Siegfried Ostrowski
The Fate of Jewish Physicians in the Third Reich

An Eyewitness Account from the Years 1933-1939

y report written here from memory cannot claim to be historically accurate in all details or to be valid for the entire territory of the Reich, but it can claim to be a responsible factual report. It merely serves as an additional source for what seems to me to be an important chapter in the fate of Germany's Jews in the years 1933 to 1939, i.e. from the Nazi takeover until the days before the outbreak of the Second World War. The material presented here is based primarily on personal experiences and observations, most of which were obtained in Berlin. In addition, communications from people close to me were used only to round out the report and only when they seemed to confirm my own experiences.

Compared with what was done to the Jews of Europe after the outbreak of the war, this report on a single profession may seem of lesser weight. However, the gradual degradation of the Jewish medical profession in Germany, up to its complete elimination, is definitely a significant chapter from the point of view of the historical establishment of the Jewish fate under Nazi rule, which should not be missing in a later overall account.

[I]  The situation of Jewish physicians before 1933

In 1933 the number of Jewish doctors in Germany was about seven thousand, which meant about 14% of the German medical profession. At that time, the German Reich had about sixty-five million inhabitants, among them almost six hundred thousand Jews, of whom about one hundred thousand from Eastern European countries of origin did not have German citizenship. Compared to the proportion of Jews in the population, therefore, the number of Jewish physicians was unusually high. Slightly less than half of all Jewish physicians practiced in the capital of the Reich, Berlin, another 2500 in other large cities in Germany, and only about 1000 in small towns.

This strikingly uneven distribution, with a preponderance in some large city centers, can be explained essentially by the fact that people in small German towns and rural districts were always much more intolerant of Jews than was the case in the large cities, which, moreover, usually had strong Jewish communities. In addition, Berlin, with its liberal atmosphere, especially in the Weimar period, and with its correspondingly liberal currents in the city administration and in professional organizations, offered its Jews favorable work opportunities, especially in the liberal professions. For Jewish physicians, this relatively good position in Berlin was reflected especially in the field of panel doctors [state health insurance scheme doctors], which was more inaccessible in the smaller towns of Germany. Jews were in authoritative positions in the Berlin Medical Association, just as they were represented in the leading bodies of the trade unions. The fact that Jewish physicians of the older generation in particular had participated significantly in the establishment and development of the social insurance system certainly contributed to this. Many of them worked in political organizations whose main goals included the realization of social legislation, especially social insurance with the greatest possible participation of physicians to care for the insured. In the early stages of the health insurance system, this was a privilege for only a few hundred physicians.

Many Jewish physicians were also among the pioneers of the "free choice of physicians", which could only be achieved after years of hard struggle. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Jewish physicians who deserved well of the achievement of such goals ended up in leading positions in the corresponding organizations.

In the provinces, there were only a few Jews in leading medical positions or on assistant [resident] posts of hospitals. In Berlin, on the other hand — if one disregards the "confessionally" directed Catholic and Protestant institutions — according to my estimate more than 50% of all directing hospital physicians of municipal institutions were Jews, the percentage of Jewish assistant physicians at these hospitals was even higher. Furthermore, the numerous private hospitals in Berlin were predominantly in Jewish hands. The reason for this was the serious disproportion between the large number of good Jewish specialists and their chance of clinical activity at public institutions. In this context, the fact that Jewish doctors had few professional opportunities in the provinces and were practically excluded from district and local hospitals had a particularly strong effect. In southern and western Germany, this was possibly exacerbated by the fact that the percentage of purely confessional hospitals was even higher. However, at these Catholic or Protestant institutions, exclusivity was no less sharply exercised against each other, often in an almost grotesque manner.

In the German Reich of the pre-Nazi era, the Jewish doctor was held in such high esteem that one can almost speak of a preference by wide circles of the non-Jewish population. This was particularly evident in working-class circles, but the middle classes also kept their Jewish family doctors in the family, often through generations. In the end, this relationship of trust between Jewish doctor and his non-Jewish patient contributed in no small way to certain non-Jewish groups of doctors giving organized expression to their long-simmering dislike. However, I would like to emphasize that for many years I was able to work in complete harmony as a consultant with numerous non-Jewish colleagues. The hospital of the Jewish Community in Berlin was at times occupied by over 50% of non-Jewish patients in the period before 1933, giving evidence of the popularity of Jewish physicians among the non-Jews.

On average, Jewish physicians in large and medium-sized cities were in a very favorable economic position, to which their reputation for solid professional training, constant efforts at continuing education and devoted service to patients contributed.

The number of Jews in the field of medical research was large and invaluable. A considerable number of the Jewish physicians working in Germany, some with outstanding, even groundbreaking achievements, received international recognition. Nevertheless, only quite a few of them were made full professors at German universities — even in the Weimar Republic. And these few were usually baptized. An exception was my teacher Professor Moritz Borehardt, who managed to become Privy Medical Councillor [Geheimer Medizinalrat] still at the times of the Empire. He held the chair of surgery at the Third Surgical University Clinic (Krankenhaus Moabit) in Berlin, where I worked alongside him for many years as his senior physician. This Third Clinic was a foundation of the later liberal period in Berlin, the youngest alongside the two other university clinics, which were steeped in tradition.

In this period, — at least temporarily — the old conservative, not to say reactionary, circles no longer had the sole determining influence on the filling of chairs. Under the old system, the famous "Stammtische" (bar-room politics) played the decisive role in chair succession, whereby, of course, the aspirants' affiliation with certain political groups and denominations often took precedence over their scientific qualifications. The short Weimar period changed little in this respect. Socialist influence was of limited benefit for Jewish physicians applying for leading positions. Nevertheless, the number of Jewish physicians advancing to positions of leadership increased, especially in Berlin, although never without latent or open resistance from non-Jewish medical circles. Despite the undoubtedly ever-present anti-Semitism of certain groups, however, an objective assessment does not allow us to say that the Jewish physicians encountered openly coarse expressions of animosity in their professional cooperation with their German colleagues before 1933. However, it was always clear to the more far-sighted among us that the more or less perceptible hostility in certain medical circles would, given a constellation, once hit the Jewish physician with all sharpness.

[II]  Harbingers of the impending tide of change

Signs of a deterioration in the situation had been apparent for some time. With the growth of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), they became more obvious, especially since the organized medical profession active in the NSDAP soon engaged in undisguised hostile propaganda. It was their explicit goal, after initially restricting the activities of Jewish physicians in proportion to the percentage of the Jewish population, to eventually radically exclude Jewish physicians from treating non-Jewish patients.

The National Socialist physicians initially began their opposition in the general physicians' meetings with factually correct formulated speeches and motions. Initially, the discussions they triggered kept within the bounds of parliamentary expression, but soon ended in wild scenes of noise that necessitated the intervention of the police. The National Socialist physicians demanded seats and votes as special factions in the Medical Association and representation in all top medical organizations corresponding to their number of members. In the early days of this development, they were still outvoted by the majority of the assembly participants, among them the very strong contingent of Jews (I remember only one case in which, in one of the already police-monitored large general assemblies of the Berlin medical profession, a Jewish doctor argued for the justification of the demands put forward by the Nazi doctors ).

Despite incessant advances, the Nazis initially had no success in physicians' meetings — at least in Berlin, with its numerous Jewish physicians. They therefore used more underground means of propaganda, such as influencing non-Jewish patients in consultation by by a health scheme doctors or during follow-up examinations by independent medical examiners. If, for example, requests for referrals from non-Jewish patients to Jewish doctors became known, there was no lack of warnings that this was a non-German doctor who was not allowed to treat "Aryan" patients. Even slander of the worst kind against against the doctor belonging to a foreign tribe ["fremdstämmig" — foreign-born"] was considered just as right and permissible to these "Aryan" doctors all the way to complete discredit as well as any conceivable machination, the character and extent of which it is not worthwhile to enumerate here. These unworthy attempts to incite the German population against their Jewish physicians had at first hardly any noticeable success. Especially in the large cities with their large working class, people did not want to part so quickly with the doctors to whom they had been accustomed for generations. This was no less true for bourgeois circles, and therefore it was not at all uncommon to find many an old patient in the office of a Jewish doctor who already wore the Nazi party badge. Yes, in some cases they even came in full SA uniform, because at first they did not take the anti-Jewish program of the NSDAP seriously. Only under the pressure of open threats by the party that had come to power more and more non-Jewish patients stayed away from the doctors' offices — to begin with of course, those who had to fear the growing terror with regard to their personal safety or with regard to their jobs.

Finally, the boycott actions of the Nazi doctors became a problem that could no longer be ignored even by the top medical organizations. A case that had occurred in my practice forced the medical association to take a stand.

A non-Jewish patient had demanded that her "Aryan" panel doctor refer her to me for a major operation, but the doctor refused, saying that he only referred patients to German doctors. The patient, an old SPD [Social Democratic Party] functionary, came to me anyway, told me what had happened, and excitedly demanded that I report it to the medical association. After many consultations with leading colleagues of the Greater Berlin Medical Association and the Leipzig Medical Association, the leading organization of the German medical profession, it was decided to appeal to the Medical Association in order to bring about a decision on the question of this boycott case. The Nazi doctor in question, later the Nazi government's representative for affairs of Jewish doctors in Berlin, was convicted, but the wording of the verdict was not made public. This precedent from 1932 aroused the fiercest opposition of the NSDAP medical profession, and it need hardly be said that the decision was overturned by the now Nazified Medical Association after the Nazis seized power. At the time, a long article by the later leader of the physicians of the Reich ["Reichsärzteführer"] Dr. Leonardo Conti appeared in the Nazi newspaper "Völkischer Beobachter", protesting against the ruling in the form of a declaration of loyalty by the Nazi physicians for the reprimanded NSDAP physician Dr. Arno Hermann, and giving wide scope to the question of the relationship of Aryan and "foreign-born" physicians to the German population. The article did not contain any personal attacks against me.

According to the "Völkischer Beobachter" of 24 August 1933, undersecratary Dr. Conti held a lecture in the NS Deutscher Ärztebund on "The Physician in the Third Reich", in which he said about the Jews: "...racial principles had been almost completely forgotten, which could take bitter revenge. If one looks at the poisoning of the races in our Germany from the side of the Jewish question alone, one must conclude that Jewish blood has penetrated from dark channels not only among the nobility and the bourgeoisie, but unfortunately also in the circles of the manual laborers." Then he explained: "The situation of the Berlin medical profession had improved recently. This was mainly due to the growing collegiality among the Aryan physicians, and to the elimination of the Jewish medical profession." Personally, he had "nothing against Jewish doctors, but at this point he vigorously objected to the fact that in the widest circles the opinion was still held that the Jewish doctor was a thousand times better than the German doctor". Quoted from the "Jüdische Rundschau" of August 25, 1933. — See also the chapter "Health Care" in "Das Schwarzbuch. Facts and Documents. Die Lage der Juden in Deutschland 1933" (published by the Comité des Délégations Juives, Paris 1934), in which my disciplinary court case is also presented.

The time of the last election to the Medical Association in Berlin before the upheaval in 1933 was approaching. Insightful people had to foresee the professional future of Jewish physicians. But there were still enough Jewish physicians who, instead of drawing consequences from the so clearly diminishing chances, did not give up the fight. It is all the less appropriate to accuse them retrospectively of being blind to the situation at the time, since at that time only very few, even among the Nazi doctors, could have imagined that the Nazi anti-Jewish program would be carried out with such radicalism as it then actually was. The propaganda before the due chamber election had the usual forms: Election meetings, speeches, leaflets, — feverish activity among Nazis and anti-Nazis. Even the Jewish doctors did not stand back in this. The Nazis, however, were so sure of their cause that they believed they could do without an increase in their agitation before election day. The course of events proved them only too right.

[III]  Exclusion of Jews from the German Medical Profession

No sooner had the Nazis come to power in 1933 than they opened the floodgates to a stream of regulations which, slowly at first, then more and more radically, undermined the possibilities of existence for Jews in Germany. In the area I kept track of, too, the rapid succession of restrictive regulations led to the progressive slackening of the activities of Jewish physicians and finally to their complete elimination from the German medical profession.

It began on 7 April 1933, with the so-called "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeam­tentums" ["Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service]," which excluded all Jewish physicians who had not been war participants in the First World War or who had registered in private practice before 1914 from the right to treat "Aryan" patients. However, this still left more than half of the Jewish physicians "privileged," since the number of war participants and so-called old physicians among them was quite large. A few days later, the restrictions were then extended to those who themselves, or whose parents, had not been born in Germany. By the law of 14 April 1933, on the revocation of naturalizations, they were simply &mdah; again with the exception of the war participants — declared to be deprived of German citizenship.

But the situation also became increasingly difficult for the doctors who were still licensed. Anti-Jewish propaganda in Nazi doctors' offices and the terror of intimidation by health insurance counter clerks took on such proportions that the number of patients seeing Jewish doctors steadily declined. Threats such as the withdrawal of sickness benefits, entry of the names of "renitent" patients in black lists, non-consideration in the work record or even loss of employment could not remain ineffective in the long run.

"KVA", the newsletter of the Städtische Krankenversicherungs-Anstalt [Municipial Health Insurance Institution] states under the title "Reimbursement of invoices of Jewish physicians" in its June 1933 number: Already in the circulars … concerning the boycott against Jewry the opinion of the Lord Mayor and the Health Insurance Institution has been announced that it is self-evident national duty of the members and co-insured of the Health Insurance Institution not to enter anew into the treatment by Jewish physicians. Furthermore, if treatment has already begun with such physicians, it is obligatory to consider whether it is necessary to continue treatment with them …" The Commissioner in charge points out that still many do not comply with this "national duty," and informs that as of a certain date "choice of doctors is only among those of Aryan descent belonging to the Reich." After that date, bills from Jewish doctors would no longer be paid.

In many declarations patients expressed honest regret about the ordered and forced migration, also in sharp criticism of the Nazi decrees, not infrequently in crude public jokes of the well-known Berlin kind. It should also be mentioned here that a small number of old patients remained loyal to their doctors until the end, even at personal sacrifice. In general, however, the great mass of the population remained dull and silent, fearful and anxious, unless they were already influenced by Nazi propaganda and openly rejoiced in the brutal treatment of the Jews.

From 1 April to June 1933, the "de-Jewification" of the medical staff of the public hospitals and health authorities took place in an unstoppable process. In Berlin, the newly appointed city physician Dr. Klein was particularly prominent in this process. A sign at the entrance to the main health office in Berlin announced that "entry for Jews is forbidden." This zealous Nazi doctor, however, soon disappeared from the scene. The proof of a family tree with Jewish ancestry, now demanded by every official, had brought to light a "forgotten" Jewish grandmother in his case. The case of the well-known Berlin surgeon A. W. Meyer, the head of the surgical department of the Charlottenburg-Westend hospital, a son of the pharmacologist Horst Meyer, was similar — but with a tragic outcome —. He was said to be particularly active in removing Jewish doctors from his hospital as well as from a prestigious private Catholic clinic. When, upon filling out the infamous questionnaire, he could no longer hide his "repressed" Jewish ancestry, he shot himself and his wife. His assistants had the courage to dedicate a dignified obituary to their medically important boss in the Zentralblatt für Chirurgie.

The dismissal of Jewish physicians from public positions was effected either by a mere telephone call or by an open pneumatic postcard from the superior authority, usually in this form: "You are hereby requested to leave the institution immediately. You are forbidden to re-enter the grounds of the institution." Some Jewish physicians were arrested and maltreated, with an apparent special search for those who belonged to the Association of Socialist Physicians. For the doctors driven out of their civil service jobs, however, a chain of harassment usually followed. In their private practice, whose competition was feared in spite of everything, they were rudely disturbed and harassed — reports, denunciations, nightly telephone calls, disgusting invectives by mail from anonymous senders were the order of the day. I myself had to repeatedly answer to the Medical Association and the National Socialist Medical Association because of such denunciations by former employees, co-workers and patients from the Municipal Hospital Berlin-Buch-West, where I had been the head surgeon until April 1933. Since I was always able to provide complete proof of the unfoundedness, mendacity and maliciousness of these slanderous accusations, even the aforementioned instances rejected them. However, it remains questionable to me whether they would have done so even without the intercession of an Obersturmbannführer who had previously been my senior physician.

The persecution of Jewish gynecologists took place with relentless cruelty. Without enumerating all conceivable reasons why they were persecuted in such a special way, it should only be pointed out that commercial abortion and the "damage to the national body" caused by it formed the main charge. If their medical files were searched and, thanks to their correct keeping of patients' medical histories, apparently "incriminating" material was found in them, they were sentenced to many years in prison, if they were brought before state courts in a formal due process. If, however, the Gestapo seized them and hauled them off to concentration camps without an investigation, their end was sealed. Unfortunately, many suffered such a fate due to denunciations by former patients or employees, mostly acts of revenge, whose boom time had just begun. Some of these doctors managed to escape in time, leaving all their belongings behind, before the henchmen of the system could find them.

The Jewish doctor was practically outlawed, helplessly at the mercy of any denunciation, unless special circumstances, as in the case described above, came to his aid. In addition, there was the cacophonous "background music" of the increasing number of nightly telephone calls from unknown persons, which I also had to endure. When you picked up the phone, a voice would ask: "Are you Saujude [Jewish pig] still there? Get out of here!" or: "Do patients always die under anesthesia?" To be able to practice my profession at all under such conditions required the greatest nervous tension. Looking back, it is inexplicable to me today how we got through it. Even the old letter carriers shook their heads at the shameless anonymous postcards we had to endure. It was a golden time for scribblings and smearings of delinquents of the worst kind and for blackmailers, of whom there was no lack either. All this was hardly made more bearable for the recipient by the fact that he did not have to reproach himself for any of the accusations made against him.

As far as I can remember, the first fatality of the agitation against Jewish physicians was Dr. Philippsthal, a fellow student of mine who practiced in a small Berlin suburb. The Nazis, who had not forgotten his mocking remarks about the NSDAP from the time before the "seizure of power," murdered him.

One man among the higher Berlin members of the NSDAP must be remembered here, whose repeated intervention for my protection and that of some Jewish colleagues I have cause to recall with gratitude. He had already repeatedly testified to his willingness to help Jews when he again stepped in during the following threatening situation. Shortly after the first measures for the elimination of Jewish physicians became known, representatives of the Jewish medical profession met to discuss the situation in the community center of the Jewish community in Berlin and decided to establish contacts with foreign medical organizations in order to open up livelihood opportunities for emigrating physicians. Suddenly, SS doctors entered the meeting room and arrested the participants on the charge of carrying out "atrocity propaganda abroad". All of those arrested were taken to the exhibition park at the Lehrter train station, where they were subjected to hours of military "exercises." Among the Jewish doctors were men of high standing and age, such as Professor Hermann Strauss and others. The intervention of the aforementioned patron freed these unfortunates. This helper was a simple man, always inconspicuously dressed, a journeyman miller by profession, married to the daughter of a private lecturer in Oriental languages at the University of Berlin. He possessed extraordinary powers at Nazi headquarters, up to and including the right to arrest high party officials. Repeatedly he used these his rights to act against SA members who allowed themselves "private actions" against Jews. As my patient, he had undergone a successful serious operation in a Jewish private clinic, despite the objections of the Party, and from then on he repeatedly showed me his gratitude for the help he had rendered. For example, on days that were particularly dangerous for us Jews, he came to me early in the morning to inquire whether everything was all right. When a Nazi book appeared with the title "Die roten Hochburgen des Marxismus" ("The Red Strongholds of Marxism"), which, among other things, gave a detailed account of my trial against the above-mentioned current Nazi secretary for Jewish doctors, he immediately reassured my wife and me with the assurance that this publication would not entail any further consequences for me. Later, too, he often reported to us on disputes within the NSDAP concerning planned anti-Jewish measures; not infrequently he warned us when radical decisions became known to him or when it seemed advisable to use the telephone only cautiously on certain days, since conversations would be listened in on. From my conversations with this peculiar man it was clear that he — like many at that time still — did not want to believe in a radical anti-Jewish policy in the long run. He considered the "party bigwigs" to be mere careerists. He exempted Hitler from criticism and held with that part of public opinion at the time which seriously believed that the dictator knew nothing of the anti-Semitic outrages and would not approve of them if he learned of them. I think it is possible that the most likely explanation for the strikingly moderate attitude of the man I have described here is that he was a former Communist. After all, there were initially Communists who were sympathetic to Hitler's "reforms" of the existing German social order, while at the same time backing away from anti-Jewish actions by the Nazis.

Among the early victims of Nazi persecution of Jewish physicians was my friend Dr. Max Leopold, a great-nephew of the famous internist Ludwig Traube of the Charité in Berlin. Dr. Leopold, who was equally distinguished as a person and professionally, was a doctor in Berlin's northwest who was highly regarded by Jews and non-Jews alike. He was dragged to Buchenwald because of a formal incorrectness in a prescription which had occurred many years before. A week after Dr. Leopold's committal, his sister received a rude request from the police to receive his cinerary urn for a fee. There were countless condolence visits to the sister, especially from Christian patients.

But I would like to make explicit mention of another deeply lamentable victim of this time: Dr. Landsberg, who served well the Greater Berlin Medical Association. He became a victim of the private revenge of his Nazi successor as treasurer of the Berlin Medical Profession [Berliner Ärzteschaft], Dr. Ruppin, who accused Landsberg of embezzlement in office in the once "red", now brown paper of the medical profession. Despite the obviously false accusation against the most honorable man, Landsberg was arrested and, according to Nazi versions, committed one of the "suicides" in prison, characteristic of those unfortunate times, which we knew were in fact murders. Later it became known that Ruppin himself committed the misconduct he accused the Jew of and had to disappear from office.

As "Commissioner in the Provincial Association of Physicians of the Provinces of Brandenburg and Grenzmark" Dr. Ruppin, M.d.A., issued in the "Ärzteblatt" No. 13 of his province an appeal entitled "Away with the Jewish Physicians! "in which it was stated: "Through the overloading with Jews [Überjudung], the former ideal professional view has indisputably already given way to the Jewish business spirit … We German physicians therefore demand the exclusion of all Jews from the medical treatment of German national comrades, because the Jew is the incarnation of lies and deceit". (Quoted from the "Jüdische Rundschau" of 12 May 1933.)

The Jewish leader of the Berlin Medical Association, Dr. Seheyer, was replaced under the Nazis by a man named Dr. Villain, who lived up to his ominous name by brutally persecuting Jewish doctors and their relatives. For maltreating the "Ärzteführer" Conti with a riding whip in a confrontation, Villain paid his bill with his life on the bloody "Party Purification Day" on 30 June 1934.

[IV]  The Racial Laws of 1935

As serious as the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor" enacted on 15 September 1935 was for the Jews of Germany in general, it had a particularly drastic effect on the professional activities of Jewish physicians. Of particular importance were the provisions regulating the employment of "Aryans" in the service of Jews. The age limit of female staff was decisive here, since female servants, nurses and laboratory assistants — like domestic servants in general — were only allowed to remain in positions with Jews if they had exceeded the age of 45. For us physicians, this law meant the forced dismissal of all veteran, trained staff, for whom reliable replacements could at most be obtained from the dissolved practice of a colleague. Exceptions in particularly critical cases (such as surgical nurses) were occasionally approved by decisions of "higher authority," even if the "age safety limit" had not yet been reached, but only on the condition that they lived outside the medical institution or practice. The reason for such "mitigations" did not lie in humane considerations, nor were they prompted by collegial consideration for the situation of the Jewish physicians, but it simply lay in the difficulty of placing the compulsorily dismissed staff in other positions. The employees who remained in our services proved to be loyal for the most part, and some were by no means Nazi-friendly. Only a few cases came to my knowledge in which such employees in this situation gave themselves up to denunciation services for the Nazis. Most of them were persons who wanted to avenge themselves for any previous disputes with their employers.

I remember an extreme case of hostility concerning the "Aryan" matron of the private clinic Kurfürstenstraße, formerly Israel'sche Privatklinik. This clinic was visited almost exclusively by patients of Jewish doctors, among them well-known specialists. Accordingly, the main income of the owner came from Jewish sources. This did not prevent this matron, who — incidentally — loved to issue unduly high bills, from developing a lively Nazi propaganda in her establishment even before their seizure of power. She liked to sit down with non-Jewish patients to praise the benefits of the NSDAP to them, and constantly fed SA people in the clinic's kitchen. When, after fruitless remonstrances, some of the Jewish doctors gave up using the clinic, she had the nerve to complain about the "Jewish boycott." After the the Nazi takeover, of course, the Jewish doctors in her clinic were immediately replaced by "Aryan" ones, and now she complied with their demand that the name plates of the remaining half-Jews at the clinic entrance be clearly separated from the others. This was an exemplary case of characterless "conformism" to the conjuncture of political upheaval, long before "laws" prescribed such behavior.

In the municipal hospitals of Berlin, relations between the Jewish doctors and the non-Jewish nurses were already tense before 1933, since a large proportion of these nurses were already organized along National Socialist lines and were correspondingly active in propaganda. This state of affairs had a highly unfavorable influence on cooperation in the hospital. In contrast, however, it must be noted that the older nurses and, of course, all those who belonged to the SPD, loyally cooperated, in many cases then even — after 1933 — proving their loyalty by preferring to resign from service, renouncing all rights (incl. pension entitlement), instead of submitting to the Nazi instructions. We Jewish doctors tried to remedy their often extremely critical economic situation by entrusting them with them private home nursing, which offered these brave murses an opportunity to survive. The courage and steadfastness of these nurses under the Nazi regime assures them our continued honorable remembrance. To meet some of them again after fifteen years, during my visit to Berlin in 1954, in senior positions of public service, was a memorable experience for me.

The majority of nurses who had turned their flag to the political wind early on must have bitterly regretted this later under the Nazi regime, for they lost all the social advantages of their profession from the pre-Nazi period, such as good salaries, vacation entitlement, professional representation, and civil servant status, which they had enjoyed under the old conditions. Their salaries were considerably reduced by the Nazis, and civil service rights were replaced by old-age asylum when they were no longer fit for work.

With the at first slow, but soon more and more drastic restriction of rights and work opportunities for Jewish physicians, their exclusion from German science proceeded, as was to be expected. Most of us did not wait for the expulsion, but very soon resigned from the professional organizations as well as from the editorial boards and the editorial staff of medical journals. Thus, many names disappeared from journals and professional journals who had once been among the founders and contributors in leading positions. Whether the systematic eradication of Jews from the German field of medicine also led to the destruction of professional literature in the infamous book burning of May 1933 I do not know. Meetings of scientific associations were almost completely avoided by Jewish physicians since 1933. Resignations invariably received their confirmation, occasionally — in passing — at least with the conventional "expression of regret." Of any attempts, directed from above or extended at all, to disparage the names and achievements of Jews in German medicine, I hardly ever heard. The audacity of the Berlin internist von Bergmann, son of the great surgeon, who in his opening speech at the foundation of the German-Japanese Medical Society simply suppressed the name of Paul Ehrlich when celebrating his Japanese co-discoverer of salvarsan, Hata, was probably an exception.

The consequences of the general Nazification naturally also became apparent in medical publications. Reports of meetings in journals, but also books — even new editions of older works — mentioned the "Führer" more and more frequently and took pains, sometimes in a rather desparate manner, to point out connections between the reorganization of Germany and science. Thus, for example, the number of articles on hereditary diseases increased, although at the same time room was given to controversies about the affiliation of certain diseases to this field of research. The question of sterilization came increasingly to the forefront of publications, especially after the enactment of the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Offspring [Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses] on 1 January 1934.

As early as 20 May 20 1933, the "Ärztliche Mitteilungen," published by the Association of Doctors in Germany (Hartmannbund), published in its No. 20 an essay entitled "Legal Sterilization" by Med.-Rat Dr. L. Vellguth, in which the author, in the spirit of racial hygiene, demanded a law permitting the sterilization of people. However, sterilization was only allowed in certain collectively designated cases. Literally, he wrote: "For this purpose, an attempt shall be made in the following to unite larger groups of inferiors under a certain external, easily recognizable characteristic. For this purpose, I will use the classification that has proven itself to me in the registration of the inferiors in my service district. There are the following seven groups: 1. feeble-minded, 2. insane, 3. epileptic, 4. unsocial (criminals), 5. deaf-mutes, 6. physically weak (tuberculosis), 7. foreign races." In the rest of the article, he then gives reasons for his opinion regarding each group. On point 7 it says: "We want to prevent the infiltration of foreign blood into the organism of our people as far as possible. Jews, Negroes, Mongols and similar peoples can therefore be sterilized with their will without punishment, no matter whether they are healthy or sick."

Mass sterilizations began. This law also forced Jewish doctors to register cases for sterilization according to these regulations. Most of the cases were clubfoot, congenital hip dislocation and deformities, and mental illness. Despite official requests, I myself did not permit any infertility treatments in my area of work on the basis of these decrees, but I was never forced to report such cases. Even when Jewish doctors were only allowed to treat Jewish patients, they were strictly obliged to report such cases. What tragedies for doctor and patient resulted from this, and what incidentally concerned the value of these "eugenic" measures, does not belong in this account. In order to "teach" the people the "humanitarian" motives for this law, among other things a film was shown, which I also had to watch very involuntarily. It was footage from the asylum for the mentally ill in Berlin-Buch, which had once been under the direction of the eminent Jewish psychiatrist Professor Karl Birnbaum. In terms of clarity and horror, the footage surpassed just about everything that was ever shown under Nazi rule at the time. In one scene, for example, an actor portraying the doctor conducted a dialogue with a Jewish manic mental patient, although it must be said that the "conversation" was presented in such a primitive and amateurish manner that the madwoman came off decidedly better than the pseudo-doctor. Of course, the film's narrator did not fail to point out the negative physical and "typically Jewish" features of the unfortunate woman with due emphasis.

The later fate of this category of sick people is known. They were killed, under the guise of "euthanasia", by the most diverse methods. I know of only one — admittedly unsuccessful — protest against these inhuman measures, which was made by the institution of the pastor Bodelschwingh. In the medical press, as laudable exceptions, two physicians in particular distanced themselves from a general "sterilization policy." The Zwickau orthopedist Gaugele vigorously disputed the justification for sterilizing people with so-called congenital hip dislocation. In more general terms, the Düsseldorf surgeon Otto Hilgenfeld (today Bochum), with whom I am in friendly contact, warned in a courageous way.

Particularly tragic were the laws for schoolchildren who fell victim to the prescribed "selection" for admission to higher schools. Aptitude for athletic performance was given priority over intellectual aptitude. I remember a particularly tragic case in which parents were unable to secure for their very gifted boy, whom they had brought through his childhood years of worry and hardship, the right to remain in the Gymnasium. He was expelled from school because he suffered from a congenital disability.

The "scientific" underpinning of the implementation of the hereditary and racial laws was provided by publications, which were only exceptionally written by experienced specialists, but mostly by physicians without adequate knowledge, who exploited the boom for the sad fame of their journalistic participation in this kind of "science". All panel physicians were obliged to purchase these scribblings. The universities of Jena and Munich established chairs for hereditary and racial science. In Jena this chair was given to the notorious "Rassen-Günther", in Munich to a Czech, whom, however, not even his students took seriously. It was an open secret that the SS had to keep order in his lectures on several occasions, because there were loud expressions of displeasure, even stormy scenes of hilarity in the auditorium. At least the young physicians seem not to have accepted the excesses of the new teachings so absolutely and not entirely uncritically.

[V]  Self-help of the Jewish doctors

Although the medical specialist press was still available to Jewish physicians for the time being, cooperation with it through publications ceased between 1935 and 1936. The Zentralblatt für Chirurgie, for example, rejected a paper submitted by me at that time with the excuse that the article could not be expected to be printed for a long time because there was an oversupply of submissions. This had never happened before. So at least we knew. Some Jewish medical researchers then sent their papers to foreign journals, e.g., to the prominent Swiss Medizinische Wochenschrift, which, however, due to lack of space could publish only a part of the papers sent in, and even these only in very abridged form. A few papers appeared in the Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift and the Acta Medica Scandinavica.

The general theft of property by the Nazis was now joined by that of intellectual property. Books and treatises by Jewish authors, as far as a reprint seemed desirable in the general interest, were simply and shamelessly published, sometimes hardly changed, under a different "Aryan" author's name. In general, the publications of Jewish authors, which had long since been withdrawn from the market and disappeared, still seem to have been in demand. The search for such printed works was openly pursued by the state.

In this way, the "Reich Chamber of Culture" appropriated, free of charge, an extensive and valuable collection of Jewish works. I myself witnessed the removal of entire carloads of Jewish books to this institute when I emigrated in July 1939. A censorship office, created specifically for this purpose, ensured that such collections from the possession of emigrants, selected mostly for Jewish content, were forwarded to Nazi offices and libraries.

The import restrictions on foreign medical journals became so drastic over time that not only Jewish physicians (who wanted to escape the National Socialist-tainted writings) had to largely forego reading well-founded scientific papers. These regulations, which were probably not only prompted by foreign exchange difficulties, even forced university clinics to form order groups for such coveted publications. Increasing passport difficulties made travel abroad for study purposes virtually impossible, especially for Jewish physicians.

The increasing difficulties and dangers led to the emigration of a large number of Jewish physicians. For those who remained, who could not or did not want to emigrate for a variety of reasons, there was an urgent need to join together organizationally for further training purposes. Surprisingly, the initiative to establish training courses for Jewish doctors came from the then "Reichsärzteführer" Gerhard Wagner, a German expatriate. In a corresponding decree, he entrusted this task to the new health administration of the Jewish community in Berlin. Its head was the hygienist Professor Erich Seligmann, who, after being dismissed from his position as the head of the Bacteriological-Hygienic Department in the Main Health Office of the City of Berlin after many years, had become the head of the Health Department of the Reich Representation of German Jews and the Health Administration of the Berlin Jewish Community. He proved himself an excellent administrator in this difficult post. Negotiating with the various Nazi authorities required extraordinary elasticity. Seligmann combined in his person the entire health board of the community, which until he took office had been divided into about 35 members. This was not always without hardships against previous members of the health board and earned him the half-joking name of "health dictator". In this way, however, he guaranteed, in this period of increasing dissolution, the attainable degree of order and success in the work.

Seligmann organized lectures and courses for Jewish physicians throughout the Reich with the support of the considerable number of highly qualified Jewish specialist lecturers still available, so that his programs could offer a wealth of stimulation and instruction to all specialist groups. Lecturers from Berlin and other large cities now traveled to the provinces. In Berlin itself, a Jewish medical society created for this purpose regularly organized specialized lectures from the entire field of medicine.These well-attended evenings, characterized by lively debates and a high standard, took place first in the large hall of the community center in Rosenstrasse, later in the Brüdervereinshaus, and then additionally in the community hospital, in the polyclinic at Alexanderplatz and in the Elsasserstrasse hospital.

As a result of the progressive emigration, the shortage of senior physicians, assistants [residents] and nurses for the most important Jewish hospitals in the Reich became more and more palpable almost from month to month. First and foremost the provinces suffered from this, from which a strong migration to the large centers took place, determined by the experience that in the large cities life was, in spite of everything, more unnoticed, smoother for Jews. In Berlin, despite constant emigration, but precisely as a result of internal migration, the number of Jews remained almost constant for a long time, and with it the number of physicians, who, like the lawyers, were first displaced from the provinces.



• Kapitel I-V
• Kapitel VI-X

Home Page
All Contributions



• Chapters I-V
• Chapters VI-X

Home Page
All Contributions



• Jew­ish Phy­si­cians in the Third Reich, Chapters I-V
• Jew­ish Phy­si­cians in the Third Reich, Chapters VI-X

Home Page
All Contributions



• Jüdi­sche Ärz­te im Drit­ten Reich, Kapitel I-V
• Jüdi­sche Ärz­te im Drit­ten Reich, Kapitel VI-X

Home Page
All Contributions