You got a Freund in Jesus.

After 1789, the nation-state tried to organize people according to a shared language, a shared history, and—often—a shared religion.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire amounted to a Heinz 57 mixture of different religions, languages, and ethnicities.  It was doomed.  In 1918, the empire came apart like a leper in a hot tub. 

Kurt Freund (1914–1996) was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Chrudim.  Chrudim is a wide spot in the road in Bohemia.  In 1918 it became a part of the new country of Czechoslovakia.  Kurt Freund got out as soon as he could.  He studied medicine at Charles University in Prague.  Possibly inspired by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in neighboring Germany, he also became a sexologist.  (“Nothing propinks like propinquity.”)  In September 1938, Czechoslovakia’s French and British allies betrayed it at the Munich conference.  In March 1939, Nazi Germany took over the Czech parts of Czechoslovakia.  The Germans launched a savage repression of Czech identity and resistance.  (See: “Anthropoid.”)  In January 1942, Freund married Anna Hlounová, a non-Jewish Czech pianist and music teacher.   The couple had a daughter, whom they called Helen.  In 1943, they divorced to protect Anna and their daughter from anti-Jewish laws imposed by the Germans.  Somehow, Kurt, Anna, and Helen all survived the war and the Holocaust.  Kurt’s parents and brother did not.  In 1944, the Red Army arrived in Prague to “liberate” Czechoslovakia from the Germans.  The Russian “liberators” didn’t leave until 1990.[1]  They imposed a Stalinist dictatorship.  A reign of terror followed against the opponents of “democratic centralism.”  Nothing in the recent history of the Czechs suggested that truth-telling was a good life strategy.  It just got you imprisoned or killed. 

While Communists were OK with stealing private property and murdering their enemies, they were really puritanical about sex.  Gay people—called “warm people” in Czech slang[2]–were not “allowed” to serve in the military.  Lots of Czech men didn’t want to serve in the army, so they claimed to be homosexual.  The Czech Army set Kurt to work finding out if a machine could tell if a draftee was gay or straight.  So Kurt now developed a professional interest in “truth detecting” in a country now dedicated to lying and fantasizing. 

Put not quite as crudely as possible, male sexual arousal leads to an inflow of blood to the sex organ.  The organ becomes enlarged and rigid.  So, Kurt reasoned, if you can measure volumetric change during the presentation of various stimuli, you have a measure of what arouses someone.  Basically, put a vacuum tube on a guy, show him a variety of dirty movies, and see what pops up, so to speak.  In scientific terms, this is called “Penile plethysmography” or “phallometry.”[3]   Broadly, his theory seems to have held up.  He also did a lot of work on “conversion therapy” for gay people and concluded that sexual orientation is in-born, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the counseling sessions to change someone back to “normal.”[4] 

In 1968, the Czechs rebelled against their Russkie-puppet rulers.  It failed, just like in East Germany in 1948, and Hungary in 1956.  A boat-load of Czechs bolted for the West.  Kurt ended up teaching in Toronto.   Canadian shrinks turned out to be a lot more retrograde than Czech shrinks.  Kurt’s ideas about tolerance for homosexuality aroused (HA!) resistance. 

In 1994 Kurt Freund’s doctor told him he had terminal cancer.  In 1996, he died of a mix of muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, and wine.  Probably sitting on his porch watching the sun set. 

[1] Meanwhile, in 1945 Kurt and Anna re-married and had a second child, Peter. 

[2] See: 

[3] I don’t expect that American colleges will develop a major in Phallometry. 

[4] Of course it didn’t work: he was treating straight men who were dodging the draft.  See: Upton Sinclair. 


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