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Toni Wolff–James Kirsch correspondence by Thomas B. Kirsch
Her personality, her approach to her work as analyst, and her relationship with Jung and with colleagues are illustrated with selected quotes from the correspondence.
This correspondence is between two significant figures in the early history of analytical psychology.
There are twenty-nine letters from Toni Wolff to my father, spanning a period of twenty-four years, from 1929 to the last one dated February 7th, 1953.
Half the letters are written between 1929 and 1933 and the other half between 1949 and 1953.
I assume that there was correspondence between 1933 and 1949 because I came across a letter from Toni Wolff to my mother written in 1937.
I am focusing on the letters from Toni Wolff to my father, because for most of us, myself included, she is relatively unknown, except that she was intimately related to Jung for over forty years, and that she was his assistant for many of those years.
The Analytical Psychology Club of San Francisco has put together reminiscences of Toni Wolff into a small pamphlet edited by Fern Jensen, while Bob Hinshaw and Clarissa Pincola Estes are putting together a collection of her unpublished papers.
There are three letters from my father to Toni Wolff in answer to some of her interpretations of my father’s behaviour in particular circumstances.
The other letters must have been lost with the many moves that my parents made.
The letters are all written in German, except for the last one, which is written in English, and I wish to thank Ursula Egli for the translations.
Let me begin by presenting a short biographical sketch of each. Toni Wolff, the oldest of three daughters, was the favourite of her father, a Swiss businessman.
When he died in 1910, she was twenty-two; she fell into a depression, and her mother sent her to Jung for treatment.
Jung must have immediately sensed Toni’s intelligence and aptitude for analysis, for in 1911 he invited her along with his wife and Miss Moltzer to the Weimar Psychoanalytic Congress (McLynn 1996, p. 178).
Some months after the end of treatment in 1912, the two began a sexual relationship, which soon became known to Emma Jung.
Somehow they worked out their respective relationships, and sustained this compromise for the remainder of their lives.
Toni came regularly for the Sunday lunch to the home, and the three of them were seen together at meetings of the Club and Jung’s seminars.
She also travelled with Jung as his companion, as will be seen in these letters.
Toni became a founding member of the Analytical Psychology Club in 1916, serving as its president from 1928 until 1945.
From the early 1920s she worked as Jung’s professional assistant, and many people who saw Jung in analysis also saw Toni Wolff.
She was considered to be more practical and worked more personally with the analysand than Jung, and many found therapy with her to be more helpful.
My father was one of those who saw both Jung and Toni Wolff in analysis.
It is my impression that he saw Toni Wolff more often than he saw Jung, but I am not sure of this.
The number of hours of analysis with both Jung and Toni Wolff was under 100 each.
My father documented the number when he was applying for licensure in California.
During her presidency in 1944 the 10 percent quota on Jewish membership was passed. The Jewish issue has a great deal of significance in the relationship between Toni and my father for it comes up early in the correspondence.
Toni never married, and as a matter of fact, she never moved from the house in which she was born.
When she became an analyst, she turned one of the rooms in her house into a consultation office.
She died on March 21st, 1953.
My father was born in Guatemala in 1901 into a Jewish merchant family.
In 1906 his mother returned with all the children to Berlin where my father began his schooling.
His father remained with the business in Guatemala and only came home every two years, but because of World War I he did not return between 1912 and 1921.
My father received his medical degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1922, and joined the Zionist organization.
He returned to Berlin to begin a practice of psychiatry.
He began Freudian analysis and then in 1922 switched to a Jungian analysis with Toni Sussman, with whom he had 300 hours.
In 1928 he met Jung and Toni Wolff for the first time in Zürich, and between that time and 1933 he made periodic visits from his home in Berlin to Zürich to continue his analysis with both Jung and Toni.
In applying for state licensure in California in the 1950s he stated that he had about 60 hours with Jung and 50 with Toni Wolf.
The first half of the correspondence deals with issues between my father and Toni Wolff while he still lived in Berlin.
My parents did not like the atmosphere in Tel Aviv, and so in 1935 they immigrated to London.
In October 1940 when it looked as if Hitler might invade Britain, my family made a hazardous trip across the North Atlantic and we eventually ended up in Los Angeles.
My mother and father started the Jung group there, and they both taught and practised in Los Angeles until their respective deaths in 1978 and 1989.
The correspondence begins around a scheduled visit of Jung to Berlin in January 1930.
Toni asks my father for recommendations for a hotel near the scheduled meeting place, and expresses some concern that she may not be admitted because the lecture was sold out.
She writes to my father on January 4th, 1930:
‘We will arrive on the evening of January 12th and are happy to follow your suggestion and stay at the Bristol hotel. Preferably we would like two quiet single rooms with a bathroom to share between these rooms’.
Two things stand out for me in this letter.
First, a relatively new analysand, and a very young one at that, is brought into the familiar circle around Jung.
Jung travels openly with Toni, and my father would have had to know something
about the relationship between them.
Secondly, the tone of Toni’s letter demonstrates her well-known formality.
The next subject is a most fascinating one.
It involves negotiations around a lecture that my father made to the Analytical Psychology Club in Zürich in the fall of 1930.
At that time the Analytical Psychology Club was the only structure where people interested in Jung’s psychology met, and it was very difficult to join this élite group.
Membership required sponsorship by two members as well as a recommendation from one’s personal analyst, and then a long wait for an opening.
In addition, the activities of the Club were all in German so that most Americans and British did not even try to join.
On September 12th, 1930, Toni Wolff, president of the Analytical Psychology Club, wrote to my father that the Club would indeed be interested in his lecture entitled ‘The
Problem of the Modern Jew in Germany’.
No financial remuneration was offered, but she did hold out the possibility that he might be given membership in the Club after his lecture:
I am pleased to note that under the circumstances you will not expect any financial
remuneration. On the other hand, I hope that your possible application for membership would be accepted after your lecture, even though you do not live in
Switzerland. Of course, I am just mentioning this as a personal remark between us
and it should not be referred to publicly. There will be plenty of time for you to send
in the application from Berlin after your return (in the usual manner, with two
sponsors, and most importantly with a description of the reasons for wanting to
join) since there will be no Executive Committee meeting before then.
Emma and Carl Jung, as well as Toni Wolff, attended the lecture.
It has been translated into English, and in fact it was read at the IAAP Congress in Zürich in 1995.
In it, my father describes dreams of many Jewish analysands living in Berlin.
The image of the Nazi brown shirt already enters into individual’s dreams.
Given what happened in Germany shortly thereafter, and the questions raised about Jung’s relationship to Jews, the timing of this lecture is important.
There was so much interest in the lecture that it was given twice.
In the end the executive committee of the Analytical Psychology Club offered
him some compensation for his double efforts.
Shortly thereafter he was made a ‘guest’ member of the Club, with the prospect of eventually becoming a regular member.
I do not believe that he ever gained the status of a regular member because of the interruption of World War II and his subsequent emigration.
Another very interesting issue came up at around the same time.
There was a young German artist who lacked funds for analysis, which the Club decided
to subsidize with my father in Berlin.
She attempted suicide while in analysis with my father, and this brought the analysis to an end.
The attempted suicide outraged Toni Wolff, who wrote to my father ‘if she continues with such disgusting behaviour, the Club will no longer support her’.
Later on she states:
If I were in your place I would not receive Miss M. anymore if she wants to commit
suicide. In that case analytical discussions have no purpose. She only wants your
sanction of her suicide, and that is what you can refuse to give her.
This ended the analysis with Miss M., and there ensued a discussion about payment, and how much compensation my father should have, and how much should be returned to the Club.
Toni Wolff was exacting about the money in a most Swiss manner.
I find it interesting that the Club had funds to subsidize someone’s analysis.
I have never heard of this before, and I do not believe that this happened frequently.
Following the success of this lecture, my father wished the next year (1931) to give a lecture on Goethe’s Faust, especially in relationship to the anima.
Toni Wolff did not wish my father to give this lecture for the Club.
She stated that there had been a lecture on Goethe’s anima recently, and the Club did not
need a further lecture on the subject:
I do not think that the lecture would be suitable for the Club. We had a Goethe
evening about a year ago, and Dr. Medtner spoke about Goethe’s anima problem
with reference to the figure of Mignon who is Goethe’s outstanding anima figure.
In October I repeated my lecture, and now I would like to let Goethe rest for a
The subject of the anima came up frequently in these letters, because my father had difficulties in this area.
Women patients developed strong transferences to him, and he likewise had strong countertransference reactions.
Toni Wolff was direct and forthright in addressing this issue.
It is a leitmotif throughout the letters.
We now move to February 1949 where the correspondence resumes.
My parents, along with Max Zeller, had established a growing Jungian community in Los Angeles.
As reported earlier, the letters from the intervening years have been lost.
My father had given a lecture in Los Angeles entitled ‘From Hollywood to the Shores of the Spirit’ in which he analysed the dreams of a Jewish screenwriter.
He was going to use the same material for a seminar in Zürich, and he wanted Toni’s reactions.
Her reaction was critical of the way my father worked.
One of the symbols in the dream was a uniform, and Toni Wolff had some general remarks to make about the symbol of the uniform which she felt my father had not expressed in his interpretation of the dream.
I quote what she says:
You interpret the uniform as the collective persona which he should lay off (give up).
However, in the dream the main concern is for him to find a place where he can put
on the uniform, because now it is no longer a joke but it is serious. Do you know
what a uniform is in reality? It is duty, discipline, and putting aside everything
personal and individualistic. It would seem more likely to me that it signifies the
acceptance of the human being, as he really is, without personal and arbitrary
delusions, wishes, and ambitions . . . I wanted to mention these things to you so that
you will be more exact in the interpretation of dreams in your seminar here. We are
accustomed to something else, and also our students. We cannot offer them interpretations
which are only intuitive and optimistic . . . It seems to me that you were
seduced to many interpretations because you overestimated the creative forces and
consequently under estimated human nature, and thus reality . . . this is dangerous.
In the same letter she chides my father for having spoken about her relationship
to Prof. Jung at a social gathering.
Why you know about such things, I cannot surmise; in any case it is nobody’s concern
and is certainly not a topic of conversation at a party. Such things are unbelievably
tactless and tasteless and besides terribly misleading. Do you take your licence
to your ‘feeling cult’ from such things? Do you see so little awareness of reality?
My father responded to Toni Wolff in a letter dated February 27th, 1949, in which he states that many things have got mixed up in gossip by the time they reached her.
He says that he has been extremely discreet about her relationship to Jung, and that the conversation mentioned had probably taken place many years ago, and he could not remember it exactly.
He also explained why he did not go into more detailed amplifications in the lecture, which was because he did not have the time.
My father had wished to speak with Jung about these private and personal matters two years before, but he had been told that he should not speak about these touchy matters at that time because of Jung’s precarious health.
She replies on March 10th, 1949, in a much more conciliatory tone.
She states that she was not judging him, but she wanted him to know that the students at the Institute are expected to learn what careful dream analysis is:
Many thanks for your letter of February 27. It appears that you misunderstood
several things I wrote, and I would like to clarify them. As far as your lecture is
concerned, I certainly never thought of criticizing your analysis with the person in
question. My objections only referred to the interpretation of the cited dreams which I found to be overly intuitive and optimistic. The explanations in your letter just seem to confirm my impression, especially as far as the pathological elements in the first and last dreams are concerned and which you do not touch upon at all in this interpretation. For our students, however, it is particularly important to learn what a careful dream analysis is.
And about the discussion of her relationship to Jung she states the following:
‘It is absolutely unnecessary to give any explanation to people who are curious.
Such things are very delicate and easily misunderstood, especially by young people’.
The next letter from Toni Wolff is dated December 31st, 1949.
In addition to some general gossip and news Toni Wolff brings up an interesting issue.
My father had sent her a redwood plant for Christmas by airmail.
Toni Wolff did not know what it was, nor how to take care of it, and asked my father for
advice on its care.
I find this quite touching because the redwood tree is so much a part of California, and I interpret this as an effort on my father’s part to bring a part of California to her.
I do not know what happened to the redwood plant, but my guess is that it did not survive.
The next letter, January 19th, 1950, has many subjects of interest.
The first item discussed is that of the death of her brother-in-law, Hans Trüb.
Hans Trüb was a psychiatrist who was married to Toni Wolff’s sister, and who had
become a student of Martin Buber. Trüb had been an early member of the Club, but then he and Jung had a falling out.
He had published a book entitled From the Self to the World (Von Selbst zur Welt) in which he had attempted to connect Jung’s work with that of Martin Buber.
In this letter Toni Wolff states:
The alliance of Buber with modern analytical psychology seems somewhat open to
question, as far as I am concerned, especially in view of the fact that Dr. Trüb did
not quite understand the Jungian ideas, of course, because he thought in Buber’s
concepts and terms.
The relationship of Hans Trüb to C. G. Jung is a long and complicated business and it is beyond the scope of this paper to present.
Another subject of that letter is one in which my father became extremely involved.
Prof. Bruno Klopfer, a leading expert in the field of Rorschach psychology at the time, desired to become a Jungian analyst in Los Angeles.
He presented his credentials, and my father questioned the number of his hours of Jungian analysis.
My father then wrote to other leading Jungian analysts, including Jung and Toni Wolff, asking advice about this situation, which generated many bad feelings before Klopfer eventually was made a Jungian analyst in Los Angeles.
In 1959 he started a biennial two-week long workshop in Asilomar, California.
At the time it was the only such intensive study group in the United States, and many future Jungian analysts were introduced to Jung’s psychology through this workshop.
At that time lecturers from Zürich began travelling to the United States.
Frau Ostrowski, a Zürich Club member, brought back some impressions of the Los Angeles Jungians to Toni Wolff.
Miss Wolff relayed these impressions to my father, writing:
She (Frau Ostrowski) believed that in Los Angeles the members of the audience were
visibly relieved when she told them that symbols do not have a definite meaning,
but instead-according to circumstances-have different meanings. From this she
concluded that you had evidently taught that certain symbols are defined precisely
and unequivocally. Her second impression was that also in other situations you may appear too much as an authority figure . . . I have heard the view expressed before that you like to play the role of the pope who decrees infallible dogmas.
She ends the letter by stating: ‘I hope that these observations will be of some use’.
My father answers her in a surprisingly non-defensive manner, given the strength of her criticisms.
He relates several dreams, which relate to the issues she mentioned.
It is refreshing for me to see that my father took her comments seriously, but at the same time he defended his point of view.
Toni Wolff certainly was not easy on him.
There is one final letter written on February 7th, 1953, just six weeks prior to her death.
Toni Wolff had had severe arthritis for many years and was always going to spas for treatment, and my father earlier had offered to send her cortisone, which had just come on the market.
Her response is so typical of her:
I am sure that I would have declined cortisone, that was not even necessary
because, luckily, the physicians here are very sceptical of such wonder drugs and
first test them carefully and thoroughly, and if possible only clinically. I have heard
about very injurious and dangerous consequences of cortisone from several
This concludes the correspondence in my possession.
In going over these letters I have gathered many new insights about my father, and they have acquainted me with Toni Wolff’s personality.
I never had a chance to meet her, as she died a few months before my first visit to Zürich.
In these letters she appears as a formidable person, forthright, direct and no-nonsense.
She could say things to my father which no one else that I know could, and he seemed to be able to take it.
In the correspondence she is extremely formal, and in all the letters refers to my father as ‘Dr. Kirsch’, and never refers to him by his first name.
In return my father always refers to her as ‘Miss Wolff’, and never refers to her as ‘Toni’.
From early on in the relationship Toni Wolff is at least challenging if not antagonistic towards my father.
She challenges him about being a member of a ‘feeling cult’, making imprecise and sloppy interpretations, being indiscreet regarding her relationship to Jung, and then later as being inflexibly authoritarian and rigid regarding symbolism.
My father did feel that she was not very accepting of Jews and he has told me that she was not anti-Semitic, but he thought she had more antagonism towards Jews than Jung did although her feeling towards Jews was never a subject that he dwelt upon at any great
My father had contact with her during a period in which not only he but also much of the world was in turmoil and transition.
She, on the other hand, never left the house in which she was born. What a contrast!
From the correspondence I can see that my father really listened to her and respected her
In light of his circumstances and the world situation, he was never able to see her on a regular basis.
In reading over the correspondence it made me wonder how his life and consequently my life might have been different had my father been able to be in a long-term analysis with her.