'If one decides to take a journey, he will become proud and very wise'

July 6, 2017

The children's books of artist Tom Freud/Tom Seidmann-Freud and their journey through Europe into the World.




The conception of a culturally open Europe was already present during the time of the origin of children's books. Johann Amos Comenius (1592 – 1670) already presented this idea to all children in his Orbis Pictus (fig. 1). Even though the rise of nationalism in the 19th century thwarted attempts to tear down territorial barriers, the advent of the 20th century, after the devastating World War I, brought hope of a renewed communication among the nations of Europe. The 1920s saw serious efforts striving for an intellectual opening and cultural exchange.  Tom Freuds/Tom Seidmann-Freuds artistic pursuits are part of this period of time.


Martha Gertrude 'Tom' Freud was born in Vienna in 1892, the city of the Belle Époque with its traditional culture and baroque sensuality. Around 1900 Vienna first reached one million inhabitants, a huge melting pot consisting mostly of migrants from throughout the gigantic k.u.k. monarchy.

The parents of Sigmund Freud, Jacob (1815 – 1896) and Amalie Freud (1835 – 1930), Martha Gertrudes (Toms) grandparents, had moved from Galicia, the easternmost part of the Habsburg Empire, via Moravia to Vienna in the center of Europe, to establish a secured existence for themselves during the 19th century as well.

Berlin was another important hub during the turn of the century, embodying the departure of the arts into Europe’s modern age through its metropolitan dynamics, even more so than Vienna. Berlin had around 2 Million residents around the year 1900 and just like Vienna, Berlin was a highly desired destination for many migrants from eastern-European countries. In the years between 1919 and 1923 it became home to several ten thousand Russian immigrants.  Both these metropoleis, Berlin and Vienna, filled with an atmosphere of inspiring ideas and daring upheavals shaped Tom Freud and her view of the world around her.



The Freud Family


Tom Freud is part of the widely ramified family unit of the Freuds.

Her uncle Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), a brother to her mother Marie Freud, while still born in the Moravian Freiberg (todays Pribor, Czech Republic) moved as a small child to Vienna with his parents. The Freuds represented liberal European ideas, while Jewish traditions were of little concern in their day to day life since the Freud family was largely secularized.

The Austrian metropolis became home to the physician and future psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. School, academic studies, founding a family and professional practice, including scientific research, took place here. Sigmund Freud lived and worked in Viennas upper-class ambiance until he was forced into his London exile in 1938. 


His sister Marie/Mitzi Freud (1861 – 1942), the third daughter of Jacob and Amalie Freud, was born in Vienna where she lived out her childhood and youth. Her future husband Moritz/Maurice Freud (1857 – 1920), a second cousin (the fathers of Moritz and Sigmund, Samuel and Jacob Freud, were cousins), was born and had grown up in Bucharest/Romania. Moritz, an aspiring merchant, also left his home country and went to Vienna to gain a foothold in his chosen field of career. In the early years of the 1880’s he was a frequent guest at the Vienna branch of the Freud family, where he was introduced to Marie.


When Marie left for Paris in 1882, to work as a governess and learn the French language, she met again Moritz Freud, who she later got engaged to at the age of 21. They were married in Vienna in 1887, retaining the family name Freud. Sigmund Freud was present during the ceremony as the groomsman. As the eldest brother he felt a lifelong responsibility for his siblings, in matters both ideally and material.

The Freud-siblings Marie and Sigmund lived in the same borough (IX.) of Vienna, Alser Grund. Marie lived with Moritz and the growing family in the mezzanine of the property Grüne Thor Gasse 14 (today Grünentorgasse). On November 17th, 1892 Martha Gertrude (Tom) Freud was born there as third daughter, after Margarethe/Margit (1887 – 1984) and Lilly/Elise (1888 – 1970). The grandparents, Jacob and Amalie, resided on the 1st floor of the same building while Sigmund Freud and his family were living at Berggasse 19 (today’s Freud-Museum), just a short walking distance away.


The proximity to the parents and grandparents, as well as the dominant cousin Sigmund, presumably led Moritz Freud, the non-academic merchant who did not seem to be an equal partner  by social standards to the Sigmund – family, to move to Berlin with his family, to withdraw from the overwhelming influence of the Vienna – Freuds. Additionally, the conditions for Moritz Freud to found an independent business for the export of carpets were excellent at the turn of the century, mostly due to the progressing industrialization of Berlin.

In 1898 the family of Moritz and Marie Freud, along with their three daughters Margarethe, Lilly and Martha Gertrude (fig. 2) moved to the rapidly growing capital of the German Empire. The younger brother Theo was born in Berlin in 1904 (+1923), while the other twin Georg was stillborn. 



Youth and Education


Tom Freud, while registered on the birth-certificate of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien from 1892 with the first names Martha Gertrude, acquired the name Tom as a teenager. A study of wild flowers from [19]07 still bears the signature M[artha] Freud, everywhere after that only the name Tom may be found.

According to statements by her grandson Amnon Harari (*1950) one aspect of the masculine sounding name of his grandmother was 'to persevere in an artistic world dominated by men'.

He believes that the name had nothing to do with her self-conception as a woman. This is in contrast to the statement of Anna Freud (1895 – 1982,) the youngest daughter of Sigmund Freud and cousin to Tom Freud. In reply to my question regarding the puzzling name-change she answered that Tom had been unhappy with her female identity. '[She] rather hated to be female and therefore changed her name to a male one'.

In contrast to her older sisters Margarethe und Lilly, who appeared to grow up carefree and extroverted, Tom was a rather introverted and unusually imaginative child, who attracted attention for her creativity and artistic talent early on in her life. Her parents encouraged and supported her, as it was obvious that the youngest daughter would eventually pick a career in the arts.

Tom received a profound education, even in her younger years. She accompanied her father Moritz on his business trips to England, where they also visited the branch of the Freud family that had settled in Manchester, the half-brothers of Sigmund Freud, Emanuel (1833 – 1914) and Philip (1834 – 1911), both sons from the first marriage of Jacob Freud.

In the early 20th century the capital of the British Empire, London, was the center of attention for a variety of nationalities, cultures and religions. The conditions in the city were ideal for the merchant Moritz Freud to trade in carpets. During those years over a third of the entire trading volume of the empire was handled at the docks of London.

The trips to England left a lasting impression on Tom Freud. After her graduation from the German School in 1910/1911, she went to an ‘art school’ in London, though the institution remains unidentified (Lilly Freud even referred to the school as an 'Academy' in one of her letters).

Here she acquired her first theoretical and practical basics of art techniques. Most of all, she discovered the art of painting in watercolors, a technique that would stay with her for life. Her cousin Michael Freud – Magnus, the son of her eldest sister Margarethe wrote to me: 'Tom was trained in England, London. This is reflected by her fondness for painting in watercolors and for her style.'


Artistic forms of expression in Europe, from the turn of the centuries up until World War I, were dominated by Jugendstil/Art Nouveau. Initiated by the Arts- and Crafts- Movement in Great Britain, Jugendstil had far reaching impact on all areas of European art. 

Motives originating in the Far East, mainly influenced by Japanese artist Hokusai (1760 – 1849), were joined with Victorian splendor into a synthesis of the arts – limits were no longer imposed on the artistic fantasy.

Parallel to the changing reception of art, the view on children changed as well. The Swedish ‘Reformpädagogin’ Ellen Key demanded in her book The century of the child, published in 1900, an intensive study on the independent personality of a child. As a result influential artists like Karl Hofer, Ernst Kreidolf and Konrad F. E. von Freyhold gave an entirely new dimension to the aesthetically designed children's book– children as independent individuals now stood in the center of attention for a serious artistic and psychological perception.



Artistic Beginnings


Works of art from Tom Freud, unique specimens and her earliest children's books originating from the years up until 1922 are inspired by Jugendstil. There are dimly colored paintings including typical and extensive, decorative ornaments with softly curved outlines, interwoven with asymmetrical juxtapositions of her own lyrics or verses. 

Tom Freud went with the forms of expression of her time and was yet searching for her own way of artistic realization, truly revealing her talent.


Two unpublished children's books from her time in London have been preserved, composed with own texts and painted in expressive Jugendstil – watercolors: Das Wölkchen[1], 1910 and Die Gärten des Leidens[2], 1911. They display, in nuce, the talent of the young artist to translate visual and emotional experiences into a very personal imagery. The aforementioned storybooks have been dedicated to family members: Das Wölkchen (fig. 3) tells the fairy-tale story of two brothers, in which one of the brothers makes a wish come true for the other, with the greatest of efforts. Toms younger brother Theo was an orphaned twin, since the other twin Georg had died during childbirth in 1904. At the time of the creation of this fairy-tale Theo, who Das Wölkchen is dedicated to, was six years old. The illustrated story Die Gärten des Leidens was designed by Tom as an homage for her mother’s 50th birthday in 1911. 


At the age of 19, after returning from London, Tom Freud enlisted at the Unterrichtsanstalt des Königlichen Kunstgewerbemuseums [3]in Berlin – Charlottenburg for the winter term 1911/1912.

She received comprehensive training in all important techniques of artistic craftsmanship during her three years at the institution: freehand drawing, graphic print and etching, lithography and copperplate printing, nude drawing and modeling. However, watercolor remained her technique of choosing, as it was an exceptional show of creative certainty and technical skill due to its uncorrectable nature.

The storybook also stayed with Tom Freud for life: the artist ventured into a cosmos full of never depleting pictorial spaces and dreams. She found her fulfillment in the playful and poetic, which we are going to explore through her toy books and spelling books.


The First Storybook


Already the first storybook Das Baby=Liederbuch[4] from 1914 is a display of Tom Freuds incomparable style. Non-pathetic in form and extent and yet delicate with elegant line management and streamlining of the characters, the independency of her style becomes immediately apparent.

The childlike scenes are presented on a monochromatic background with a plain and very condensed pictorial language. On the one hand approximating Jugendstil and on the other already outgrowing it. The girl with the white ribbon in her hair is being made weightless by the bright blue balloon and yet being almost tenderly anchored to the earth by a delicate line (Fig. 4).

In December 1914 her uncle from Vienna, Sigmund Freud, spoke generously of his 22year-old niece: 'I think of the curious ‘Tom’ as a rather well-behaved and talented child. She is drawing from unlimited resources with innocent motives and great affection, the object of which is her little brother [Theo].'




Tom Freud moved to Munich in the December of 1918. The long and gruesome war was over and peace in Europe let the people return to their civil lives, albeit step by step. During the same year, her second book Das neue Bilderbuch[5] was published in the series Dietrichs Münchener Künstler- Bilderbücher as No. 29 of these ambitious editions of the publishing house. The publisher advertised Das neue Bilderbuch as ‘t h e  storybook of 1918’, claiming that it was by far exceeding ‘the average children's book… The artist knows what a child likes. She isn't t r y i n g to be original, instead she is l i v i n g inside a child’s fantasy.'

With two versions in foreign languages the Munich publisher succeeded in opening the works of Tom Freud to neighboring countries. Das neue Bilderbuch was published in 1919 under the title En ny Bilderbok in Stockholm, Sweden and in 1920 as Wie is je vriendje? in Alkmaar, The Netherlands. The author had found her personal topic of choice and was celebrating first public success.

Her private life however didn't continue as smoothly as the storybooks of this time seem to suggest. She was a seeker, who at times unsociably secluded herself in her art. Only the intimate relationship to her sister Lilly (1888 – 1970), a charismatic actress and diseuse, who had moved to Munich in 1916 and married the theater director Arnold Marlé (1887 – 1970), saved her from too great a loneliness.

Reciter Lilly, who had performed alongside poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) several times, appears to have been the reason why Tom came to Munich.  

Lilly introduced her younger sister into the Schwabinger[6] Society and after a while Tom connected with a group of intellectual Jewish writers and artists. Zionism was a major subject among this groups members: its notions were controversially discussed, discarded and formulated anew. At this point Germany had long lost its status as a safe haven for Jewish citizens. The European neighbors, most of all France, England and Denmark seemed to offer more tolerance and security.


Her roommate at the Schwabinger apartment, Gerhard/Gershom Scholem (1897 – 1982), describes Tom as follows: ' She was a true bohemian, with more than a few relationships with artists and writers' Gershom Scholem, a Jewish scholar and translator of Hebrew texts, was closely associated with Zionism from his youth forward. Already in 1923 he chose Palestine as his future homeland, after successfully finishing his PhD on Jewish mysticism (Kabbala) in Munich [the meaning of his Hebrew name Gershom is 'I have become a guest in foreign country']. He escaped the holocaust to which his brother Werner (1895 – 1940) fell victim in the concentration camp Buchenwald. [Toms mother Marie Freud would also become victim of the National Socialists in Treblinka at the old age of 81]

Today Gershom Scholem is regarded as one of the most important Jewish religious historians of the 20th century. His intellectual mentor from his days in Berlin, Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940), kept upright a letter- friendship with Scholem, who had by then left Germany, living in Jerusalem for the rest of his life. After 1933 Benjamin left Germany and went into exile first in France, later in Denmark and Spain. On the flight from the National Socialists he chose to end his life in 1940.  


Walter Benjamin had gotten to know and appreciate Tom Freud in the early 1920s during visits in the Schwabinger apartment. He was a passionate storybook- expert and collector and became a vocal and convincing advocate of Tom Seidmann – Freuds later works: through his witty reviews of her play-fibulae, published between 1930 – 1932 by Herbert Stuffer in Berlin, the unusual books gained fame throughout Germany, as well as the German-speaking neighboring nations and found their enthusiastic audience.

Another acquaintance from her days in Munich is Samuel (Shmuel) Yosef Agnon (1888 – 1970).

Born in Buczacz in Galicia Agnon (née Samuel Czaczkes) had emigrated to Palestine in 1907 as a young man. In the years from 1913 – 1924 he returned to Germany making his living as a writer, financially and ideally supported by Salman Schocken (1877 – 1959), a merchant and publisher from Berlin.

Around 1919 Schocken urged Agnon, who he worshiped, to rearrange a Hebrew ABC-Book, the Alef-Bet, into poems, amplified with illustrations by Tom Freud. ‘Every letter of the alphabet was described in extensive verses and glorified’. With the congenial ‘letter- pictures’ of Tom Freud, which represented an artistic counterweight to Agnons melodic language, the book was supposed to be published in Germany by the Zionistic association, which had around 20.000 members at the time.


Agnon, who was living in Munich in the winter of 1919/20, was friends with Scholem and a frequent visitor at the Türkenstraße in Schwabing. According to Scholem, this is where 'the poet surrounded with tender melancholy' sat together with his kindred soul Tom Freud, to work on their joined project: The illustrated alphabet-book. However, the publisher was allegedly unhappy with Toms designs, furthermore interim financial bottlenecks occurred at the Schocken publishing company. Hence the alphabet that had been ready for print in July 1921, including Agnons verses and Toms illustrations, was never published.


[There is a 'dummy' of the book in the archives of the Schocken publishing company in Jerusalem. It is reputed that the illustrations consisted of a variety of styles and appeared rather somber and unpleasant. But the delicate designs that I was able to view at her granddaughter Ayala contradict these statements, especially in light of contemporary taste. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, painted in oriental decor, drawn in ink on carton, convey an atmosphere of lightness and transparency (fig. 5).  In 1983, 13 years after the passing of Agnon, the Schocken Company published a Sefer Ha-Otiyot [7] in Tel Aviv with the former poems of Agnon from 1921, but with new illustration by Yoni Ben – Shalom. Tom Freuds alphabet- illustrations yet have never been published.] 


Back to Berlin


Already in the summer of 1920 Tom Freud was forced to leave Munich. As a result of political unrests in Bavaria, caused by the anti-republic Kapp-Coup, foreigners had to leave Bavaria within a fixed time frame if they were only temporary residents. This regulation affected the politically uninvolved Tom Freud: as the daughter to a Romanian father she didn’t have a German passport available, additionally she was living in a sublet. So she left Munich in June 1920 and moved back to Berlin to her parental home.

The familiar community in Munich parted ways in the following years: Gershom Scholem emigrated to Palestine in 1923. Samuel Agnon left Germany in 1924 and returned to Jerusalem as well. And Toms sister Lilly Marlé moved to Hamburg with her family in 1924, where Arnold Marlé had secured a position as the stage director of the Deutsche Schauspielhaus.      


David the Dreamer


Around 1920 Jugendstil is making way for a new perception on art all around Europe, the ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ (New Objectivity). In the works of Tom Freud this artistic development can be grasped exemplary. Up until 1922 Jugendstil is the defining element of her creations. Her following book David the Dreamer. His book of Dreams occupies a unique position within the opus. First drafts for David are from around 1917, indicated by the signature T.F. 17 at the stern of the boat (fig.6). The storybook was published in 1922 in Boston in English. There is neither a German nor a Hebrew edition of the book. So far it remains unknown how Tom Freuds connections to the author Ralph Bergengren or the publishing house in Boston came to pass. It is only certain that she received the commission to provide the illustrations for the both bizarre and fantastical text of the author. (Taking a closer look at the story, it reminds of Lewis Carrolls Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with its slight irony and overall curiosity.)

Out of all the elegant illustrations by Tom Freud the most memorable is the talking goldfish. He saves the boy David, who is drifting in a small boat, from distress at sea after a short discussion (‘just take my fin’). This talking goldfish is making a reappearance in 1923, after undergoing an expressionistic transformation, in bright red color in the book Die Fischreise[8], this time in connection to the shy Peregrin. This time he is playing the leading part along with the boy.

Likewise impressive in David the Dreamer is the 'doggerel' speaking dog Fido: he too is playing a magical role in another book published years later, as Fips in the Buch der erfüllten Wünsche.[9]

Talking animals are playing an important role in the illustrated books of Tom Freud! Hans Ries speaks about a ‘together between child and animal with an ensoulment, that [in comparison to Freyhold] only Tom Seidmann -Freud has achieved’. One can assume that the artist enjoyed surrounding herself with animals: During her years in Berlin she owned a dog named 'Flory' (fig. 7) who might have been the visual inspiration for Fido and Fips!



First encounters with Chaim Nachman Bialik


In 1921 Tom Freuds Kleine Märchen [10] were published, her last book signed with her maiden name. In summer 1921 she married Jankew Seidmann and had gone with a double name since. In this fairy-tale book a few last, very condensed Jugendstil- influences are visible. With the Hebrew edition of Kleine Märchen, Esser Sihot Liy'ladim, a 'modern' illustrated book with the given fairy-tales emerged in 1922. The Jewish writer Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873 – 1934), already well-known and influential, and today worshiped in Israel as the national poet and pioneer of the modern Hebrew language, translated the fairy-tales into Hebrew. 

The associated images were conceptualized by Tom Seidmann – Freud from the ground up. In the style of the ‘New Objectivity’ she achieved a modernity in her depictions that was groundbreaking. After 1922 all following works can be associated either with the ‘New Objectivity’ or the Classic ‘Bauhaus Modern’. Tom Seidmann – Freuds design vocabulary remains sparing and edged, contours are clear-cut. There is no overlap, no ornaments, no arabesque to distract – the extensive paintings convey feelings of power and intensity. At the same time the Russian edition of the book is published, which was addressed to the large number Jewish migrants from the Soviet Union. It is equal to the Hebrew version in both contents and format.  


With her exceptional gift the artist incorporated all creative impulses of her time into her illustrated books leaving her role-models behind. With aesthetically pleasing style she influenced the European avant-garde in illustrated books far beyond the borders of Germany. Earlier judgments stating that the artist was artistically following closely in the footsteps of Karl Hofer (1878 – 1955) or Konrad Ferdinand Edmund von Freyhold (1878-1944), cannot longer be upheld: Tom Seidmann – Freud followed her independent understanding of art, even if she naturally was influenced by the role models of her epoch.  


In fall 1920, a few months after departing from Bavaria, her father Moritz Freud passed away unexpectedly. He was buried at the Jewish graveyard of Berlin – Weissensee. A few weeks later Tom Freud met the same-aged Jewish intellectual Jakob/Jankew Seidmann (1892 – 1929), an expert on and translator of the Hebrew language. 'Everyone is destined to the good of everyone else.' Two people on the search had recognized and found one another. After the engagement in November 1920 they got married in June 1921. In July 1922 their first daughter Angela/Aviva was born – the private happiness was complete.

In 1922, the year of the birth of her daughter Angela, Das Buch der Dinge. Ein Bilderbuch für ganz kleine Kinder [11] by Tom Seidmann – Freud was published. The progressive educator Leo Weismantel (1888 – 1964) praised the book in 1931 as 'the prototype of the classic arty children's book' in his considerations on 'gentled' foundations in illustrated books for children: 'Bird, Hare, Squirrel, Grasshopper, Pigeon Loft, Horse and Carriage, Merry-go-Round; all of it presented in a design vocabulary close to childlike imagery, to the liking of someone educated in folk art.' The Mauritius publishing Company of Berlin advertised with this text by Weismantel, who had researched the ‘psycho-biological foundations of reading material for children’. Additionally the publisher explicitly referred to his national and international delivery warehouses in Berlin, Leipzig and Stuttgart, as well as Olten in Switzerland and Vienna, Budapest and the Baltic countries with a location in Riga. During this time the European market was completely unrestrained!


At the same time, in 1922 Das Buch der Dinge was published with Hebrew poems by Chaim Nachman Bialik. The German edition featured only one lined titles, drawing the attention toward the illustrations and underlining their effect. Already at the end of the 18th century the publisher Friedrich Justin Bertuch (1747 – 1822) did demand in the foreword to his Bilderbuch für Kinder, that the eye of the child had to be familiarized with good taste: 'It needs to be drawn nicely and accurately...there mustn't be too many and too different objects on one panel as not to confuse the imagination of the child and disturb its attention'. Additionally one should be advised to avoid too much text and intellectually demanding explanations, to ensure the 'amusement' of the child. It almost seems as if Tom Seidmann – Freud had known about Bertuchs suggestions. The Hebrew version, however, held a balance between poem und picture, they were on a par suggesting a reading child.

1922 featured two more translations of Das Buch der Dinge: a Russian edition and a Flemish edition titled Het Kleuterboek [Kleuter = an infant]. Both licensed editions contained newly written texts, which resembled the ideas of Russian and Flemish children (instead of the poems by Bialik).

The panels by Tom Seidmann – Freud are identical in all four editions. The images were colored through the elaborate pochoir-process (coloring with a stencil). This technique, predominantly used in Germany by Freyhold in his illustrated books in the early 20th century, apparently led to the belief that Tom Seidmann-Freud had copied this artist. This coloring technique, applied by both painters, misled the incorrect assumption that the younger artist had adopted the artistic approach of the elder.  

The inheritance revealed another cover- draft of The Book of Things (fig.8), this time in English. Apparently a further edition was planned for the USA with the Atlantic Monthly Press, the same publisher which released David the Dreamer with illustrations by Tom Seidmann – Freud in 1922. However the Anglophone version of Das Buch der Dinge had never been realized. 


The Peregrin Publishing  Company


Early on, the young family Seidmann shared housing with widowed Marie Freud (fig .9) and  brother Theo in the parental apartment at Bambergerstrasse 5. Later on Tom and her family moved into a roomy home in Berlin – Charlottenburg in the Schillerstraße 12/13.

The Peregrin publishing – house, founded in 1923 by Jankew and Tom, was registered to Bambergerstraße in Berlin, according to the Financial Paper of the Booksellers. This is where the illustrated books Die Fischreise (1923) and  Buch der Hasengeschichten [12](1924) were published. 

In both these mature works the design vocabulary of ‘Bauhaus’ is clearly visible. One review of the Fischreise says: 'A very modern illustrated book both in artistic get-up and contents. A dozen large-scale illustrations... nicely color-coordinated. The cubic forms remind of wooden dolls and are yet expressive and childlike in their vividness...all of it is a communistic utopia...everything is alike to a fairy-tale.' Die Fischreise is deeply permeated by a remote and longing symbolism: Zionistic ideals and christian notions search for an earthly paradise in rhythmic texts [Tom Seidmann – Freud dedicated the book to her brother Theo, who perished in 1923]. The author is familiar to topics such as depth- analysis and progressive education. The boy Peregrin strides through a surreal universe, where everything changes dramatically. Crying fearfully, but left without choice, he is forced to find his way (of live). The fish leads him into a foreign and unknown world, a promised land. With solemn expressions the children find to one another, becoming friends and playmates. In powerful images a vision of a perfect world unfolds, a living utopia.

'A child’s dream, presented through delighting illustrations and accompanied with verses containing everything a child needs to experience pure bliss. We have been informed that a Hebrew edition will be published soon, with translations by Bialik. However, this version can already be gifted to our German speaking children for a joyous Chanukkah.'

In Germany and its neighbor countries Die Fischreise is being adverted vigorously: the book is receiving praise in the Dresdner Neue Nachrichten, in the Königsberger Hartungschen Zeitung and the Danziger Zeitung – again and again the Struwwelpeter is being drawn upon as an example for a children's – book icon, with Die Fischreise being the future classic.  


In the Buch der Hasengeschichten (1924) (fig. 10) the 'painter – poet' Tom Seidmann – Freud retells 'Hare stories from all over the world: A Grimm fairy-tale next to an Aesopian fable, a Norwegian one juxtaposed to a story from the Zulus, an Inuit tale next to one of the Suahelis. She accompanies them with a seemingly naïve, charming manner in a primitive yet attractive kind of colorfulness, pleasant to both children and modern adults alike, which stimulates the imagination and is insistent at the same time.' 

If the texts of the Hasengeschichten from around the world didn't seem peculiar enough, the impression of the exotic is amplified by the layout of the panels that were used exclusively in this book by Tom Seidmann – Freud: She tells the entire fairy-tale on just one single panel. Every detail of the story is juxtaposed to each other, without any overlap, and reminds in its atmosphere of a stage production.



The Ophir Publishing Company


The Hebrew translation by Chaim N. Bialik of Die Fischreise, Masa Ha-Dag was published in 1924 by Ophir. This publishing house had been founded in Berlin 1922 as a location of the Moriah Company (located in Odessa) by Chaim N. Bialik and Jankew Seidmann. Their goal was to improve upon the 'neglected and decidedly boring department of educational children's literature' in Germany. The statements of location of the Ophir Publishing Company, Jerusalem and Berlin, represented the founders Bialik and Seidmann. Both were closely connected to Zionism and passionately campaigned for the preservation and cultivation of the Hebrew language. Furthermore, the Ophir leaflet points toward the 'worldwide distribution' through the bookstore Jalkut in Berlin – Charlottenburg, Kantstraße 46 [Jalkut is the Hebrew word for rabbinic literature]. A second edition of Masa Ha-Dag (as of now not listed in any literature!) was published in Tel Aviv in 1941.


In 1929 the leap across the Atlantic Ocean was successful: Peregrin and the Goldfish was published in New York by the well-known Macmillan Company, famous for high-quality book productions.

Despite the fact that the texts by Tom Seidmann – Freud were not used and instead replaced by a more 'appropriate' narrative for children, the quality of her panels, produced at Peregrin in Berlin, ensured a high- quality illustrated book.


According to the leaflet of the Ophir Company of 1923 one declared goal was to publish six illustrated books with paintings by Tom Seidmann – Freud on the German market, but in the Hebrew. Jewish children growing up in Germany should be familiarized with the language.

This, however, was thwarted by the serious break between Bialik and Jankew Seidmann. In spring 1924 Bialik migrated to Palestine und terminated the publishing association. As a result only three of the German books, Kleine Märchen, Das Buch der Dinge and Die Fischreise were printed by the Ophir Company in Hebrew with illustrations by Tom Seidmann – Freud.


The first of the unpublished projects is the Buch der Hasengeschichten. After the release of the Hebrew edition of Die Fischreise in 1924, this following book was an obvious choice for a translation into Hebrew by Bialik. Much to the dismay of the couple Tom and Jankew, the finished Hebrew edition was not published by Ophir after all, due to the emigration of Bialik to Israel.

Instead ‘Buch der Hasengeschichten'  was released in Tel Aviv in 1935, with entirely new illustrations by Bina Gvirtz (1913 – 2008) and the existing Hebrew translation from former days in Berlin. The young artist Gvirtz, who lived in Palestine, had been commissioned by Bialik to illustrate the Hasengeschichten in a way that seemed to be more suitable for children. Tom Seidmann – Freuds paintings were neglected without comment. 

In 1987, more than 50 years later, the Buch der Hasengeschichten was published in Israel with a new text in Modern Hebrew/Ivrith by Shlomo Abbas and the 1924 illustrations by Tom Seidmann – Freud. A surprising turn of events and a late acknowledgment of the original artist’s work! 

The second unrealized project of the Ophir Company concerns the 1927 Hebräische Volkslieder [13]with illustrations by Tom Seidmann – Freud and Hebrew poems by Bialik (pointed out in the ‘Kürschners Literaturkalender’). This book (fig .11) was likewise announced as ready for print by Ophir in 1923, but ultimately not published. [So far it was suspected that the Hebräische Volkslieder didn't even exist, but have rather been confused with the Hebrew version of Das Buch der Dinge. Today it is considered fact that the finished draft is located in the family inheritance in Israel. Supposedly the Hebräische Volkslieder were published in 1934 in Tel Aviv, with illustrations by the Russian painter Nahum Gutman (1898 – 1980].


The last announced title Der Knabe im Wald. (Die schreckliche Geschichte eines Knaben, der in den Wald floh)[14](fig. 12), only exists as a draft with the paintings by Tom Seidmann – Freud. The artfully crafted and colored panels are also part of her inheritance. In this case, a lack of funds may have prevented the book from going into print. The unexpected death of Chaim N. Bialik in 1934 marked the definitive end to all editorial plans.     




Increasing Financial Troubles


The German illustrated-book editions by Peregrin, produced with costly features as first-class pieces of art, led to publisher Jankew Seidman experiencing increasing financial pressure. There was only a small target-audience for these pricey children's books, insufficient to cover the production costs. Bialiks migration to Tel Aviv and his ceasing of contractually agreed upon financial contributions to the Ophir Company resulted in Jankew Seidmann having to handle distribution and the financial burden by himself. In times of a growing economic depression worldwide an unsustainable situation, with fatal results in the following years! Not even the closest relatives had any notion about Jankews financial troubles. In a letter to the Vienna family from 1929 Sigmund Freud writes: 'It came to light, that his company never made enough money to even cover the interest rates on his loans, so that with every passing month he was indebted even further' and that 'he was an honest, nice and clever fellow but he had undertaken what seems impossible in our days, to build up a Verlag[15]...without any money“

Tom Seidmann – Freud appears to have been oblivious to her husbands financial crisis as well. Apparently Jankew Seidmann had not wanted to burden his family with his troubles.


Tom Seidmann- Freud and Herbert Stuffer


The encounter and begin of the collaboration with Herbert Stuffer in spring of 1927 in Berlin, enabled the artist Tom Seidmann – Freud to develop a new aspect of her art – the humorous, seemingly childlike playfulness. The same-aged publisher, who had been located in Berlin after founding his new publishing company in 1926, had approached the illustrator to win her over as an artist. Working with the liberal-minded and open to the Modern Stuffer was a stroke of luck for both. Illustrator and publisher worked on new means of designing children's books with passion and devotion, creating a wondrous world full of twinkling ideas.

They published two transformation books Das Wunderhaus ([16]) (1927) and Das Zauberbuch ([17]) (1929) (fig. 13). In these playbooks, children were encouraged to act on their own perception and joy of discovery, they were allowed to live out their playful adventures between the book covers and could spontaneously turn the pages or linger wherever their imagination would take them. 'This book surpasses everything one could so far expect from an illustrated story! Every page can be transformed, developed, turned in itself and played around with in a most colorful and humorous way! The most original illustrated story I have ever come across', raved critic Ludwig Finkh (1876 – 1964). In 1930 Das Zauberboot and the subsequent Spielfibel Nr.1 ([18]) were voted among the 50 most beautiful books of Germany: 'The play- book Hurra, wir lesen! Hurra, wir schreiben! from publisher Stuffer is future oriented in every way. And some delight of the modern character for Tom Seidmann – Freuds Das Zauberboot despite of the Persian character!' A public award reflecting the high appreciation for both children's books!

The playful mind and cosmopolitan nature of both creators of the moveable storybook, Herbert Stuffer and Tom Seidmann – Freud, is represented in the title of this essay: 'If one decides to take a journey, one will become proud and very wise', an exclamation by Kasper in Das Zauberboot  from 1929. Where else in Germany a Kasper ([19]) had raved about his experiences in the world during these years?

The four Spielfibeln (1930 – 1932) also heeded the basic principles of modern storybook design: as an independent reader the child may play by its own rules. It may skip pages or delve deeper, in any way it pleases. It can actively continue to shape the pages to its own designs with a pencil, become the master clock of its own desires and take the seat of the director. In the New Year's edition of the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1930, Walter Benjamin writes the following in his appraisal of the first Spielfibel: 'If anything puts this storybook ahead of the rest of its kind, then it is the rare combination of a thorough mind with the lightest of touches. She made possible the dialectic analysis of a child’s inclinations in the service of the written word. The foundation of which was the brilliant idea to combine a fibula with an exercise book.'

A year later, after fibulae number two and three had been published (fig. 14), Benjamin writes in a 1931 review: 'In the meantime the undertaking has progressed... Again both guiding principles have stood the test of time: the complete activation of a child’s play- instinct through the intimate combination of drawing and reading, and the confirmation of childlike confidence through the expansion of the fibula to an encyclopedia.’

This orientation along the curiosity of the child thwarted any indoctrinating intention, any educational pressure. Everything is transparent: the cheerful basic mood penetrating the text and images seduced the children into a self-determined game, to spontaneous creativity.

The storybooks of Tom Seidmann – Freud radiate an aura of affection and respect for the personality of the child. She probably applied this attitude when dealing with her own child as well. This way she was able to produce works of art reaching a child’s heart, which stick with both the observing children and the attending parents!


Das Buch der erfüllten Wünsche (The Book of Fulfilled Wishes)


Just one storybook-manuscript was not added to the publishers’ portfolio by Herbert Stuffer, even if Tom Seidmann – Freud would have liked to entrust him with it: Das Buch der erfüllten Wünsche. Stuffer was thrilled by the concept but had second thoughts about the marketability of this profound storybook. Instead it was published by Müller & Kiepenheuer in Potsdam in 1929, and indeed the book was everything but a success. Although the book was voted one of the 50 best printed-books in 1930, out of over 35.000 new releases, it turned out to be a shelf-warmer. More than three decades later, in 1967, the encyclopedia Brockhaus listed this storybook as the work in which depth- analysis, verifiably, breached the genre of children's book.

In the 1930s, however, it did not resonate at all with the target audience. After three years only 60 copies had been sold! Today, the Archive of the Kiepenheuer publishing-house is being stored in the Saxon state archives, as’ protected cultural heritage’. Maybe this is where the original templates to Das Buch der erfüllten Wünsche can be found, as would befit the book considering its cultural-historic importance.   


Crisis and Collapse


During the rapidly progressing economic crisis of the later 1920s the personal tragedy of the Seidmann family began to take shape. None of the financial efforts made by Jankew Seidmann led to a consolidation of his economic situation. The money from Palestine never arrived, despite desperate letters to Bialik. Although Tom Seidmann – Freud had a solid income through the sales of her storybooks with the Stuffer publishing house, that income was insufficient to pay off the ever growing mountain of debt. While Tom spend some weeks away with her daughter at the Grundlsee in Austria in 1929, and was working on completing the four fibulae, her husband Jankew mounted a final effort to get the debts under control. A futile effort! 'One day Jankel was brooding over his invoices with his accountant, when he was suddenly informed that he was bankrupt. The shock of the news must have robbed this poor and honest man of his senses. Instead of contacting his creditors, most of whom were friends, he gave up all hope.' Jankew Seidmann committed suicide on October 19th, 1929.

Tom Seidmann – Freud was confronted with this catastrophe entirely unprepared and defenseless. She was shattered. A deep depression made an extensive stationary treatment at a hospital necessary. The tragedy ran its course: neither the love for her daughter nor the fulfilling work on her storybooks let her built a bridge toward the future.  She died on February 7th 1930 of a a drug- overdose at the Hospital Neukölln and was buried in Berlin – Weissensee in her husband’s grave, barely a few months old (fig. 15).

The seven year-old daughter Angela, suddenly orphaned, found a new and loving home with Toms sister Lilly Marlé. After the takeover by the National Socialists in 1933 the Marlés emigrated to Prague, the city of birth of Arnold Marlé, with their children Omri (1919 – 1977) and the adopted Angela. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 the 16 year-old Angela/Aviva left the threatened Europe with a Zionist Youth Aliyah and emigrated to Palestine – yet again losing her home and family! The Marlé family escaped to London at the very last minute.    


The Drama of the Forgotten Storybooks


'Smilingly, the storybooks are crossing every border. For them, there is no tax collector of the mind.' French historian Paul Hazard (1878 – 1944) used these words to describe his idealistic longing for a united Europe. In the’ children's libraries’ the classics of 'Germany, England, America, Russia, Denmark and Sweden can be found next to one another as close friends and neighbors.'

However, storybooks may only cross the borders in Europe and the World if they are allowed to travel. At the end of the 1920s the opus of Tom Seidmann – Freud was widely spread in Germany and large parts of Europe. There were licensed editions in Swedish, Flemish, Dutch, Russian, Hebrew and English. In the German-speaking parts of Europe barely any comparable storybook- authors with the same Europe-wide popularity could be found. But the artistic future of the works by Tom Seidmann – Freud faced insurmountable obstacles in the 1930s. The Jewish artist represented a style closely associated with ‘Bauhaus’ and avant-garde. In the ideological propaganda of the Third Reich, the Modern was deemed infiltrated by the Jews, a circumstance furthering discrimination and exclusion. Who in Germany could dare to publish the artist and sell her books under these circumstances?   

Despite all this publisher Herbert Stuffer fearlessly stood by all of his artists, who started to suffer more and more under the destructive national-socialist politics. He took an almost fatherly stance toward Tom Seidmann – Freud, the outstanding artist of his publishing company. While treating her and her work with the utmost respect he spared no expense, no confrontation and kept trying to preserve and protect Tom’s books.  

In an affidavit, written in 1957, for the trustee office Fritz Zink in Freiburg, who was attempting to raise financial compensation for Toms daughter Aviva in Israel due to the lost sales revenues in the years 1933 – 1945, he summarized: 'The official advertising-agency of the German book-traders, obviously under Nazi control, didn't accept any advertisements for Jewish authors from us publishers. The publishers of these books were publicly molested, if they confessed to their artists...Publishers who still dared to not cease selling these books, and I am proud to say I have been one of them, risked their entire existence.' (28.03.1957)


On April 15th, 1940 all books by Jewish authors were irrevocably prohibited by the President Hans Johst of the Reichsschrifttumskammer (Reichs Literature Chamber) and without exception subdued to the administrative order regarding 'harmful and undesirable literature'.

Tom Seidmann – Freuds premature death in 1930 prevented the artist from taking counter measures against the fate of her disappearing life-work, if resistance would have been possible in the first place. In any case, the sale of the German and European editions of her books was stopped overnight and after the outbreak of World War II prevented entirely. Distribution in Europe had become all but impossible 

In Summer 1951 Herbert Stuffer contacted Tom Seidmann – Freuds daughter Aviva in Israel, after she had inquired of possible re-publications of her storybooks and expressed her regret that the works of her mother 'had already been forgotten after so few years' (Aviva Harari to Herbert Stuffer on June 25th, 1951). 

'You are aware how much it saddens me, that we have thus far been unable to restore this opus to its former glory. However, it would not be true to claim that the books have been forgotten either. Taken literally, only people who knew the existence of the books could forget them. One has to consider how little the number of people is who have even heard about these books. Countless have emigrated, countless have died and additionally, a long time has passed since the books have vanished into thin air in Germany.' He continued that there absolutely are people in Germany who remember her mother’s art, but that 'there is currently no country in the world that could produce the books cheap enough to actually find customers for them' (Herbert Stuffer to Aviva Hariri on March 7th, 1952).

Art-historic research occupied with artists who had experienced public recognition by either private persons or museums up until 1933, call their works the 'Art of the Lost Generation'. Restrictive guidelines by the National Socialists unrelentingly suppressed artistic work by undesired persons and prevented any kind of commercial success. Artists were boycotted and displaced.

In the 1930 the novel Erfolg[20] by the Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger, he already is urgently and pressingly describing the atmosphere in Bavaria during these years. Whoever could not or would not be part of the system needed to go into hiding or emigrate to avoid a fate even worse. After the war only few succeeded in reaching the same degree of fame in the art scene. Their names had been forgotten and their art wasn't contemporary anymore – a destiny that wronged these people and their work yet again.

This is the fate that the artistic heritage of Tom Seidmann – Freud suffered. In a letter from the publisher Herbert Stuffer to the sister Lilly Freud – Marlé in March 1947 he relates that 'the most important task of our publishing company is to bring back to live the work of Tom Seidmann – Freud...the new edition of the Rechenfibel (calculus fibula) was just finished during the last days' (March 18th,1947). However in October 1950 he resignedly confessed his 'terrible disappointment' in the fact that the fibula wasn't selling. 'The audience lacks the capability to distinguish between the valuable and the worthless… to a terrifying degree now the devastations the Nazi-System caused in this regard comes to light...we printed 8000 copies and have only sold 800 so far...a losing deal of the worst kind!' (October 10th 1950)

The moral responsibility of the post-war society regarding the fatal neglect in the past was not attended to, instead it was pushed to back of the public’s mind. The challenge of rebuilding Germany funneled all available resources. Costly, yet sophisticated storybooks had no place in this society and became permanent losers. 





Nevertheless, decades later the storybooks of Tom Seidmann – Freud can be found in the inheritances of many expatriates who had migrated from Europe to Palestine or overseas. The books, as a tangible reminder of the lost home, had undertaken the journey with their owners and had spread around the globe, albeit in a small number.

Decades after the passing of Tom Seidmann – Freud her books are reemerging, either as original editions or as reissues in Germany, Austria, Israel and the USA. They are being rediscovered as a precious treasure and are now being kept in their rightful honorable place: museums and collections. Since 2008 all parents in Tel Aviv – Jaffa receive a storybook by Tom Seidmann – Freud on occasion of child- birth, as a welcoming gift (fig. 16): It contains eight panels of the artist with children's poems by Chaim N. Bialik. The illustrations are from various epochs of the artist’s works and display several previously unpublished pieces from her bequest. What an exhilarating and contemporary encounter with an opus and its creator that found its inception over 80 years ago.

And so it comes to pass that after long decades of waiting, the wish that Annie Jacker expressed in her 1930 obituary to the 'master of the children's book and storybook’, Tom Seidmann – Freud and her 'exceptional position among the painting women of the modern German storybook': 'Her blonde, small, orphaned girl receives a treasure as an inheritance, a treasure which, all things considered, should be salvaged by the children of the world.'




After comprehensive research on the life and works of Tom Seidmann – Freud in private collections and the essential storybook- libraries of Europe and the United States during the 1970s, my path led to Israel in 1980. There I met Aviva Harari (née Angela Seidmann). I was able to question her on the life and work of her mother. In personal interviews I received insight into completely unknown biographical and artistic details. This made it possible to document and process the complex opus of the artist. Due to these personal meetings the crucial foundations of this essay could be laid.


I owe new perceptions on the opus of Tom Seidmann – Freud to Ayala Drori, the granddaughter of Tom Seidmann – Freud, also living in Israel: in recent interviews with her I gained exciting details about the faraway life and work one century ago.

Her enthusiasm for the art of her grandmother and her profound knowledge of the inheritance, which had been reorganized after her mother Avivas death, made it possible to find answers to so far unanswered questions regarding the biography and works of Tom Seidmann – Freud. I owe both women, daughter Aviva and granddaughter Ayala, a great deal.


Furthermore I would like to thank Ayala Drori for the permission to use original sheets, unpublished paintings and photographies from Tom Seidmann – Freuds inheritance for this publication. This made it possible to document storybook - drafts in this essay, which have been unknown in Germany so far, and should substantially broaden the knowledge on the complete works of Tom Seidmann – Freud.   





[1]'The Cloudlet'


[2]'The Gardens of Suffering'


[3]A predecessor of todays 'Berlin University of the Arts'.


[4]'The Baby-Songbook'


[5]'The new Storybook'


[6]Schwabing is a district of Munich


[7] The Book of Letters


[8]Journey of Fishes


[9]The Book of fulfilled Wishes


[10]Little Fairy-Tales


[11]'The Book of Things. A Storybook for the Smallest of Children'


[12] 'Stories of a Hare'


[13]'Hebrew Folk-Songs'


[14]'The Boy in the Woods ( The gruesome Story of a boy who fled into the woods)'


[15]Verlag = a publishing company


[16]'The House of Wonders'


[17]'The Book Magic'


[18]'Play Fibula No. 1'


[19]Kasper is not only a German first name but also the word for 'clown' or 'buffoon'








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