Dr. Walter Federn

My first contact with Dr. Walter Federn came through my acquaintance with his father.

I knew Paul Federn from the days of my sojourn in Vienna in 1933. As the president of the International Psychoanalytic Association, he chaired that year the monthly meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society of which Sigmund Freud was the founding member. At one meeting that spring at which I was present, the discussion became rather emotional—a chapter dealing with telepathy in the new book by Freud—was the theme. Freud, as usual, due to his poor health (he was undergoing repeated surgery on his cancerous jaw) was absent, but his daughter Anna was present. The subject of telepathy, foreign to the tenets of psychoanalysis, caused visible and audible consternation among the assembled members of the Society, mostly psychoanalysts, well known for their publications in Imago or in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. (In the latter, medical or clinical problems were the usual subject. At that time there was also a third periodical of the analytical movement in Vienna, Psychonalytische Bewegung, and in it I published a paper on “Psychoanalytic Glimpses of the art of Dream Interpretation according to the Tractate Brakhot,” I prior to my coming to Vienna.)(1)

Only Paul Federn and I sided with Freud and spoke up. After that meeting, Federn and I spent the rest of the evening in a Viennese cafe, and though I soon left for home—I was then living on the hills of Carmel, above Haifa, Palestine, our friendship can be dated from that day.

Paul Federn and his son Walter fled Vienna and resided in New York since the beginning of the Second World War.

Walter Federn, whom I first learned to know in New York, got his Ph.D. in Egyptology under Prof. C. Junker at the University of Vienna. Walter wore his hair long, had very bushy eyebrows, and looked almost like a medium—and actually, for a while I feared that he might read in my thoughts the scheme of my reconstruction of history, and make this my discovery his own. It was in February, 1941, after one of our chance meetings at the Public Library at Forty-second Street in New York that I decided to discuss with him my entire reconstruction, conceived almost two years earlier. For about two hours we walked forth and back the length of the sidewalk along Bryant Park adjacent to the Library: Snowflakes were falling and it was already dark. I was narrating and he listened, all enchanted. From then on he never ceased to answer my very numerous inquiries, mostly in the field of Egyptian bibliography, but also in the area of Egyptian philology and other cognate fields. He soon became rather convinced that the conventional chronology, and therefore also the ancient history of Egypt, are not built on unshakable foundations. Though recognizing the striking correspondences between the Egyptian and Biblical histories, as brought out in my work of reconstruction, he was not ready to follow the decisive “surgery” which it contains, with “centuries moved along the scale of time.” Yet, in the spirit of constructive criticism, in the letter exchanges that we had, on numerous occasions he led me to manifold sources and references; the perusal of our correspondence that embraced many years and hundreds of letters demonstrates his great patience (I would return to raise the same question again and again) and great store of knowledge and great generosity with his time and efforts.

One evening in the spring of 1950 I was in the home of the Federns. Paul Federn, expressed to me his worries about his son’s future, knowing that Walter was not well prepared to deal with life’s hardships. I did not yet understand the reason for his worry that night, nor the reason for the promise he asked of me and also received that I should take care of Walter; I understood only the following day when I read of Paul having shot himself. He had been suffering from cancer of the bladder and was facing a second surgical intervention. His wife had died of heart disease a few months earlier.

After the death of his father, Walter Federn moved from Central Park West to Forest Hill, where he lived until his end. A roomy apartment, protected from noise, was the only luxury he permitted himself.

On September 30, 1958, after some seventeen years of our contact, Walter wrote to me in a dramatic communication that he had finally become convinced of the full truth of my reconstruction. He wrote:

30. Sept. 1958

Lieber Dr. Velikovsky, Ich habe Ihnen folgende geradezu weltererschuttern jedenfalls mich selbst erschutterende, Mitteilungen zu machen . . . das allerwichtigste: Ich bin jetzt der festen Ueberzeugung, dass “Ages in Chaos” richtig ist, und habe eine fast unuebersehbare Fuelle von Beweismaterial. Der 2. Band muss nun grossenteils neu geschrieben werden. Die Folgen fuer die gesamte Altertumswissenschaft einerseits, fuer meine weitere Lebensgestaltung andererseits, sind unabsehbar.

Herzlichst Ihr,

Walter Federn

September 30, 1958

Dear Dr. Velikovsky,

I have the following report to make to you—it is quite world-shaking, and shattering for me personally, report to make . . . the most important: I am now of the firm conviction that “Ages in Chaos” is right, and I have an unmatched grasp of the scholarly literature. The second volume must by and large be written anew. The consequences for the discipline of ancient history on one hand and for my future life on the other, are unforseeable.

Most sincerely yours

Walter Federn

His concession was followed by vacillations; yet to the end it was his conviction that the accepted way of writing history was decidedly wrong. He could think history simultaneously in both versions—and this was a great asset to me; thus he could draw my attention to quite a few data that were in conflict with the accepted, and in harmony with the reconstructed history.

When I settled on writing Oedipus and Akhnaton, conceived much earlier, before my coming to the United States on the eve of World War II, and the subject of my library research from then until April 1940, Dr. Federn was helpful again, and drew my attention to a few supporting data even outside the field of Egyptology, like the Iranian sanctity of incest.

For some time Dr. Federn taught Egyptology at the Asian Institute in New York, where he had very few pupils (neither Columbia University nor any other university in the area had a course in Egyptology, and only the Metropolitan Museum of Art had Egyptologists on its staff). One or two of his pupils went to work in Egypt. For a while among his pupils was the leading Assyriologist Max von Oppenheim of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, who would come especially from Chicago. After the closing of the Asian Institute, Walter translated works of Late Renaissance Latin (Paracelsus and others) into German for a medical doctor and author.

Toward the end of his life Federn first became solitary and very seldom left his apartment, then completely discontinued his visits to the Egyptological Department of the Brooklyn Museum; then, for a longer time, he became bedridden; yet he remained mentally alert and when he could write only with great difficulty, he would answer my calls from Princeton.

Walter Federn died on July 28, 1967, in his fifty-seventh year. I wrote his necrologue for The New York Times He was of a fragile body, unmarried, and given to no pleasure other than books. His enormous store of knowledge did not spill into productivity, and his scholarly publications were few and brief. The largest work of his was a bibliography in Egyptology covering the years of World War II and commissioned by the Library of the Vatican.(2) He was highly regarded by other Egyptologists, as witnessed by the dedication of Volume VIII (1969-1970) of the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, the only American journal specilizing in Egyptology, to him. In his article in this volume, Bernard V. Bothmer wrote:

He could discourse on any complex question at a moment’s notice, and this writer vividly retains the memory of Federn’s learned discussions on subjects as disparate as the meaning of b w iwnw or the origin of the back pillar in Old Kingdom statuary.

A Privatgelehrter of the old school, he read every line published in the field of Egyptology and kept a running account of corrections, amendments and addenda to every major study that appeared—unfortunately in a minute script; and the maze of his original notes was intelligible to no one but himself. his vast knowledge, which he disclosed in a hesitating, modest, yet most engaging manner, brought forth—alas, mostly in conversation—a host of new ideas which, unendingly, he proposed as working hypotheses. His critical comments, so freely dispensed, deserved to be acknowledged in print far more than has actually been done.

His study of Egyptology and his almost incomparable knowledge of it were of immense benefit to my work of reconstruction, even if his role was mostly one of advocatus diaboli.

I can say that nobody, not even by a long stretch, helped me in feeling secure in my work of reconstruction as far as Egyptological sources were concerned, as did Federn. I missed an equal assurance in the field of the cuneiform (Sumerian, Akkadian, “Hittite” ) and do not doubt that were it different, I could enrich my work by more evidence, and be bolder. I was rather like a walker on a very high staircase with only one handrail to feel secure.

After Walter Federn’s death I succeeded to disentangle the great web that is the so-called Twenty-first Dynasty, and also to enrich by several strong points the reconstruction of the so-called Twentieth Dynasty (Peoples of the Sea).

Federn offered me innumerable references in literature, but the work of Ages in Chaos, from the beginning to its end, was my own creation and my responsibility. Yet it would not have been the same, were it not for Walter Federn. Our correspondence, from 1941 to about a year before his death, when the process of writing became too difficult for him, is preserved in my archive. It covers nearly a quarter of a century and consists, as I said, of hundreds of letters, English and German alternating; almost all of his letters of later years are in handwriting. They contain an inexhaustible source of learning, even today.


  1. Original title: “Psychoanalytische Ahnungen in der Traumdeutungskunst der alten Hebraer nach dem Tractat Brachoth,” Psychoanalytische Bewegung, Vol. V (1933) no. 1.
  2. Published in Orientalia Vol. (194 -19 ).