Between Resentment and Aid: German and Austrian Psychiatrist and Neurologist Refugees in Great Britain Since 1933

Aleksandra Loewenau. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences Basic and Clinical Perspectives. Volume 25, Issue 3. 2016.

Introduction: Historical background

Signing the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was meant to guarantee peace in Europe; however, the political and economic situation on the continent was far from peaceful. The Weimar Republic, the successor of the defeated German Empire, struggled in fulfilling its obligations towards the Allies, including paying hefty war reparations (Schumann, 2012; McElligott, 2013). The loss of lucrative German territories, demilitarization of the Rhineland, and the limitation imposed on the armed forces (Reichswehr), in addition to pressure on Germany to take the sole responsibility for the war greatly affected the morale of its citizens and divided opinions among politicians (Schumann, 2012). The worldwide Great Depression of the late 1920s created a recession in the German economy and caused staggering unemployment. Moreover, reparation payments put the newly established republic on the edge of bankruptcy (Ritschl, 2013). The increasing dissatisfaction of the public with the government and the lack of political and financial stability contributed to German voters leaning towards the right-wing Nazi Party (NSDAP; The National Socialist German Worker’s Party) led by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) (Kolb, 2008). Moreover, the defeat of “White Russia” was a cause of greater concern amongst Europe’s leaders; Bolshevism was viewed as a larger threat than Hitler’s rise in Germany. This, and other factors played significant roles in the lack of a unified Western response to growing German aggression both at home and abroad. Hence, the Western Powers—Great Britain in particular—turned a blind eye to German violations of fundamental parts of the Versailles Treaty through its annexation of the Rhineland, Saarland, the unification (Anschluss) with Austria, and the invasion of the Sudetenland in the Czechoslovakia and the Memel regions (Klaipėda). Those expansionistic plans from the 1930s of the established “Third Reich” directly led to the outbreak of World War Two.

While the foreign-trade-dependent British economy struggled with the effects of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, the NSDAP had already claimed victory in the 1932 election, and a year later Hitler was proclaimed the Chancellor of the Reich. Soon, after the Nazis gained control over Germany, they attempted to eliminate all perceived enemies of their new state, such as socialists and communists (London, 2003, p. 25). Various laws were passed that focused on preserving the purity of the Aryan race. Early on, the Nazi racial policies and anti-Semitic propaganda targeted German Jews of every background from poor peasants to prominent scientists, lawyers, and representatives of the medical profession, among them were neurologists and psychiatrists who are one of the focuses of this article.

Three months after taking control over Germany, the Nazi government passed a new “Law on the Re-Establishment of a Professional Civil Service,” according to which those with “non-Aryan decent” were forbidden from being employed in any branch of the civil service, and those already hired were dismissed (Longerich, 2010, p. 38). Contracts of thousands of tenured prominent academics were terminated. On April 22, 1933, the “The Decree on Admission of Physicians to Health Insurance Activity” was proclaimed. This effectively deprived a large number of Jewish physicians of their income (Sherman, 1973, p. 21). As result of additional regulations being passed between 1933 and 1938, Jewish physicians were allowed to practice their profession solely on other Jews (Majer, 2003). Similar measures were applied to Jewish physicians in the annexed territories of Austria after the Anschluss (March 12, 1938) and Czechoslovakia, due to the Munich Agreement signed on September 29, 1938. Targeting Jewish physicians created a great shortage in public health care providers. According to British historian Paul Weindling’s previous analysis, in 1933 in Berlin, there were 6,558 doctors, and 3,423 (52%) of them were classified by the Nazis as non-Aryans. Moreover, out of 4,900 doctors in Vienna in 1938, 3,200 were classified as Jewish under the Nuremberg laws (Weindling, 2010). Consequently, a number of Jewish physicians including prominent psychiatrists and neurologists began their efforts to escape the Nazi terror for Britain as early as 1933. After World War Two had broken out, most of those Jewish physicians who had remained in the Third Reich were relocated to city ghettos and later transferred to the system of concentration and extermination camps, where most, with rare exceptions, perished.

The Attitude of the British Government and Medical Organizations towards German-Speaking Refugee Neurologists and Psychiatrists

The first group of psychiatrists and neurologists who were forced to seek refuge in Great Britain during the early 1930s were German Jews. As emphasized in the introduction, German Jews were pushed out of their academic and practical positions due to governmental regulations based on race. Nazi interpretations of the mere term of a “Jewish person” were very vague and thus targeted those who practiced Judaism, had Jewish ancestors, Jews who converted to Protestantism or Catholicism, as well as gentile spouses that were married to Jews. Among the persecuted individuals were also gentile doctors who became dismissed because of their political beliefs or for openly disobeying Nazi rules. A large number of Jewish refugees—imagining the dark future of the Jewish population in Germany—were eager to leave their homeland as soon as the opportunity arose. During the early stage of the “Jewish crisis,” between 1933 and 1934, Britain appeared as a rather unattractive destination to the majority of lay Jewish refugees, who preferred to relocate to the Netherlands or France, where many of them had relatives and friends in large urban Jewish communities. Furthermore, immigrating to Britain was costly, thus ordinary refugees preferred Palestine, the United States, and Latin or South America. Exceptions to this were those who were wealthy or held positions at universities or research institutes, for whom Britain was a country where they could further develop their academic careers (Niederland, 1991, p. 58).

By contrast, British Jews had themselves experienced various forms of discrimination during the Great Depression, due in large part to increasing support towards fascist ideologies in Great Britain as well, which reached its peak after the Nazis took control over Germany (Weindling, 2010, p. 246). Thus, immigration regulations—especially inspections of aliens upon arrival—were meticulously executed (London, 2003, p. 19). Potential immigration applicants to Great Britain faced various obstacles. One of them was a rather chaotic implementation of immigration policies. In 1933, Britain’s Foreign Office still followed “The Aliens Order” (Cesarani, 1993, p. 38) passed in 1920, according to which only “rich and famous” aliens were desired and welcomed to settle on the British Isles. Effectively, this strict and selective policy also allowed admission of Jews who had business or family connections in Britain and highly skilled and internationally known professionals, including renowned academics, preferably Nobel prize winners (Moore, 1991, p. 70; Niederland, 1991, p. 60; Decker, 2003, p. 851). However, German physicians’ credentials were not honored in Britain. Thus, in order to practice, they would have to go through often very long medical and professional relicensing processes.

The first groups of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany arrived in Britain in January 1933. By the end of March, the number reached 400. At that point, the decision whether to admit someone or not was made by a government immigration officer upon arrival in Britain. Generally, only temporary visitors were allowed to enter the country. Refugees were supposed to be dismissed. Although the number of newcomers at that point was not substantial, it was seen as a potential issue due to the financial implications it could entail on the British public, especially that a number of “visiting Jews” would had been unable to financially support themselves during a “supposedly short visit” (London, 2003, p. 27).

The attitude of the British medical circles towards alien psychiatrists and neurologists was in general quite resentful. The British Medical Association was known for their elite, conservative, and borderline chauvinistic approach not only towards alien doctors but also with respect to women, whose access to medical education was fairly limited, and their impact on British medicine practically nonexistent. The British Medical Association and the Medical Practitioners Union were not interested in introducing any changes—even if they would have improved the health care system (Weindling, 1991, p. 245, 2009). Although some physicians were in favor of employing foreign doctors, seeing them as potentially beneficial to the development of British medicine, the majority views and particularly those of the association board of both organizations could hardly be changed.

The opponents to such thinking claimed that the methods of continental schools of medicine was simply too different. British doctors viewed refugee practitioners—Germans, in particular—as threatening competitors in the medical marketplace (Weindling, 2007, p. 142). This attitude towards German refugee physicians was, for example, prominently expressed by the President of the Royal College of Physicians, Lord Dawson of Penn (1894-1945), who in November 1933, during discussions with the Home Secretary, stated that “the number that could usefully be absorbed or teach us anything could be counted on the fingers of one hand.” He additionally argued in favor of maintaining a strict entry policy and preventing alien students from seeking employment regardless of holding medical degrees obtained in Britain (Sherman, 1973, p. 49). More importantly, through its standardization of medical degrees that were awarded for research-based theses, German medicine was seen as a challenge that might lead to transformations of the medical education system in Britain (Weindling, 2007). Resentment was directed mainly towards medical practitioners rather than academics, as they were usually not expected to practice medicine alongside their research careers. Due to the social pressure of the medical establishment, the Home Office agreed to tighten the medical license regulations to further discourage foreign doctors from coming to Britain. Each newcomer soon had to take additional mandatory exams in anatomy and physiology, which delayed their employment. In Great Britain, each county self-regulated its medical license system, while in England the relicensing process took two years, in Scotland it took only one (Weindling, 1991, p. 248; Collins, 2009). Another option was clinical research, yet, in order to be admitted, refugee physicians needed to obtain a stipend and a research position.

The situation worsened after Austrian refugees began to arrive in larger numbers and the British Jewish association was no longer able to provide financial assistance for all. Thus, on May 21, 1938, despite great sympathy of the general public towards Austrian doctors, the British government introduced a visa entry system for all Germans and Austrians arriving after May 2nd “whether or not an applicant is likely to be an asset to the UK” (Sherman, 2013, p. 90; London, 2003, p. 63). Border officers were granted the right to grade and rank the refugees, and less desirable ordinary doctors—so called “rank and file”—could be refused entry (Moore, 1991, p. 72). The number of incoming immigration applications (200 per day) proved that the situation of Austrian Jews was continuously deteriorating. Some physicians who had other sponsors managed to enter the country as domestic servants. Negative opinion regarding the admittance of further groups of medical refugees was also expressed in the medical press. The Lancet, for example, published several reader letters in which medicine was presented as “an overcrowded profession” (Leys, 1938, p. 1182). This statement was “supported” by a too high number (187)—in the opinion of some of British MDs—of registered refugee medical practitioners. While some medical practitioners showed sympathy towards expelled scholars, the majority viewed them as competitors whose presence minimized the chances for future employment of local medical students or “decreased salaries” of the practicing British physicians (Leys, 1938, p. 1182). To some degree, the antagonism of the British public towards the newly arriving refugees was motivated by the Jewish origin of most of the German-speaking physicians in Britain (Honigsbaum, 1979, p. 276). Thus, as an alternative solution, it had been suggested that refugee physicians could be sent to the British colonies where there was a remarkable shortage of doctors (Hughes, 1938). In large numbers, however, British doctors resented working in the colonies due to the harsh tropical climate and undeveloped health care conditions.

While the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare (1880-1959), wished to bring 500 Austrian refugee physicians to Britain (Templewood, 1954), “The Medical Advisory Committee,” under advice of the British Medical Association, rejected admitting Austrian physicians in large numbers. Instead, it postulated to limit the number of refugees to the bare minimum (a quota was established, which included 50 doctors from Austria and another 50 from Czechoslovakia). The committee further insisted on additional conditions to be met by all “newcomers,” which included a completion of a compulsory two-yearlong clinical study prior to admission to practice following a detailed scrutiny of each applicant. In addition, Austrian doctors had no freedom of movement and were not allowed to settle in greater London, unlike German Jews who came to Britain between 1933 and 1936 (Sherman, 1973). According to contemporary press reports of the year 1938, the standpoint of the British Medical Association towards employment of medical refugees was too liberal and hence it “let down the ‘little men’ of the profession in agreeing to the admission of any alien doctors” (Shermann, 1973). This was, with minor exceptions, a general point of view among the British doctors. Not being able to obtain institutional or private assistance, some of the refugee physicians had to enter Britain as domestic servants—mainly women since it was easier for them to find a job or sponsor in a nonmedical area. A large number of physicians, however, worked on commission (per patient) or even pro bono in order to gain the relevant medical experience and to hope for a doctor’s position in the British health care system later on.

The outbreak of World War Two later changed the prevailing attitude of the British government and the general public towards German-speaking refugees further. They were now seen as suspicious and as potential spies. British officials encouraged German-speaking refugees to return back to their home countries in 1939, but only 2,000 agreed to do so (Atkins, 2005, p. 61). Consequently, a large number of medical refugees were placed in internment camps, the most famous place of this internment process being Port Douglas on the Isle of Man between England and Northern Ireland. The negative perception of the German-speaking refugees impacted their careers and many of them even lost their positions. Among those who were interned from the Maudsley Hospital in London, for example, had been the refugee neuroscientist Eric Guttmann (1896-1948), the Italian psychiatrist of Jewish origin, Amadeo Limentani (1913-1994), and a new neurology graduate, Felix Post (1913-2001) (Hilton, 2007, p. 218). Others detained were the following: the psychiatrist Herman Josephy (1896-1971) from the Runwell Hospital in Essex; the psychiatrist Erwin Stengel (1902-1973) of Bristol City Mental Hospital; and the neuropathologist Favel Friedrich Kino (b. 1882), who had fled to London from Frankfurt am Main in Germany. Some of the detained refugee psychiatrists spoke very bitterly about their internment experience (see the personal Kino file in the collection of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning). Others proved their loyalty to the His Majesty King George VI (1895-1952) by joining the British forces, as did the refugee neurologist Eric D. Wittkower (1899-1983) (Leighton-Langer, 2006, p. 308).

Table 1. Relief and funding organizations in Britain.

Jewish Organizations Gentile Organizations
  • The Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF) (1933)

  • Jewish Refugee Committee (JRC) (1933) later known as German Jewish Aid Committee (GJAC)*

  • Lord Baldwin Fund (1938)

  • Refugee Children’s Movement (1936)

  • Council for German Jewry (1935)

  • Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council

  • Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association

  • Coordinating Committee for Refugees

  • General Advisory Council for Relief and Reconstruction (1933)

  • Women’s Appeal Committee for German-Jewish Women and Children (1933)

  • Council for the Protection of Rights and interests of Jews form Germany (1945)

  • Society of Friends’ Germany Emergency Committee (later known as the Friends Committee for Refugee Aliens) (1933)

  • Bloomsbury House (1933)

  • Catholic Committee for Refugees from Germany

Academic Aid Organizations:

  • Academic Assistance Council (AAC) renamed in 1936 as The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL)** (1933)

  • The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) (although not a British organization the RF provided substantial funds for refugee scholars residing in Britain) (1933–1945)

  • International Students Services

The interment of German-speaking doctors during the period of worsening of the war led to a moderation of the government’s attitude towards Medical Registration. In 1940, the Home Office Advisory Committee agreed that an employment of the refugees might be necessary; however, they demanded to prevent alien doctors from establishing “unauthorised private practice” (Weindling, 2007). In January 1941, the Temporary Registration Order was passed, which honored foreign qualifications and allowed the employment of alien doctors in the armed forces, preselected hospitals, and British-run private practices (Weindling, 2007, p. 149). The Emergency Medical Services were initially meant to recruit American doctors; however, it was much cheaper and more effective to employ physicians who were already living in Britain; Germans, Austrians, Poles, and Czechs were used for that purpose (Weindling, 1991, p. 247). Eventually, in 1942, the position of refugee neuroscientists improved visibly when the Ministry of Health introduced a plan to increase Britain’s psychiatric health care resources (Roelcke, Weindling, & Westwood, 2010, p. 222). Within a decade, a majority of refugee psychiatrists and neurologists, who had remained in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, gained their qualification and later also British naturalization.

Help Provided to Refugees

The German crises and the increasingly troubled position of its Jewish population gathered considerable attention and sympathy from various groups among British and international societies. Within several months of Hitler’s appointment, a number of relief and funding organizations had been established, which aimed to provide support to those escaping Germany and later the Nazi-occupied territories.

Most of the relief organizations were established in 1933, which suggests that the British population, particularly local Jewish communities, had a distinct awareness regarding the situation of Jews in Germany. As Table 1 presents, the number of Jewish organizations helping German-speaking refugees was quite diversified; nonetheless, gentile organizations—particularly those of them that represented academic aid committees—although focused on selected groups, provided a substantial help to medical as well as academic refugees.

Jewish Organizations: German Jewish Aid Committee and Central British Fund

In 1933, a British baker and Prominent Jewish philanthropist, Otto Schiff (1875-1952), brought the “Jewish immigration issue” to the attention of the British Cabinet. Schiff had previously been involved in running an aid organization called the “Temporary Jewish Shelter,” which was established in 1884 to help Jews fleeing the Russian pogroms (Sherman & Shatzkes, 2009). During several discussions with the British Home Office, Schiff guaranteed that any costs related to admitting Jewish refugees would be covered by the newly created Jewish Refugee Committee—later called the German Jewish Aid Committee (London, 2003, p. 26). Schiff’s German Jewish Aid Committee aimed to provide “maintenance, training, employment, and re-migration” to German Jewish refugees (London, 2003). In exchange, Schiff was hoping that the government would relax entry requirements for Jews escaping Germany (Sherman, 1973, p. 260). From that point onwards, the German Jewish Aid Committee acted as the Jewish spokesman to the government and the Central British Fund for German Jewry focused on approaching wealthy Jews in Britain, mainly business owners, in order to secure necessary funds; both organizations worked in tandem. By acknowledging the Jewish crises in Germany through allowing refugees to enter the country and not making an official stand on that matter to avoid a political faux pas with Germany, the British government tried to maintain the “good trouble-free image” (London, 2003, p. 32). The Jewish community had estimated that the number of German refugees seeking asylum in Great Britain might reach 4,000. The British Cabinet, however, predicted that it would most definitely be much higher given that in early 1930s Germany’s Jewish population was 500,000 (Sherman, 1973, p. 31). In order to minimize any potential tensions between refugees and the general public, the German Jewish Aid Committee instructed new Jewish refugees on respecting customs in Britain. Refugees were asked not to comment on religion and politics and to restrain from any criticism towards decisions that were made by the British government. This, however, did not prevent the spread of negative attitudes towards the Jewish refugees.

After the Anschluss of Austria, the number of immigration applications increased dramatically. Soon after, the German Jewish Aid Committee announced that the number of new applications was overwhelming, and, therefore, they were no longer able to deal with the high demand necessary for financial support. As London points out, Schiff was unwilling to commit to the Austrian refugee issue. His support was offered only toward German Jews. The German Jewish Aid Committee likewise stood against admitting Jews from Czechoslovakia and from territories that had been threatened by Nazism like Poland and Italy (London, 2003, p. 129). Those in need for support continued receiving help from other Jewish and gentile institutions.

Academic help I: Academic Assistance Council—Society for the Protection of Science and Learning

In May 1933, a group of British academics led by the sociologist William Beveridge of the London School of Economics (LSE) established the Academic Assistance Council (AAC), later renamed the Society for the Protection of Sciences and Learning (SPSL), which aimed to provide financial help and temporary refuge to academics who “on grounds of their religion, race, or opinion were unable to continue to work in their own country” (Ruthenford, 1936, p. 607). Several British Nobel Prize winners supported Beveridge’s initiative. Among them were the recipient of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1922, the physiologist Archibald Vivian Hill (1886-1977), and neuroscientist Charles Scott Sherrington (1857-1952), who was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932. Beveridge learned about the dismissal of German-Jewish academics during his trip to a conference in Vienna and was much appalled by the way the newly established German government treated its scientists. Beveridge’s initiative soon received additional support from the Central Jewish Fund and, by August, the SPSL had raised close to £10,000. The SPSL used the money to provide one-year grants to academics in need. This help was meant to be only temporary as the SPSL and the Jewish community hoped that “Jewish crises in Germany” would end sooner or later. The SPSL offered two types of stipends: £250 per annum for scholars with families and £182 per annum for unmarried academics. The idea was to provide stipends and to assist in finding temporary placement for refugee academics at British universities and research institutes because this temporary employment was one of the requirements imposed by the British government (Zimmerman, 2006, p. 29).

By 1934, the Nazi racial policies had become ever more oppressive. It had become apparent that the crisis was no longer a temporary one and more extensive funds needed to be secured. The SPSL began to approach banks and other financial institutions, but the outcome was a rather marginal one. Another issue was finding permanent academic or medical placements for refugee professionals, which proved to be very difficult since hardly any British institution was able or willing to guarantee a placement. Moreover, anti-Semitism drove some refusals, yet most of the institutions struggled financially. Refugee scholars, in many cases, were allowed to use institutions’ facilities free of charge. Despite such major obstacles since its inception, by 1937, the SPSL had supported 80 scholars in total from a wide range of disciplines, while continuing to support new ones as well. A year later, the number of permanently placed academics had increased to 127. The SPSL had also tried to partner with overseas organizations, primarily the Rockefeller Foundation (see the next section). Meanwhile, the SPSL changed its attitude towards the Jewish disenfranchisement through the genocide from politically restrained to more aggressive by openly condemning Nazi politics and oppression of scientists and physicians.

After the Anschluss of Austria, the crises deepened. A new approach had to be undertaken that aimed to find placement for the refugees at academic institutions and, in case of psychiatrists and neurologists, particularly in medical research departments. Overall, the SPSL provided help in gaining professional positions in Britain for at least 20 neuroscientists.

While analyzing the SPSL applications of the German-speaking neuroscientist, one can observe that, despite the age discrepancies, most of scholars came to Britain when they were between 28 and 41 years old. Among older scholars were Max Schacherl (60), Favel Kino (57), and Friedrich Lewy (54). Some mature German scholars, including Favel Kino, Ernst Jacoby, and Hermann Josephy had to wait until 1939 to be admitted to Britain. Applications of younger neuroscientists, on the other hand, were processed more quickly, as most of them arrived in 1933 and in 1938 in the case of Austrian and Czech neuroscientists. Younger researchers, particularly those who were not married, were offered work in the tropical British colonies and, as was the case of psychiatrist Leopold Deutsch (b. 1896?), were willing to temporarily accept unpaid work. Moreover, unlike in the case of the Rockefeller Foundation, older scholars experienced serious issues and delays awaiting their immigration. Max Schachrl’s (1876-1964) application from 1938 was initially denied by the SPSL due to restrictions on the number of admitted Austrians. His file says that he came to Britain using his own financial resources. Schachrl was unable to find a paid job, even after the “Temporary Registration Order” had been enacted, which was attributed to his advanced age and poor knowledge of English.

There has been a refined scholarly discussion between medical history research fellow Karola Decker, then at the Wellcome Institute, and Paul Weindling at Oxford Brookes University as to whether Britain was just a temporary destination for medical refugees (Decker, 2003; Weindling, 2009). Based on a deeper analysis of the historical materials in the SPSL collection, one could state that majority of neuroscientists, when asked about their preferred destination, put the United States on the top of their list. Some files are rather fragmentary; however, a minimum of 25% succeeded in obtaining posts in various North American institutions in addition to the neuropathologist Karl Stern (1906-1975) and Erich Wittkower who eventually immigrated to Canada. The fact that a relatively high number of psychiatrists and neurologists could remain in Britain can be explained by the relatively supportive attitude of the medical establishment and the British government towards this particular profession. Psychoanalyst refugees, to the contrary,—especially from the Viennese schools —became victims of intensified restrictive relicensing policies. Therefore, out of 120 psychoanalysts originally admitted to Britain only 14 remained, while the rest left, with a majority (80) immigrating to the United States (Ash, 1991, p. 103).

Academic Help II: The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation had been engaged in supporting scientific research in Germany years before the Nazis had come to power. A major recipient of this funding was established in 1917: the German Research Institute for Psychiatry in Munich. Two important scholars, who created and ran the institute, were the psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) and the epidemiologist and eugenicist Ernst Ruedin (1874-1952), who took over the institute’s headship after Kraepelin’s death in 1926. The German Research Institute for Psychiatry, as well as other research institutions, came under the influence of the new order imposed by Hitler. Thereafter, Ruedin supported the eugenics movement and compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill. While the German Research Institute for Psychiatry enjoyed some form of independence, it was partially funded by the government. Thus, the institute did not escape group dismissal of non-Aryan academics following the announcement of “the re-establishment of a professional civil service” (Cesarani, 1993, p. 39). Moreover, Rockefeller fellows, most of whom were emerging scholars, were also nominated by their research institutions; thus, it was believed that their fate was in the hands of directors of those institutes. On some rare occasions, scholars who were recipients of long-term grants, were kept in place until completion of their grant, which was, for example, the case of the experimental biologist Viktor Hamburger (1900-2001) (Weindling, 2000, p. 480). In this manner, the German Research Institute for Psychiatry tried to maintain its worldwide reputation. The Rockefeller Foundation, on the other hand, did not wish to get involved in too many political complications, while hoping to maintain its apolitical stance.

Meanwhile, the onset of the Jewish academics’ dismissals and consequently their exodus brought to the fore the issue of financial support, which the escaping scholars desperately needed to make a living in their new home countries. Many of those who chose to go to Britain began their efforts to gather supporting documents for their immigration applications. In 1933, the Rockefeller Foundation launched its “placement programme” that was addressed to help refugee scholars. Struggling for funding, the SPSL approached the Rockefeller Foundation acting as something like a negotiator on behalf of refugees. The results were, however, less than optimistic. According to Rockefeller Foundation regulations, a potential recipient of an award had to be permanently employed at a research institution. In 1933/1934, this was quite impossible, as only a small number of refugees managed to obtain academic or research positions and all of these were meant to be temporary. In addition, candidates with stateless status were by rule disqualified. The Rockefeller Foundation was also not interested in becoming an official partner organization of the SPSL. After long negotiations, the Rockefeller Foundation finally agreed to support a limited number of neuroscientists (precisely 16) who received funding for up to three years in order to conduct research in Britain. Among the individual recipients, however, were predominantly scholars with established positions who had already received Rockefeller Foundation funding in the past (Weindling, 2000, p. 481).

The requirements of the Rockefeller Foundation changed in 1940, after Hitler had invaded Scandinavia and France. The Rockefeller Foundation now acknowledged that at that point obtaining permanent positions in Europe was less probable for refugee academics, and a number of scholars were in danger of being imprisoned or even killed if they were to stay in Europe. Thus, in 1940, the Rockefeller Foundation announced a new Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars in the United States, which it would financially support. The Rockefeller Foundation favored medical research and teaching, particularly in psychiatry, neurology, and psychology. The University of Edinburgh, for instance, received $18,250 for research on head injuries under the leadership of Professor David Kennedy Henderson (1884-1965) and Norman Dott (1897-1973). This was not the first support from the Rockefeller Foundation for the University of Edinburgh. In fact, most of the funding went to already existing projects, as was the case with the University of Oxford, which prior to 1940 had received $12,000 and in 1940 received an additional $2,409 for research into brain chemistry. The funds were provided to selected institutions, which took part in the scheme, and most of the research grants were given for a minimum of one year. Individual applicants were not considered; thus, in order to receive the funds, refugee scholars had to obtain a position at those research institutions. This certainly proved to be quite difficult, particularly for junior scholars, due to the intensifying war and the successive decrease of funds for medical research.

Contributing to the Science: German-Speaking Refugee Psychiatrists and Neurologists at Maudsley Hospital

Despite the various limitations that the British government had imposed on medical refugees, the position of neuroscientists—specifically clinical psychiatrists—was much better than that of other medical specialists. German psychiatry was seen as more advanced in research and clinical training, while German neuroscientists viewed mental illness as brain disease that needed to be diagnosed and treated in somatic terms. This theory had been invented and widely disseminated by the “German father of psychiatry” Emil Kraepelin (Shepherd, 2009, p. 462; Hayward, 2010, p. 68). In Britain, by that time, the mentally ill were often locked up in asylums without proper clinical treatment. In Germany, by contrast, psychiatry had developed rapidly since the late-nineteenth century and was regularly taught as a medical specialization at universities. Several large-scale psychiatric hospitals were established across the country, and psychiatrists were additionally trained in neurology and, unlike British trained psychiatrists, often had research and clinical experience (Weindling, 1991, p. 245; Shepherd, 2009, p. 461). Thus, when “the Jewish crises” erupted in Germany, the more progressive psychiatric institutions in Britain, such as the Maudsley that effectively operated on Kraepelin’s model and the Bethlem Royal Hospital, being monetary supported by the London County Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Medical Research Council, and the SPSL joined their efforts to bring prominent German scholars to Britain (Jones, Rahman & Woolven, 2007, p. 357). Several renowned German scholars were brought in, among them were the following: neuropathologist Alfred Mayer, who was regarded as a mentor by many British psychiatrists and who escaped Germany with the help of SPSL; Willi Mayer-Gross (1889-1961) from Heidelberg University arrived in Britain in 1933; University of Bonn’s neuropathology professor Erich Wittkower was also helped by SPSL and arrived in Britain 1933, where he investigated respiratory abnormalities in schizophrenia; as well as neurologist Eric Guttmann from Breslau, who was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation (Jones, 2009). In addition, there was a demand for specialists in psychotherapy, many of whom were Viennese Austrians who, thanks to their advanced and innovative techniques, found positions at Maudsley. Altogether 11 refugee neuroscientists found new employment at Maudsley (Hilton, 2007, p. 210; Shepherd, 2009, p. 463; Hayward, 2010, p. 78). According to London historian of psychiatry Claire Hilton’s observation, Maudsley was unique in the respect that this hospital and research center employed a relatively high proportion of German-speaking refugee doctors, which could be explained by the fact that neuroscience was rather undeveloped in Britain and not particularly desired among the existing medicine specializations; therefore, it was easier to get a post as a psychiatrist rather than a surgeon (Hilton, 2007, pp. 215 and 222).


Refugee psychiatrists, who had trained at the more research-minded German-speaking universities, were more easily accommodated in the British health care system than many other medical specialists. This statement is supported by the fact that psychiatry was rather undeveloped in Britain and particularly refugee neuroscientists were viewed as assets and not primarily as competitors to their British colleagues. Refugee specialists in prestigious specializations, such as internal medicine or surgery, often struggled with the limitations that were imposed by the British government, as well as the reluctance of the medical establishment and the general public’s distrust (Shepherd, 2009, p. 467). However, the stress related to immigration, the resentment of the British medical establishment, limited opportunities, and restrictions imposed on refugees caused a large number of medical refugees to treat Britain as a temporary refuge as they awaited their move to the United States. Constant bombing by the German Luftwaffe in 1940 created an atmosphere of uncertainty, while the refugees were themselves afraid that Britain might be invaded, so a majority of them tried to leave before the end of the war. Sadly, a number of them could not cope with the trauma and took their own lives, among them was Wilhelm Stekel (1868-1940) from the Bukovina, who had received his graduate medical and psychiatry training at the Vienna Medical School (Roelcke, Weindling, & Westwood, 2010, pp. 221 and 224).

Due to the Nazi racial discriminations, between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews applied to immigrate to Great Britain, while only 1 in 10 of them had been successful. New admissions of refugee medical practitioners were constantly vetoed by the British medical establishment (London, 2003, p. 131). Yet, the situation of medical researchers and clinicians was equally hard despite the financial help from the SPSL and the Rockefeller Foundation. It remains to be determined, in future historical research, how the work of the neuroscientists who remained in Britain was later received after the war. Likewise, the particular preference of the refugee psychiatrists and neurologists who tried to immigrate to the United States should also be further determined. Various historians, such as David Zimmerman from the University of Victoria in Canada, have described the activity of the SPSL as an organization that was driven by political and scientific considerations. It will, therefore, be important to investigate the specific review and decision-making processes that went into the individual application files and how the neuroscientists compared to any other medical, surgery, and public health groups supported by this important aid organization. This could be a potential area for further research.