure other than books. His enormous
store of knowledge did not spill into productivity, and his scholarly
publications were few and brief. The largest work of his was a bibliography
in Egyptology covering the years of World War II and commissioned
by the Library of the Vatican.(2)
He was highly regarded by other Egyptologists, as witnessed by the
dedication of Volume VIII (1969-1970) of the Journal of the American
Research Center in Egypt, the only American journal specilizing
in Egyptology, to him. In his article in this volume, Bernard V. Bothmer
He could discourse on any complex question at a moments
notice, and this writer vividly retains the memory of Federns
learned discussions on subjects as disparate as the meaning of b
w iwnw or the origin of the back pillar in Old Kingdom statuary.
A Privatgelehrter of the old school, he read every line
published in the field of Egyptology and kept a running account
of corrections, amendments and addenda to every major study that
appearedunfortunately in a minute script; and the maze of
his original notes was intelligible to no one but himself. his vast
knowledge, which he disclosed in a hesitating, modest, yet most
engaging manner, brought forthalas, mostly in conversationa
host of new ideas which, unendingly, he proposed as working hypotheses.
His critical comments, so freely dispensed, deserved to be acknowledged
in print far more than has actually been done.
His study of Egyptology and his almost incomparable knowledge of
it were of immense benefit to my work of reconstruction, even if his
role was mostly one of advocatus diaboli.
I can say that nobody, not even by a long stretch, helped me in
feeling secure in my work of reconstruction as far as Egyptological
sources were concerned, as did Federn. I missed an equal assurance
in the field of the cuneiform (Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite
) and do not doubt that were it different, I could enrich my work
by more evidence, and be bolder. I was rather like a walker on a very
high staircase with only one handrail to feel secure.
After Walter Federns death I succeeded to disentangle the
great web that is the so-called Twenty-first Dynasty, and also to
enrich by several strong points the reconstruction of the so-called
Twentieth Dynasty (Peoples of the Sea).
Federn offered me innumerable references in literature, but the
work of Ages in Chaos, from the beginning to its end, was my
own creation and my responsibility. Yet it would not have been the
same, were it not for Walter Federn. Our correspondence, from 1941
to about a year before his death, when the process of writing became
too difficult for him, is preserved in my archive. It covers nearly
a quarter of a century and consists, as I said, of hundreds of letters,
English and German alternating; almost all of his letters of later
years are in handwriting. They contain an inexhaustible source of
learning, even today.