Siegfried Ostrowski
The Fate of Jewish Physicians in the Third Reich

An Eyewitness Account from the Years 1933-1939

Translation and Introduction by Peter A. Rinck



May what has been written down here help to keep alive the memory of that time of human aberration, which the history of mankind had not shown so far in such extent and such monstrosity.

To the living and the coming as a warning!
To the victims for a lasting memory!

iegfried Ostrowski wrote this memoir in the early sixties. He published a first version in a bulletin of the Leo Baeck Institute in Tel Aviv in 1963 and sent it to his friend in Berlin, my father, — and to me a photo book "This is Israel". Both were in my bookshelves for decades.

In the Small Café, we occasionally came to talk about developments in both Berlin and Germany — and elsewhere — and compared them with the past — how did it start, where did it go?

Siegfried Ostrowski's descriptions of the mentality of people back then seem to reveal parallels in German society today. Yet it need not always be anti-Semitism that is decomposing human symbiosis. There is a wide spectrum of other ideologies that can destabilize a state, in a way contemptuous of one's fellow citizens, either purposefully or out of sheer stupidity and ignorance on the part of their supporters. Evil people, as Ostrowski describes them, can always be found.

Therefore, one shouldn't forget history. Never lose sight of the link between today's political developments and the understanding of the past. As Wilhelm von Humboldt noted: "Only those who know the past have a future." Is history about to repeat itself under different guises?


Siegfried Ostrowski was born on 13 April 1887 in Braunsberg (East Prussia) into an East Prussian merchant family. After his school education, he studied medicine in Berlin. After his license to practice medicine in 1914, Ostrowski trained as a surgeon and initially worked as an assistant physician at the Berlin-Moabit Municipal Hospital. Later he took over the post of chief physician at the Städtisches Hospital Berlin-Buch and in Berlin-Mitte respectively.

After the National Socialists came to power, he was removed from public service and from then on worked as a practicing physician as well as at the Polyclinic of the Jewish Community until his license to practice medicine was revoked in 1938. He then took over the surgical department at the Hospital of the Jewish Community in Berlin as a "patient handler."

"The emigration of many leading physicians of the community polyclinic — or 'Krankenhilfe', as it was now only allowed to call itself — and the polyclinic of the hospital naturally made regular work extremely difficult as a result of the frequent personnel changes this caused," Siegfried Ostrowski recalled.

After the pogrom of 1938, many victims of the November night as well as those deported to the concentration camp Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen sought medical help at the Jewish Hospital.

"The number of admissions grew continuously. At first, hardly any of them dared to speak, let alone tell what had been done to them," Doctor Ostrowski noted. "Numerous sick, mutilated and abused people passed through the Jewish Hospital Berlin, which was a treatment center for the Jews remaining in Germany and the only place of refuge for the many suffering."

Shortly before the Second World War was unleashed, on 22 August 1939, Ostrowski gave up his position as head of the Surgical Department of the Jewish Hospital and headed for Trieste. There he and his wife boarded the ship Galiläa which took them to freedom in Palestine.

In 1940 he received permission to work in Tel Aviv as a surgeon for the Kupat Cholim Workers' Health Insurance Fund, whose central surgical practice he headed until he was seventy years old. The physician published his medical knowledge regarding the consequences of physical violence and the epidemic wound infections associated with it, which he made while treating Nazi victims, in 1950 in the Israeli journal Acta Medica Orientalica under the title "Report of an Epidemic of Hospital-Gangrene".

Siegfried Ostrowski died at the age of 90 in 1977 in Lucerne, Switzerland.

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