Historical context (1897 – 1918).
— From: Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust
«I was born in a small village as the first son of not unprosperous parents.»
— From: Passion of Youth
Wilhelm Reich was born on March 24, 1897 in Galicia, in the easternmost part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Ukraine. He grew up in the Bukovina on a large farm operated by his father. His first language was German, and until 1938 he was an Austrian citizen.
According to The Bibliography of Orgonomy–prepared at Orgonon in 1953 under Reich’s supervision–his «interest in biology and natural science was stimulated early by the life on the farm, close to agriculture, cattle-farming, and breeding…Between his 8th and 12th years, he had his own collection and breeding laboratory of butterflies, insects and plants under the guidance of a private teacher. The natural life functions, including the sexual function, were familiar to him as far back as he could remember, and this may well have determined his strong later inclination as a bio-psychiatrist toward the biological foundation of the emotional life of man, as well as his biophysical discoveries in the fields of medicine, biology, and education.»
Until he was 13 years old, Reich was educated at home by tutors. His mother, to whom he was devoted, committed suicide in 1910 after his father discovered she had had a brief affair with one of the tutors. Reich’s father died four years later from tuberculosis, leaving seventeen-year old Reich to direct the farm work on his own without interrupting his studies at the German high school he was attending.
That same year, 1914, the first World War broke out. Soon Russian troops swept through the Bukovina. Reich narrowly escaped being sent to Russia as a hostage, and had to flee his home. Later he wrote, «I never saw either my homeland or my possessions again. Of a well-to-do past, nothing was left.» (Passion of Youth) He joined the Austrian Army in 1915, served as a lieutenant from 1916-1918, and was at the Italian front three times, experiencing what he called «the war as a machine.»
In 1918 the war finally ended. Germany and Austria were defeated, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, and the Bukovina became part of Romania. Alone, homeless and intellectually starved after four years of war, Reich entered the Medical School at the University of Vienna.