EVEN the international reputation of Sigmund Freud, one of the most forward-thinking fathers of modern psychology, did not safeguard his family against Nazi persecution in World War Two.

And although the Freud family did finally leave their native Vienna for England, their safe passage was by no means guaranteed - in fact they came exceedingly close to not escaping at all, as revealed in a new book by north London author Helen Fry.

Based on the unpublished memoirs of Sigmund’s eldest son Martin, and grandson Walter, as well as interviews with surviving relatives, Freud’s War reveals an insight into one of Vienna’s most prominent families. It traces their dramatic escape from Austria, through to the detention of Martin and Walter as “enemy aliens” and their subsequent enlisting into the British Army.

Helen, who lives in Temple Fortune, explains that she first came across the idea for the book while researching another of her works, The King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens. Having uncovered documents relating to the war efforts of Martin and Walter, she contacted the surviving Freud relatives in the hope of discovering whether they had any more information about the family.

She tells me: “I actually met with Walter’s three surviving children – David, Ida and Caroline. They literally raided their attics and filled the boot of my car with war correspondence, as well as Walter’s unpublished memoirs of Sigmund. It was a researcher’s dream.”

Sifting through the files and boxes, Helen tells me she discovered a lesser known side of Sigmund Freud as the family man.

“In fact, it gave me a very human, intimate perspective on Sigmund,” explains Helen. “What really comes through is that career aside, he was a very down-to-earth family man and a very pivotal figure in his family. His opinion really mattered and his children often sought it, particularly Martin. When you read through his letters, you can sense that he wanted his father’s approval, but he also talks about being defined by him and having to live in his reflected glory.”

Freud’s War also documents how Sigmund Freud’s security changed literally overnight after Hitler’s forces annexed Austria on March 12, 1938. His books had already been burned across Germany and despite his prominence, the family feared for their lives as Nazi troops began to raid Jewish homes. The family endured a period of house arrest and two months of uncertainty before finally securing papers for England and making a last-minute escape.

But their passage to safety really was “touch and go”, says Helen, who reveals an interesting anecdote involving a similarly-named Professor Freud. The man in question, who also lived in Vienna and had fought for the Austrian army in World War One, was asked to reveal his name by some Nazi soldiers. He replied, “Professor Freud”, believing his high status and war experience would protect him, but they mistook him for Sigmund and severely beat him.

Helen adds: “When you read about the “other” Freud, you realise just how lucky Sigmund and his family were to get out of Austria. Most of us would have assumed that a man of such international reputation would have been naturally saved, but that wasn’t the situation at all.”

Sadly, the book also reveals that not all Sigmund’s family fled to safety. His sister Dolfi eventually died of starvation in a Theresienstadt concentration camp, while another three sisters were murdered in Auschwitz and Treblinka. All were in their eighties when they were arrested by the Nazis.

Freud’s War also charts the experiences of Martin and Walter, who a few years after arriving in England, were then interned as enemy aliens and detained behind barbed wire along with around 30,000 other German and Austrian internees. Both were released after volunteering into the British Army and by 1945, Walter joined the Special Operations Executive.

Among the war experiences highlighted in the book is the incredible tale of Walter taking part in a blind parachute drop into southern Austria. Released at the wrong height, Walter landed miles from the drop zone and was separated from his colleagues, but the lone soldier still managed to make his way through to Zeltweg and secure it for British forces.

Helen explains: “This was a story that had always been mooted, but there was never any proof Walter had done this until now. While researching his book, Walter’s MI6 file was declassified and it did actually prove that he reached Zeltweg first and amazingly, negotiated with the Nazi forces.”

She adds: “The Freud family has until now had something of an almost mythical status, but this book really brings out the personal side and shows the amazing courage of both Martin and Walter, who didn’t have to volunteer but nevertheless made this selfless sacrifice to fight for their adopted country.”

Freud’s War by Helen Fry is published by The History Press, priced £20.