Wednesday, 18 July 2012


Sideways glimpse into his life before the First War

Jacob Moreno knew András Pető in Vienna in the years leading up to the Great War. Later, in 1927, Moreno left Austria for the United States, where he went on to win acclaim as founder of psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy – acclaim enough to attract an academic biographer. Réné Marineau's biography mentions András Pető, and offers a glimpse into the frenetic late-Hapsberg world of which the two young men were a part. The following passages have been extracted from René Marineau's biography of Jakob Moreno, from the chapter entitled 'University years'.

Moreno entered the University of Vienna in 1909. He had been seen around the faculty for some time, always dressed in a green cloak of the kind worn by Austrian peasants. He went without a hat, which was very unusual at this time, and had let his beard grow long and wild. He circulated anonymously among the students, and was noticed by everybody A philosophy student who had been watching him for a while approached him one morning. This was Chaime Kellmer and the two young men felt an immediate rapport: together they founded a cult called 'The Religion of the Encounter' and established a community based on its principles ...
An enduring friendship developed between the two young men ... Three more students in sympathy with the ideals of Moreno and Kellmer – András Pető, Hans Feder and Hans Brauhbar – joined with them to found the 'House of Encounter' for new immigrants and refugees. A sign read: 'Come to us from all nations. We will give you shelter,' Newcomers were helped to fill out papers, file for official documents, and find temporary or permanent jobs, but the house also functioned as a community. Every night there were discussions about the practical problems encountered in and outside the house, a great deal of singing, and plenty of fun. The reputation of the group spread quickly and more and more people joined the community.
The founding of the House of Encounter meant more than the day-to-day running of a small institution. The group as a whole adopted a policy of anonymity. We know that Moreno had already adopted such a philosophy around his own name. He took this opportunity to go one step further: everyone would abandon their name, a trend that was not exclusive to this group. It is clear that this policy was in the old Christian tradition and had a meaning of sharing everything in the name of charity ... But perhaps the most important feature of the group was its spiritual beliefs and discussions. Members often met to talk about subjects such as the return of Jesus Christ and everyone had his hypothesis. Moreno claimed that Jesus would come back nude, or jump from a tree, and tried out these hypotheses himself. It is even possible that he might have thought of himself as Jesus at one period.
(Marineau, pp. 26-28)

Marineau quoted from Moreno's own autobiography to define a particular aspect of the group's philosophy that seems to have carried over into András Pető s later life.
I had the idée fixe that a single individual had no authority, that he must become the voice of a group. It must be a group. The new word must come from a group. Therefore I went out to find friends followers, good people.  My new religion was being, of self-perfection. It was a religion of helping and healing, for helping was more important than talking. It was a religion of silence. It was a religion of doing a thing for its own sake, unrewarded, unrecognised.  It was a religion of anonymity.
I felt that, even if my modest effort should remain entirely ineffective and be forgotten, it would have been important from the point of view of eternity that such things were tried and existed, that such things were cultivated, and that such purity were maintained regardless of whether it paid off. The new religion required a mood of resignation, of just being and having the immediate satisfactions of such a state of being. If love and companionship should arise, it should be fulfilled and retained in the moment, without calculating the possible returns or without expecting any compensation
(Autobiography, 1985, ch 2, pp 13-17)
In a contextualising footnote to this quotation, Marineau added –
Many groups did advocate anonymity during this period. For example, a research group in Mathematics at the University of Vienna shared in work leading to the discovery of a new mathematical formula without ever using their names: they thought, as Morino did, that no-one should have a claim on knowledge – discovery should be nameless. András Pető, Moreno's associate, and later to become famous for his technique of 'conductive education' with severely handicapped children at the clinic that he founded in Budapest, at that time worked either anonymously or under a pseudonym. Conductive Education functions in many ways on the same principles a psychodrama.

(Private interview with Mária Hári in Budapest; she was a pupil and close associate of Pető, from 1945 to 1967).
(Marineau, p.175n.)

Marineau also drew upon Moreno's own words to recount an important part of the group's emerging practice and the development of its ideas, its work with prostitutes:
Vienna had at that time a red light district, a ghetto for prostitutes, in its first borough, located in the famous Am Spittelberg. Here was an entire class of people segregated from the rest of society, not because of their religious or ethnic character, but because of their occupation. They were not acceptable either to the bourgeois or to the Marxist, not even to the criminal. The criminal, after he has completed his prison sentence is again a free agent: but these women were eternally lost, they had no rights, there were no laws established to protect their interests. In 1913 I began to visit their houses, accompanied by a physician, Dr Wilhelm Gruen, a specialist in venereal disease, and Carl Colbert, the publisher of a Viennese newspaper Der Morgan. The visits were not motivated by the desire to 'reform' the girls, nor to 'analyse' them. They suspected this at first because the Catholic charities in Vienna had frequently tried to intervene in their lives. Nor was I trying to find among them what one may call the 'charismatic prostitute'. I had in mind that what LaSalle and Marx had done for the working class, leaving aside the revolutionary aspect of the labor movement, was to make the workers respectable, to give the working man dignity: to organize them into labor unions in order to raise the status of the entire class. Aside from the anticipated economic achievements it was accompanied by ethical achievements. I had in mind that perhaps something similar could be done for the prostitute. I suspected to begin with the 'therapeutic' aspect would be here far more important than the economic, because the prostitutes had been stigamatized as despicable sinners and unworthy people for so long in our civilization that they have come to accept this as an unalterable fact. It was easier to help the working class. Although manual labor had been and still is considered by some people as a sign of vulgarity it was still comparatively easy to give it, with the aid of skillful propaganda, the emblems of service and dignity.
But we were optimistic and started to meet groups of eight to ten girls, two or three times a week in their house. It was during the afternoon, when the Viennese have what they call Jauze; it is the counterpart of the English five o'clock tea. Coffee and cake were served around a table. The conferences at first only dealt with everyday incidents which the girls encountered; being caught by a policeman because they were wearing too provocative a dress; being put into jail because of false accusations by a client; having a venereal disease but being unable to find a hospital to admit them; becoming pregnant and giving birth to a baby but having to hide the child before the world under a different name and hiding their own identity as the mother towards the child. At first they warmed up very slowly, fearful of prosecution, but when they saw the purpose and some benefits from them, they began to open up more. They first noticed superficial results, for example we were able to get a lawyer for them to represent them in court, a doctor to treat them, a hospital to admit them. But gradually they recognized the deeper value of the meetings, that they could help each other. The girls offered to pay a few dimes a week towards the expenses of these meetings as well as some savings towards emergencies like sickness or unemployment or old age. From the outside it looked like a 'prostitutes' union'. But we began to see then that 'one individual could become a therapeutic agent of the other' and the potentialities of a group psychotherapy on the reality level crystalized in our mind.
(Who shall survive? pp. xxviii-xxx)
Moving on
The five founders of the house, one student of philosophy and four students of medicine, got along well. The House of Encounters was closed at the beginning of the War and the five members of the group went their separate ways.
(Marineau, p. 28)
Jacob Moreno completed his medical training, taking his medical degree early in 1917. Chaime Kellmer gave up his philosopy course and on Moreno's advice became a farmer. He died of tuberculosis in 1916, apparently while working as an army nurse.


Marineau, R. F., (1989) Jacob Levy Moreno. Father of psychodrama, sociology and group psychotherapy, 1889-1974, London and NY, Routledge, 1989

Moreno, J. (1953) Who shall survive? Foundations of Sociometry, Group Psychotherapy, and Sociodrama

Moreno, J. (1985) Autobiography (unpublished)


  1. Interesting paradox that Moreno himself did not pay attention to the anonymity principle as described above!


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