Open menu


Open menu


Open menu
three pairs of lovers with space



Heinz Kohut (3 May 1913 – 8 October 1981) was a psychoanalyst, born and brought up in Vienna, best known for his development of self psychology, an influential school of thought in psychoanalytic theory.

A decisive influence in his happiness and intellectual development as a boy was the Greek love affair he had, aged about eleven to thirteen, with a young tutor. This is the subject of the excerpt presented here from Chapter Three, “The Tutor” of Charles B. Strozier’s biography of him Heinz Kohut: The making of a psychoanalyst (New York, 2001), based on Kohut’s self-description in his “The Two Analyses of Dr. Z”, his correspondence, and interviews with both the man himself and those closest to him.

Further analysis of the love affair in question by Bruce Rind, an eminent doctor of psychology who has written extensively on related sexual matters, will be found on pp. 19-20 of his "Pederasty: An Integration of Empirical, Historical, Sociological, Cross-Cultural, Cross-Species and Evolutionary Evidence and Perspectives".

All the footnotes following are Dr. Strozier’s.



The whole of this chapter is presented, as the first third, about the young Heinz’s relationship with his parents, Else and Felix, and the disintegration of their marriage, is important for understanding the context for what followed.

Heinz Kohut as a baby, 1914

Else’s extraordinary involvement with her son's body carried over to his mind and soul. She took Heinz everywhere and seldom let him out of her sight. She vacationed with him often and was particularly fond of taking him to Italy to visit art museums. She could not even stand to let him go to school, probably fearing in part that it would not be good enough. For four years, when Heinz was six to ten, through the equivalent of most of what we know as elementary education, Else kept Heinz at home and hired as principal tutor for him the man who would have been his teacher at school. For his last year in elementary school, Heinz then entered school with this same teacher. But many others contributed to his education. A French lady came to the apartment to speak French with him; as he said vaguely toward the end of his life, there were other “Fräuleins and Mademoiselles.”[1] Else was clearly thorough in her selection of teachers, and Heinz got the best possible instruction in elementary reading, writing, literature, mathematics, and science.

In Vienna at the time, it was not unheard of, though it was unusual, to skip the first year of grade school. Heinz's friend, Siegmund Levarie, was kept home for his first year, though he now has no idea why. All Levarie recalls is getting instruction from a tutor and having to take an exam to pass into the second grade. Education was not bureaucratized and surrounded by the kind of legal pressures to which Americans are accustomed. It did not matter if some of your earliest education included a mix of home instruction and classroom learning. But even in its contemporary Viennese context Heinz's four years of home instruction and only one year in the classroom was a radical departure from the norm. Else’s grip on her adored son was tight. Heinz only left his mother during the day to attend school at a time when American children would normally be going into fifth grade.[2]

The prospect of this first separation from his mother at ten may have also touched off something in her. Kohut’s discussion of the mother’s liaison in “Mr Z," when she was “intensely with another man, a married friend of the family,” dates the affair from the time when Heinz was approximately ten and Else was clearly in the wake of the deterioration of her relationship with Felix. After the war, Else und Felix fought all the time und the tension in the household was palpable. At eight Heinz got his own bedroom and his parents moved into separate rooms of their own. Either implicitly, or very likely explicitly - in a way that was quite common then in Vienna - Felix und Else agreed that their relationship had ended and that they would stay together as a family but find intimacy with others. Through these crises with Felix, Else kept Heinz by her side all day, every day, out of school, in sight and separated at most by a room when he would be with the tutor. But as the end of his first decade approached she knew she had to relent and send her son off into the world. She had to recognize that his developing needs required at least a measure of independence from her. At just that point, she in turn got “intensely involved with another man.“[3]

Vienna in the 1920s

Heinz, as a result, lost the one firm anchor for his self - his overly intrusive mother - just as he finally was dispatched from his tutors to begin his formal education. Things became highly atomized in the family. From “Mr. Z,“ we know that Felix was off making money, traveling, and having affairs. Else, while much more present (and still popping blackheads on Saturday, for example), began to develop her own life and interests. She was soon to open her own store in Vienna, something then rarely done by a woman of her class and regarded as quite progressive.[4] These complex exchanges in the emotional fabric of the family took their final shape in the years just before and after Heinz began school. As Else sent him from her side to school she turned from him to take on a lover, which may or may not have been her motivation but is probably how he experienced it. Things were never the same from sometime toward the end of Heinz’s first decade. Everybody in the family started moving in separate directions, a process that only accelerated with time. Within a few years, for example. everybody in the family was taking separate vacations throughout Europe, including Heinz when he got a little older; the adult Kohut was to recall how he often received postcards from his parents from different ends of Europe. It all left him with a great sense of loneliness, which is the one term he always used to characterize his childhood. His adult friend, Ernest Wolf, reported that Kohut “did not talk very much about his childhood, hardly at all.“ Even celebratory events in his childhood were lonely. The adult Kohut once referred to “the emptiness of my birthday parties as a child,” for which “the reason lies deep.” “It was very sad,” his widow said of Kohut’s childhood. “When he talked of it I would cry.”[5]

And yet Heinz survived the fragmentation of the family remarkably well, in no small part due to the lucky presence of a warmhearted tutor named Ernst Morawetz, who entered his life just as his mother left it. There had, of course, been many tutors in Heinz’s life up to that point. He was quite familiar with adults coming into the house to instruct him in everything from math, to art, to French, to history. For the most part, as best one can tell, those tutors were terminated when he started school. But Else, it seemed, wanted Heinz to do exceptionally well. He was special. Perhaps she also empathized with his loneliness, not to mention feeling a good dose of guilt, as she moved outward for love and meaning and the family disintegrated. Her solution was to hire yet another tutor, only this one was mainly to be a companion. It was the spring or summer of 1924 and Heinz at the time was ten or eleven, while Morawetz, a university student, was somewhere between nineteen and twenty-three.[6]

The Vienna State Opera House by Adolf Hitler, 1912

Morawetz apparently had no formal educational tasks to accomplish with Heinz; that, after all, was being taken care of in school, where he was doing well. Morawetz’s “job,” it seems, was simply to provide extra intellectual stimulation for his young charge. Most afternoons after school, which finished at 1:00 p.m. in Vienna at the time, Morawetz would show up and take Heinz to a museum, an art gallery, or the opera, or they would read together or simply talk about interesting subjects. They developed a deep rapport. They communicated as much nonverbally as with words. One intellectual game they played was to think through how things might have happened differently if some important historical event were altered. The game required extensive knowledge and creative leaps of imagination. One person would wonder, for example, how the architecture of Vienna would have been altered if Socrates had not died. The one could follow the other through two millennia of cultural history with but an occasional question.

Morawetz seemed at the most important level to have been a savior for his intensely lonely charge. As Kohut later put it:

I had this private tutor, who was a very important person in my life. He would take me to museums and swimming and concerts and we had endless intellectual conversations and played complicated intellectual games and played chess together. I was an only child. So it was in some ways psychologically life-saving for me. I was very fond of the fellow.

Morawetz was Heinz`s first real friend. The boy’s entire life up to then had consisted of older tutors, the ever-present Else, and a distant Felix. In Morawetz Heinz foıınd companionship, connection, and deep empathy. Heinz learned a huge amount about the world from his older friend. In “Mr. Z,” Kohut describes those years with the camp counselor/Morawetz as “extremely happy ones,” maybe “the happiest years of his life, except perhaps for his early years when he possessed his mother seemingly without conflict.“ The boy idealized the older man, who was a “spiritual leader,” able to share his “almost religious“ love for nature, as well as teach him about literature, art, and music.[7]

by Walter Timmling, 1930

The relationship between Morawetz and Heinz was also sexualized. As Kohut puts it in “Mr. Z” in a long dependent clause: “overt sexual contact between them occurred occasionally – at first mainly kissing and hugging, later also naked closeness with a degree of tenderly undertaken manual and labial mutual caressing of the genitalia. …” If we take that out of its Latinate armor, what happened is that they began by kissing and hugging each other and moved to lying naked, tenderly fondling each other and sucking on each other’s penises, apparently without ejaculation. Kohut also reports that the relationship ended when Z/Heinz reached sexual maturity and the counsellor/tutor once tried unsuccessfully to enter him anally and another time came when Z was caressing him.[8] Besides the discussion in “Mr. Z,“ Kohut once also told his colleague, Ernest Wolf, of “some sexual acting out as an adolescent” in which he had engaged.[9] There seems little doubt that the relationship with Morawetz was sexualized. The question is what does it mean?

Heinz probably put his experience with Morawetz into the context of the ancient Greeks, about whom he was beginning to read in depth. For the Greeks, it was normative for grown men to have sex with prepubertal boys in ways that did not interfere with their adult heterosexuality, or the future sexual orientation of the boy. Such sexual experiences were an extension of the self, not a limiting of it. Vase paintings of homosexuality, for example, are celebrations of maleness, not depictions of something corrosive or subversive. The Greeks expected and welcomed homosexuality. It realized something between men and did not close off possibilities in other areas.[10] Ancient Greece, however, was not the same as contemporary Vienna. As elsewhere in Europe, a sense of evil pervaded notions of homosexuality. It was not a form of sexual activity tolerated as normal, though Freud`s theories were beginning to alter attitudes. A sexualized relationship with another male carried with it elements of shame. At the very least, Heinz had to have been ambivalent in his feelings about what he and Morawetz were doing, feelings that probably became clearer as he matured.

At the same time, Heinz's relationship with Morawetz was vital, loving, intimate, and deeply empathic. In his eyes the tie to the tutor was a wonderful and helpful one that sustained him through the second worst crisis (the first being when his father left for war) of his intensely lonely childhood. As he seems to have experienced it at the time, and certainly conceptualized it later, Heinz felt that the sexualization of his relationship with Morawetz was incidental and meant little to his own sexual identity. This understanding of the meaning of emotional connection and the devaluing of sex per se was to play a huge role in Kohut's later theories about the self. His position has often been misunderstood. He never questioned, for example, that there are drives. He once pointedly stressed in a taped interview intended for publication that “man wants to fuck and kill.”[11] But the point of his disagreement with Freud is that our need for connection precedes and transcends our sexual or aggressive drives. The way we love sexually symbolizes and concretizes our deepest needs. The self is not, as Freud would have it, an accidental by-product of the vagaries in the development of the sexual instinct. Kohut sought to reverse that sequence and in the process create a psychology of the self.

Heinz Kohut in 1941

Kohut's understanding of his relationship with Morawetz, in other words, yielded quite significant theoretical gain. And yet, at the same time, by current standards what went on sexually between Heinz and Morawetz can only be defined legally as childhood sexual abuse. Their sexual play was not the kind of casual and occasional homosexual activity that is often part of the experience of prepubertal boys. It was far more important and prolonged. Heinz’s first love, one can say, was Ernst Morawetz. If such a seduction of a prepubertal boy by a man around twenty or older were to occur in contemporary America and become known, the man would most likely be punished and possibly incarcerated. It is called pedoplıilia. It may be that Kohut was deluded about the nature of his own victimization and confused about the way tender feelings are often an integral part of exploitation. But we also need to take seriously Kohut’s own interpretation: “He [Mr. Z] insisted that sexuality had not been prominent: it was an affectionate relationship.”[12] Heinz Kohut, the lonely preadolescent, idealized Ernst Morawetz, the university student who filled a huge hole in his life at just the right moment. The two merged to a remarkable extent, as Heinz clearly met as well some powerful self needs in Morawetz. What mattered in their relationship was the empathy and affection. It seems a reasonable argument. This is not to defend child abuse, which is abhorrent. But it may well be that our sense of the exploitation of children has become too ideological and leads us to miss the subtlety of love and connection that can arise even in deeply unequal relationships.

[1] “Fräuleins and Mademoiselles”: Susan Quinn, transcript of her interview with Kohut, March 29, 1980; “art museums”: Interview with Gretchen Meyer, April 1, 1996.

[2] Kohut was quite specific in his interview with Susan Quinn (March 29, 1980) about having spent the first four years of elementary school at home with tutors. "In grammar school for the first four years I was taught at home by my future grammar school teacher, you know. But then I went into his class and did very well...." Note also this was confirmed by his childhood friend Siegmund Levarie (Interview with Siegmund Levarie, January 28, 1997), and by his widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Kohut (Interview with Elizabeth Kohut, July 20, 1983), though she said, somewhat vaguely and without conviction (and certainly incorrectly) that he stayed home for two years.

[3] “another man”: The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut,1950-1978, ed. Paul H. Ornstein, vol 4 (Madison, Connecticut, 1991) 406; “in Vienna”: Interviews with Walter Lampl, May 25, 1997, and  Siegmund Levarie, January 28, 1997.

[4] Interview with Siegmund Levarie, January 28, 1997.

[5] Interview with Thomas A. Kohut, November 1 and 2, 1996; Ernest Wolf, Psychoanalysts Talk, ed. Virginia Hunter (New York: Guilford Press, 1994), 168-169; Kohut to Arnold Goldberg, May 5, 1980, The Curve of Life: Correspondence of Heinz Kohut: 1923-1981, ed., Geoffrey Cocks (Chicago, 1994) 46, 399; Kohut to Siegmund Levarie, May 22, 1939, The Curve of Life: Correspondence of Heinz Kohut: 1923-1981, ed., Geoffrey Cocks (Chicago, 1994) 46; Interview with Elizabeth Kohut, May 20, 1982 and July 20, 1983; Susan Quinn, transcript of her interview with Kohut, March 29, 1980.

[6] In “Mr. Z” the tutor is disguised as a thirty-year-old camp counsellor, who is in the boy’s life for two years, from the time he is eleven until thirteen, which is the same time period he gives for his actual tutor in his interview with Susan Quinn (March 29, 1980). That interview was the only time he was so specific on the record. Kohut himself as an adult talked to many colleagues about Morawetz but was always vague about the details of the relationship (as he was about so many things). He seems to have been vague even with his family. Kohut’s widow (Interview with Elizabeth Kohut, May 20, 1982) thought Morawetz entered Kohut’s life at eight, while his son (Interview with Thomas A. Kohut, November 1 and 2, 1996) thought it was more like fourteen. But neither family member was at all sure about these dates, which were offered merely as their own approximations. The best conclusion one can draw from the available evidence is that Else hired the tutor in the spring or summer of 1924 in preparation for what she knew would be the educational and emotional challenges of Heinz’s work in the Gymnasium.

[7] The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut,1950-1978, ed. Paul H. Ornstein, vol 4 (Madison, Connecticut, 1991) 404.

[8] The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut,1950-1978, ed. Paul H. Ornstein, vol 4 (Madison, Connecticut, 1991) 404-405. Geoffrey Cocks, in his “Introduction” to The Curve of Life: Correspondence of Heinz Kohut: 1923-1981 (Chicago, 1994) 7, says Kohut had “one or two homosexual encounters” with Morawetz, an assertion that he repeats in a later essay, “The Curve of Heinz Kohut’s Life,” Treating Mind and Body: Essays in the History of Science, Professions and Society under Extreme Conditions (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1998), 128. What is astonishing about this assertion is that it comes from reading “Mr. Z.” There is no other source for information of the sexual aspect of the relationship.

[9] Interview with Ernest Wolf, December 20, 1990.

[10] Kenneth Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge, Massachussetts, 1978).

[11] In my taped interview with Kohut on February 12, 1981, he said this, but Elizabeth Kohut later insisted it be cut from the published version of the interview in Humanities, 224-231.

[12] The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut,1950-1978, ed. Paul H. Ornstein, vol 4 (Madison, Connecticut, 1991) 404.




If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to greek.love.tta@gmail.com, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.