Thursday, June 3, 2021

Judith S. Kestenberg, M.D.

Judith Ida Silberpfennig Kestenberg, M.D. (1910 - 1999) was Edith Buxbaum's analysand and friend. Both women left Vienna in 1937. They were eight years apart; Judith was the younger. Each was a strongly-identified secular Jew and married men who were secular Jews. Judith told me that when she picked up the newspaper the first word she looked for was "Israel." In 1965, Buxbaum taught in a kibbutz. One of her 1965 diaries reports her saying wistfully: "Maybe we should have settled in Israel instead of the United States."

I'm listening to the tapes I made with Dr. Kestenberg in December 1994. (What you see here will appear in chapter two - the New York chapter - of the book I'm writing on Buxbaum. I am finding it easier to write on this public blog than on an impersonal computer page or my five by eight index cards. Strange, this internet age). 

In the December, 1994 interview which took place during the American Psychoanalytic Association conference-week when I had presented a paper on "Edith Buxbaum and the Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute," Dr. Kestenberg told me she was scared when she came to America. "I was scared. I didn't know how scared I was. Nunberg told me how scared I was."

I returned to the Kestenberg tapes after contact with Klara Naszkowska, PhD.,* "a cultural ... historian specializing in the early history of psychoanalysis with a focus on Jewish female analysts." Out of the blue, Klara emailed me, the most exciting communication I have had with an academic (outside my family) in a long time. 

In her June 1st email, Naszkowska writes: "I am a cultural historian, currently researching and writing a paper on Judith Kestenberg. I was wondering if you could advise me where to search for possible notes from the analysis Kestenberg (then Silberpfennig) had with Buxbaum in 1938 or 1939, in New York." 

Notes from the analysis? I interviewed Dr. Kestenberg! And, yes, I have the tapes! Not transcribed, but so far the listening is ok (they need to be transcribed). My granddaughter is visiting. She follows me as I run through the house trying to remember if the tapes are in my "Buxbaum file cabinet" or "Buxbaum closet." The "Buxbaum closet," of course. Zalia and I are both excited. She says she's never seen tapes like these. She picks up one and holds it in her hand. It is tiny, about an inch total. I think they're called "shoe-box tapes.

I am remembering how welcoming Judith Kestenberg was when I entered her home on Long Island.  She was formal; yet, welcoming. I liked her. She was sweet and reminded me of my European-born Aunt Miriam, though Judith didn't seem to have the fear in her face that Miriam had. Perhaps that had to do with their respective husbands.

Judith's husband, Milton Kestenberg (1913-1991), a lawyer, had died three years earlier. They were married over forty years, and she missed him profoundly. Together they had established the International Study of the Organized Persecution of Children

Judith worked tirelessly at their Sands Point, New York home interviewing survivors for her Holocaust Child Survivor Studies work. She also had an office in the City. Judith visited Seattle sometime in the 1940s when Buxbaum invited her to speak on female sexuality.

Kestenberg and Buxbaum did not know each other in Europe. They met in New York at a seminar on psychoanalytic theory. It was 1938. Buxbaum became Kestenberg's first analyst in America. When Buxbaum left for Seattle with her husband, Fritz Schmidl, in late 1946, Judith entered into a seven-year analysis with pioneer child analyst, Marianne Kris-Rie (1900-1980), who, when in Europe, had studied with Anna Freud. Kris-Rie was the psychiatrist who treated Marilyn Monroe from approximately 1957 to 1961. 

When living in New York City, Buxbaum was in private practice, from approximately late 1937 until 1947. She also taught for the Cooperative School for Student Teachers at 69 Bank Street. She was making $1800 for a nine-month teaching year.  I know this from a June 17, 1937 letter the school sent Buxbaum when she was still living in Europe: Her address was V11 Zieglergasse 57, Vienna Austria. According to the 1994 tape she made with me, Judith Ida Silberpfennig was living near the University of Vienna at the time. 

...more to follow...

*Klara Naszkowska, PhD is a 2020/2021 Visiting Scholar and 2019/2020 Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Union Theological Seminary (Columbia University); Founding president of the International Association for Spielrein Studies ( As the head of the scientific committee, she is organizing the first international conference "Sabina Spielrein and the Early Female Pioneers of Psychoanalysis” on April 9-11, 2022 in Warsaw.   


Grinberg, Jaime G. A. "CHAPTER TWO: The Cooperative School for Student Teachers." Counterpoints 234 (2005): 11-21. Accessed June 8, 2021.

Kestenberg, J. (1994, December) Personal Interview, Dec. 1994

Sossin, K.M., Loman, S. & Merman, H. Remembering Judith S. Kestenberg, Our Mentor and Friend. American Journal of Dance Therapy 21, 53–56 (1999)., March 1999 

Letter to Buxbaum from Cooperative School for Student Teachers, Sixty-Nine Bank Street, New York , New York, June 17, 1937.