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From Budapest to Brookline, a psychoanalyst looks back

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Drs. Paul and Anna Ornstein in 1948.handout

Over his many years of friendship with the Lexington author Helen Epstein, Dr. Paul Ornstein discussed his experiences as a Jewish youth in pre-Nazi Hungary and losing most of his family in the Holocaust. They also spoke of his pioneering work in psychoanalysis after immigrating to the United States with his wife, Dr. Anna Ornstein, in the 1950s.

These topics are covered in the 91-year-old Brookline resident's new book, coauthored with Epstein. "Looking Back: Memoir of a Psychoanalyst" was published by Lexington-based Plunkett Lake Press.

According to Anna Ornstein, 89, who answered a Globe reporter's questions with her husband, the basis for the book was an autobiography that Ornstein wrote for a German publication in 2007. Epstein greatly expanded the text, while Anna Ornstein tracked down dozens of historical photographs.


Her husband, who was born in 1924, wrote that he experienced "garden-variety" anti-Semitism while growing up as the oldest of five children in Hungary. He was introduced to psychoanalysis while attending the Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest at age 15, and noted that his early interest in behavior and motivations "may explain my gravitating toward psychoanalysis before I even knew what it was."

The Ornsteins, who met as teens, were married in 1946 after Paul escaped from a Hungarian forced labor battalion and Anna survived Auschwitz. With the exception of his father and her mother, the rest of their families perished.

The Ornsteins, who attended medical school alongside former Nazis in postwar Heidelberg, Germany, became naturalized American citizens in 1956. They emerged as leaders in the psychoanalytic self-psychology movement. Anna Ornstein estimates they each published 100 papers in professional journals.

Although Ornstein said he only intended the memoir to record his life's events for his three children and seven grandchildren, his wife said there is much more to be learned. "Anyone living in this country should be grateful," she said. "We are watching the presidential campaign very carefully and admiring the freedom with which one can say what one thinks and challenge another's thinking. All our energy should go into preserving democracy, so what happened in Europe doesn't come close to happening in this country."


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Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at