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Geroe, Clara Lazar (1900–1980)

by Judith Brett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Clara Lazar Geroe (1900-1980), psychiatrist, was born on 4 October 1900 at Pápa, Hungary, daughter of Adolf Adam Lazar, wholesale grocer, and his wife Ilona, née Lusztig. Although Jewish, Clara completed her secondary schooling at the local Calvinist college. Her tertiary education was disrupted by the political turmoil in Hungary at the end of World War I; after attending a number of universities, she graduated in medicine from the University of Pecs in 1924. She had become interested in psychoanalysis during the war, when Dr Sandor Ferenczi was garrisoned in her home town and the leading bookshop stocked his books. Her family bought one and she secretly read it. In 1926 she joined a training course at the Hungarian Psycho-analytical Society, Budapest, becoming a member in 1931 and a training analyst in 1938. Having studied under Michael Balint, she practised privately in Budapest from 1932 to 1939.

At the International Psycho-Analytical Congress, held in Paris in 1938, Clara had explored the possibility of six Hungarian analysts emigrating to New Zealand. Their applications were refused. A group of Australians—including Bishop E. H. Burgmann, the doctors R. S. Ellery, R. C. Winn and Paul Dane, and (Sir) Charles Moses—took up their case with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration. Of the six, only Clara was accepted. She later surmised that she was selected because she had a child. With her husband Vilmos Gerö (William Geroe)—whom she had married on 27 August 1927 in Budapest—and their son, she arrived in Melbourne on 14 March 1940.

Dr Geroe, as she was generally known, began clinical work as training analyst at the new Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis, Collins Street, in February 1941. She soon established a regular series of seminars to discuss the works of Freud, organized seminars for teachers, parents and staff of the Children's Court clinic, and ran a special clinic for those who could not afford private fees. Particularly interested in children, she acted as an adviser to Margaret Lyttle at Preshil, Kew. Geroe lectured in the department of psychology at the University of Melbourne and served as honorary psychoanalyst to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Her medical qualifications were not accepted until 1956, when she became a member of the Australasian Association of Psychiatrists. She was also a foundation fellow of the (Royal) Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and a president of the Australian Psychoanalytical Society.

A warm-hearted, motherly woman, Geroe brought to the establishment of psychoanalysis in Australia the experience of its beginnings in Central Europe. Like Freud's, her couch was covered with a Turkish rug, and she carried a lifelong nostalgia for the early days of the psychoanalytic movement in Europe, with its camaraderie and intellectual radicalism. She also had wide cultural interests and seldom missed a Musica Viva concert, a film festival or an art exhibition. Judy Cassab painted her portrait in 1965. Survived by her husband and son, Geroe died on 12 February 1980 at Parkville and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 26 July 1980, 2, no 2, p 106
  • International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 7, pt 4, 1980, p 522
  • Meanjin Quarterly, 41, no 3, 1982, p 342
  • Journal of the International Assn for the History of Psychoanalysis, no 2, Winter 1986, p 9
  • D. Kirsner, interviews with Clara Geroe (1977 and 1979, tapes held by author)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Judith Brett, 'Geroe, Clara Lazar (1900–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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