Neuroscientist Refugees from Hamburg during National Socialism

Lawrence A Zeidman, Anna von Villiez, Jan-Patrick Stellmann, Hendrik van den Bussche. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences Basic and Clinical Perspectives. Volume 25, Issue 3. 2016.


With regard to Nazi persecution of “non-Aryan” (Jewish) and leftist neuroscientists, what is the significance of Hamburg and why focus an article on this major German city? First, a comprehensive case study on the tragic “de-Jewification” (removal of Jews, in Nazi parlance) of Hamburg neurologists and psychiatrists has not been published before, especially not in English. Secondly, Hamburg hosted a relatively large group of Jewish neuroscientists (see below). Thirdly, Hamburg was of special interest in the Nazi era because the town featured one of the most important neurological clinics in the Reich and one of the few independent chairs in neurology at Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, originally led by Max Nonne (1860-1959), and from 1935 on by NSDAP member Heinrich Pette (1887-1964). Pette was Deputy Reichsleiter [Reich Leader] for neurology in the Gesellschaft deutscher Neurologen und Psychiater [Society of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists], the forcibly merged organization of the formerly separate neurology and psychiatry societies in the Nazi era (Schmuhl, 2011).

While a detailed discussion of Hamburg neuroscience’s Gleichschaltung (Nazi subordination) and its ramifications is outside the scope of this article, we will outline the general persecution measures against non-Aryan physicians in Nazi Germany and in Hamburg neurology and describe the fate of five academic Jewish neuroscientists dismissed from their positions in Hamburg: Hermann Josephy (later Herman: 1887-1960), Walter Rudolf Kirschbaum (1894-1982), Victor Kafka (1881-1955), Friedrich Wohlwill (1881-1958), and Richard Loewenberg (1898-1954). Many common and unique issues were faced by these five, and we will describe their personal and professional ramifications. We obtained the names of the dismissed Hamburg neuroscientists from two extensively researched studies in German two of us have already conducted on medical care in Hamburg in the “Third Reich” (von Villiez, 2009; van den Bussche, 2014a). The information from these books was supplemented with new data from files located at the Hamburg Staatsarchiv [Hamburg State Archive], Hamburg University History Library (Arbeitsstelle und Bibliothek fuer Universitaetsgeschichte), Norwegian Riksarkivet, Swedish Riksarkivet, the Society of the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL) collection in Oxford, Archives of the Chicago Neurological Society, U.S. National Archives, and personal communications with the European historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg (b. 1933) at the University of California in Los Angeles (son of Richard Loewenberg).

The “Aryanization” of Hamburg Neuroscience

Of 432 Hamburg physicians (all specialties) professionally persecuted (i.e., fired or removed from insurance panels) under the Nazis (von Villiez, 2009), 19 Hamburg University medical faculty (Professors and Privatdozenten [lecturers or adjunct professors]) were dismissed for racial or political reasons (the other 413 were private practitioners). Of these 19 academics, 16 (84%) were dismissed as “non-Aryan,” and three were forced into early retirement (van den Bussche, 2014a). The five neuroscientists we discuss below were thus representative of the largest group of persecuted academic physicians.

“De-Jewification” was a stepwise marginalization of Jewish physicians in the form of “legal” and illegal professional, financial, and physical persecutory measures, but these victims also experienced postemigration tribulations. Relentless professional legislation against Jews (including “partial-Jews” and Aryans married with non-Aryans) began soon after the Nazi Machtergreifung (“power seizure”) in January 1933. First, Jewish civil servant physicians and university professors and lecturers were dismissed under Paragraph 3 of the so-called Law for the Reestablishment of the German Civil Service (Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums) of April 7, 1933 (Proctor, 1988). Political dissidents (e.g., communists and “pacifists”) were also included in this massive Nazi “cleansing” (Paragraph 4; Proctor, 1988; Kater, 1989a, 1989b). Their posts were taken over by young “Aryans” (Shevell, 1999; Stahnisch, 2010). Those dismissed under Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the law should generally not receive a pension unless they had served in the role for at least 10 years (Paragraph 8). With Paragraph 6, individuals could be forcibly retired without cause to “simplify administration … even if they are not yet incapacitated.” All of those dismissed were to be removed from office by September 30, 1933 (Anonymous, 1933). Some received transient protection from the dismissals with so-called “Hindenburg exemptions,” mainly applying to doctors who were frontline World War One (WWI) fighters (Kater, 1989b). These physicians were allowed to continue their private or insurance practice for the time being. Most exemptions ended with the 1935 Nuernberg Laws, with which all full Jews lost their Reich citizenship and became merely German “residents” (Proctor, 1988).

The penultimate Jewish medical disfranchisement occurred on July 25, 1938, with a new law decertifying Jewish doctors by October (Kater, 1989b). Three thousand Jewish doctors remained in Germany in 1938, and only 700 were allowed to provide basic health care to the remaining Jews as Krankenbehandlern (derogatory term: health practitioners) (Barkai, 2000). Besides the professional and academic persecution faced by Jewish neuroscientists, another type was financial persecution to fill the coffers of the Nazi state. In 1933, the total property of German Jews was about 16 Billion Reichsmarks (RM), of which a quarter was safely brought into exile. But the Nazis aimed to gain the rest (Kuller, 2004), through different taxes: the Judenvermoegensabgabe [property tax], the emigration tax (Reich Flight Tax, Reichsfluchtsteuer) (Kater, 1989b), and the DEGO-Tax on any item acquired for emigration. Thus, at the height of Jewish desperation to emigrate in 1938-1939 before the war, the Nazis claimed nearly all of their assets prior to departure, collecting about 900 million RM total by 1940 (Kater, 1989b). Already, they had stolen 1.1 billion RM with the Judenvermoegensabgabe (Kuller, 2004).

Physical and psychological persecution took the form of sanctioned arrest and imprisonment and torture. It was generally not illegal to victimize Jews in the Nazi state, and they lived in a precarious state of “legality” in which harassment was condoned by the Nazified judiciary (Kater, 1989b). Beside boycotts, random terror by Nazi stormtroopers and arrests for trumped-up charges by the Gestapo (Nazi secret state police) affected non-Aryan doctors. The culmination of this violence was the well-orchestrated Nazi pogroms in November 1938, called Kristallnacht [Night of Broken Glass] throughout Germany. Many Jewish doctors were arrested on sight and deported to a concentration camp (Kater, 1989b). They were released if they agreed to “emigrate” and release their property to the Nazi state. “De-Jewification” of German medicine resulted in up to 9,000 Jewish and “politically unreliable” doctors losing their positions in Germany (Kater, 1989b; Stahnisch, 2010), with the majority emigrating but at least 2,000 murdered, most in the later Holocaust, and some 450 committing suicide (Zeidman & Kondziella, 2012).

Five Dismissed Academic Neuroscientists

Hermann Josephy

Hermann Josephy, born in Schwaan, Germany, was a Jewish neurologist and neuropathologist who after serving as a WWI combatant, began psychiatric work under Alfons Jakob (1884-1931; codescriber of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [CJD]; Sammet, 2008), in Hamburg-Friedrichsberg State Mental Hospital. He obtained his Hamburg University psychiatry habilitation in 1924 and the title of nichtbeamteter ausserordentlicher Professor (nonpermanent associate professor [nbaoP]) in 1930. After Jakob’s death, Josephy became the leader of the Neuroanatomy Department (Prosector) in 1932. But Josephy lost his teaching permit and his position by November 1933 since he was “non-Aryan.” As a loophole measure had given Josephy’s veteran status, he was actually dismissed under Paragraph 6 of the Reconstitution Law (see Fig. 2). Josephy was replaced in 1937 at Friedrichsberg by the 30-year-old “Aryan” Hans Jacob (1907-1997), who that same year became an NSDAP member. Josephy started private practice and continued working at the Hamburg Israelite Hospital until 1938. He also gave a series of neuropathology lectures at the University of Copenhagen in 1934 and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1937.

But private practice and a meager state pension did not provide enough income. Josephy received a reference letter from Friedrichsberg Hospital Director Wilhelm Weygandt (1870-1939) and initially applied for help in October 1933 to the Academic Assistance Council (AAC) in England, followed much later by an application to the AAC-successor Society for Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL, changed in 1936) in England in December 1938. Josephy’s connections in Copenhagen were not fruitful enough to make an escape possible and, despite his lectures in Jerusalem, staying in Palestine (present-day Israel) was not possible as Palestine did not need more academic specialists. The British government restricted the number of Jewish immigrants fearing an uprising and collaboration of the Arabic population with Nazi Germany (Barkai, 2000).

During Kristallnacht, Josephy was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for more than a month. He was released when his wife presented documents proving their intended flight to America. The Josephys obtained visas and immigrated in April 1939 to Britain, where a friend had financially vouched for them; the guarantor in Britain was necessary to obtain the British visa, despite a job offer in Chicago, an affidavit from a wealthy friend in Chicago, and support from the SPSL, since the Josephys had been forced to liquidate most of their assets to pay Nazi taxes. In the United Kingdom, Josephy first had an unpaid research position at the Cardiff City Mental Hospital in the laboratory of brain metabolism researcher Juda Quastel (1899-1987), who had an interest in Josephy’s neurological research. His next position was at Runwell Hospital in Essex. Josephy’s plan was to temporarily wait in Britain for his visa to the United States, where he had been offered an internship at Michael Reese Hospital (MRH) in Chicago. Josephy could not obtain a “non-quota” US visa because he had not taught for two years, thus he had to queue on the quota list. From May to September1940, Josephy was interned with other “C” class aliens in Britain. In October 1940, Josephy and his wife finally qualified for American visas and immigrated to Illinois. Due to his late arrival in America, Josephy was not able to take the MRH internship. He also passed the state board examination in 1941, which he hoped would allow him to progress from his “modest position” in central Illinois in a state mental institute for the “feebleminded,” the Lincoln State School and Colony, to a “good position.” Indeed, in 1945 he became laboratory director at the 4,500-bed Chicago State Hospital, a mental institute, finally practicing as a neuropathologist again. However, the salary there was also inadequate, his wife worked as a technician in the hospital, and they lived on the hospital premises, thus to Josephy this situation was merely “satisfactory.” From 1949-1952, Josephy became an Associate Professor at the Chicago Medical School (Anonymous, 1960).

Walter Rudolf Kirschbaum

Walter Rudolf Kirschbaum, born in Duisburg, Germany, served in WWI in the artillery and as a medical officer but finished his medical studies in 1919 after training in neurology at Berlin’s Charité Hospital (1916-1918) and the Berlin-Moabit Institute of Pathology. He was Assistant under Weygandt and Jakob at Hamburg-Friedrichsberg beginning in 1921 and in 1927 was made an Oberarzt [senior consultant]. By 1933, he became Privatdozent with a habilitation on psychosis in neurosyphilis. Kirschbaum had already published a pioneering study on encephalitis lethargica for his doctoral dissertation in 1919, and, in 1924, he published on two autosomal dominant hereditary CJD cases. But in 1934, despite 32 publications and a burgeoning career, Kirschbaum’s Privatdozent title was revoked because of his non-Aryan descent; like Josephy, he lost his position under the loophole Paragraph 6 of the Reconstitution Law.

Kirschbaum applied to the AAC but only received an offer in South Africa that eventually did not materialize. Thereafter, he continued a limited private practice in his apartment until 1938. Like Josephy, Kirschbaum was imprisoned at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp after Kristallnacht but was released three weeks earlier than Josephy; Kirschbaum was assisted “strenuously” by his Christian wife. Kirschbaum immigrated directly to Chicago in 1939. Except for a special permit for his “Aryan” wife to export her jewelry, Kirschbaum had to leave all financial properties in Germany and restart life in America as an exploited refugee.

In Chicago, Kirschbaum completed an internship at MRH and in 1940 obtained his Illinois medical license. He then worked at Manteno State Hospital in Joliet (1940-1947), first as a pathologist and then as a ward physician, helping with malaria research during the war. He received a better home on hospital grounds for his later work but was dissatisfied overall with the lack of research opportunities there. Kirschbaum joined Northwestern University’s Neurology Department as an unsalaried Assistant Professor in 1948 but continued to need part-time Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital work and his private practice to support his family. He became an attending physician at Cook County Hospital in 1952 and was appointed Neurology Chairman there later. Reflecting on his career, Kirschbaum stated, “History had taken such a large piece out of my life. I felt I could not waste time and I worked hard.” Kirschbaum eventually became an Extraordinarius (Associate Professor) of neurology in 1957 at Hamburg University in the course of his reparation request. He also became Associate Professor (and later Emeritus) at Northwestern in 1958. Kirschbaum published at least 22 articles and book chapters in exile. Late in his career, Kirschbaum collected all the CJD cases he could find and wrote a book summarizing the first 150 (Kirschbaum, 1968). Regarding his CJD book, Kirschbaum lamented, “It is a late endeavor and I hope a successful one. I feel I have not begun to fulfill the expectations which my teachers and colleagues in Germany once had for me.”

Victor Kafka

Victor Kafka, born in Karlsbad, Austro-Hungary (then Czechoslovakia after WWI and modern-day Czech Republic), was an Evangelical Lutheran but of Jewish descent. He was a psychiatry assistant at Prague’s German University before moving to Hamburg in 1911 to join the Friedrichsberg Psychiatric Clinic. In 1915, he founded and headed the Chemical-Bacteriological-Serological Department there since 1920. By 1926, he became Oberarzt at Friedrichsberg and Privatdozent in 1919 at Hamburg University, followed by nbaoP for psychiatry by 1924. He was a pioneer and expert in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis and had 182 publications from 1906-1934 mainly on CSF pathophysiology and diagnostics in neurosyphilis, epilepsy, meningitis, and brain tumors. His book The Cerebrospinal Fluid (Kafka, 1930) in his words was a “standard work,” and his earlier Pocketbook of the Practical Methods of Investigation for Nervous and Mental Diseases (Kafka, 1917) had four editions. Per his student, neurologist Hans Demme (1900-1964), “he did not connect easily to other people” (Demme, 1951, p. 361), perhaps explaining why only 15 of 182 publications were co-authored with others, such as one with Kirschbaum (Kafka & Kirschbaum, 1922). Kafka did help his assistants publish 35 articles separately, including a 1930 article by Demme on the CSF protein ratio in neurological diseases (Demme, 1930). In 1928, Kafka became president of the Greater Hamburg Society of Neurologists and Psychiatrists.

Despite international eminence and a still active career, Kafka was dismissed as Oberarzt in June 1933. In July 1933, he was notified that by the end of the year he would lose his professorship under Paragraph 6 of the Reconstitution Law. Kafka was not entitled to a pension despite being Oberarzt for over 10 years, possibly because he was not a WWI combatant. Kafka was forced to work in private practice. He still managed to publish another nine articles through 1939 despite his tribulations, and he lectured informally to Hamburg Jewish doctors and dentists from 1934-1939 and to Warsaw doctors in 1937. He initially applied to the AAC July 12, 1933, but he did not send them his curriculum vitae, a testimonial from Weygandt, and his publication list until over a year later in October, 1934. Despite his eminence and age on initial inquiry (under 60), Kafka did not find a position in Britain, possibly due to negative impressions on influential British neurologists such as Joseph Godwin Greenfield (1884-1958) from Queen’s Square Hospital for Nervous Diseases:

[Greenfield] appreciates Kafka’s intellectual qualities, but on the personal side doubts whether he would fit into the Laboratory here … he is inclined to be a little too aggressive and was not easy to work with.

Given Greenfield’s impression, other Queen Square neurologist Edward A. Carmichael (1896-1978) stated that “I feel, therefore, that it would be unwise to push his application here.” Kafka had written in desperate straits to Greenfield in April 1939 that he was still in Germany because the Czech quota for the United States was exhausted and he could not get a non-quota visa because the New York hospital that offered him a contract and medical school appointment did not have an official nursing school.

In November 1935, Kafka had been arrested and imprisoned for over a month in the concentration camp Fuhlsbuettel in solitary confinement, like other Jews accused of a trumped-up charge of taking part in conversations that had disparaged the government, but Kafka denied any political connections and decried the injustice. Kafka lost his medical license in 1938 and became a Krankenbehandler by July 1939. He immigrated with his wife to Oslo, Norway, in August 1939. Kafka had written to Nonne in 1939 asking him for possible job opportunities in Scandinavia, lamenting “How long will I and my wife be able to stand this.” In Oslo, Kafka worked at the Statens institut for folkehelsa [State institute for Public Health]; he founded a biological department there and became its leader. Notably, Kafka was one of only 10 Jewish doctors employed by the Norwegian government in 1939/1940. Despite persecution of Jews in Norway after the 1940 German occupation and Jewish deportations beginning in October 1942, Kafka remained in his post at institute director Einar Aaser’s (1886-1976) request. Aaser tried to protect Kafka from personal molestation, calling him “absolutely indispensable”; this only succeeded until the end of November. On December 2, 1942, with the ongoing Jewish deportations from Norway, Kafka made a risky escape to Sweden. Kafka was aided in escape by journalist Tove Filseth (1905-1994) of the Norwegian resistance, who had helped large numbers of Jewish refugees escape (Cohen, 1997). Kafka was employed within weeks at the Långbro Sjukhus, a mental facility in Alvsjö, near Stockholm.

Kafka attempted again to find a position in the United Kingdom in 1943, via help from the SPSL and British Council. The attempt was unsuccessful again. He had to continually apply for renewed asylum and visas in Sweden, until the summer of 1944 when he acquired foreigner passports for himself and his wife, giving them traveling rights within nonrestricted areas of Sweden, but not Swedish citizenship. Kafka was eventually granted a Swedish medical license in October 1947, followed by Swedish citizenship in January 1955. Though he had no publications from 1940-1943 when his personal security was threatened in occupied Norway, he was able to publish 12 articles while in Sweden from 1943-1946.

After the war, Kafka investigated the possibility of returning to Friedrichsberg in his old position; however, he was told that his age and the changed laboratory situation were obstacles. Eventually, he did come back to Hamburg and gave one or more lectures at the medical faculty. His personal life was fractured, poignantly reflected by the fact that in 1951 his nationality was still listed as “stateless.” His compensation claims resulted in some financial restitution by January 1955. But four months after obtaining Swedish citizenship and financial compensation from Germany, Kafka tragically died. Adding insult to injury, the full reparation amount was never paid to his widow. Former NSDAP-member Demme, the NS-Vertrauensmann (Nazi “Steward”) at Hamburg University Medical School (van den Bussche, 2014a), who in 1934 had eagerly replaced a dismissed Jewish neurologist to become neurology director at the General Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek (Pieper, 2003), wrote a seventieth birthday tribute to his former teacher, stating that Kafka “was heavily burdened with the fact he was uprooted from his work” and how challenging it was “to overcome the difficulties mounting in front of him.” Demme expressed gratitude “for the human interest” Kafka had in his pupils’ fates and stated “May he be blessed with a long and beneficial time for work” (Demme, 1951, p. 361). It is an embarrassment that Demme failed to take responsibility publicly and to apologize for his and his Nazi colleagues’ assistance in Hamburg’s “de-Jewification” and curtailing of Kafka’s highly productive career.

Friedrich Wohlwill

Friedrich Wohlwill, born in Hamburg, worked as a voluntary doctor and later Assistant in the University Pathological Institute at Hamburg-Eppendorf from 1905-1908, then worked as an assistant in Nonne’s Clinical Department of Neurology until 1910. From 1910-1912, Wohlwill worked in the Halle University Nervenklinik (Neurology and Psychiatry Clinic). During these four years of clinical neurological activity, Wohlwill became primarily interested in neuropathology that would engage him for his entire career. After returning to Hamburg, he became a private neurologist and volunteer again at the Pathological Institute, especially examining the neurological material. During WWI, Wohlwill was an assistant again under Nonne in a military reserve hospital and then, in 1919, became Second Assistant at the Pathological Institute and later that year was habilitated at Hamburg University in pathological anatomy. Simultaneously with Kafka, Wohlwill became nbaoP in 1924 and the same year Oberarzt and Prosector at the Allgemeines Krankenhaus (General Hospital) St. Georg. In 1933 Wohlwill listed at least 62 of 127 (49%) articles first or coauthored as neuroscience related.

In July 1933, Wohlwill was notified that by September he would be dismissed as a “non-Aryan” under Paragraph 3 of the Reconstitution Law. He worked briefly as Prosector at the Hamburg Jewish Hospital but applied to the AAC in November 1933. He stated that he was looking for a position as a Prosector in a pathological institute or possibly as director of a neuropathological institute. In June 1934, Wohlwill left for Lisbon, Portugal, where he had received an offer at the Instituto de Oncologia (Cancer Institute) without AAC help. He established the pathological research institute there and was also Prosector, becoming known as the founder of the “German School of Pathology” in Portugal. From October 1936, Wohlwill was Prosector at Lisbon University Hospital (St. Martha), and, from 1945, he was full professor of Pathology there (Andrae and van den Bussche, 1998). Wohlwill had been the teacher of many Portuguese medical students in Hamburg and later they invited him to the Cancer Institute. Also, like he did with Kafka, Nonne helped Wohlwill find the position in Lisbon. But Wohlwill lamented to Nonne that his uprooting and new position did not come close to equaling what he lost despite his expectations being low. His working conditions at the Cancer Institute were poor. The new building was not finished, conditions for pathological examinations insufficient, the director acted like a “little dictator,” whereby money was lacking and “as I am only a guest I cannot do anything [about] it.” Wohlwill had a five-year contract at the Cancer Institute but apparently was unable to obtain a Portuguese medical license and his income was entirely dependent on private tuition fees for lecturing to medical students. This income was not large but was “sufficient.”

In 1946, after 12 years in Portugal, Wohlwill emigrated to America where his children had previously emigrated because of lack of opportunities or fear of German invasion in Portugal. Wohlwill found a job for six months at the M. J. Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York, described by him as “a simple country hospital” (Andrae and van den Bussche, 1998). From 1947, he worked at Danvers State Hospital in Hawthorne, Massachusetts. His job there he described as “much less satisfying,” his colleagues’ interest in his work “equals 0” and he felt professionally “isolated and lonely.” He kept in touch with some former Jewish and “Aryan” colleagues in Germany, even writing a “Persilschein” [whitewash certificate] for former NSDAP member Hans Erhard Bock (1903-2004) (Klee, 2005). Despite dissatisfaction, Wohlwill worked at Danvers until 1952 because he was tired of resettling. He was counting on a position at the Army Institute of Pathology that however did not materialize for unknown reasons. Wohlwill was instead told to find a position in the VA in the South where a great pathologist deficiency existed, but he was not interested: “The local climate — both the geographical and the cultural — are not appealing to me.” Wohlwill had to leave Danvers in July 1952. Instead, he received an offer to become coinvestigator on a research project on nuclear energy at Boston University. Wohlwill stated that the Boston research job was temporary, “but in my age one has to be grateful to have work at all and we emigrants all live from hand to mouth more or less.” Despite that an alternative position at Harvard Medical School as Neuropathology Institute Consultant at the Warren Anatomical Museum, offered by neuropathologist Paul Yakovlev (1894-1983), had a lower salary than the Boston University one and, per Wohlwill, “the work … suited me better” so he worked there instead from July 1953 until his death (Andrae and van den Bussche, 1998). At Harvard, he conducted several research projects and published three papers on neuropathology of congenital early acquired encephalopathies, taught pathology to students and residents, lectured on the neurosciences and, since 1955, was consultant in the Cerebral Palsy Program with Yakovlev.

In 1958, Wohlwill (and after his death his wife) tried to obtain the status of a full university professor in Germany, or at least get compensation for the fact he never was able to become one. This effort was aided by well-known scholars in German and American (neuro)pathology who testified to his expertise and wrote in confirmative letters that he would have become a full professor if had he not been forced to leave. But Wohlwill’s request was not granted because of negative advice from the Hamburg medical faculty. The well-known Jewish banker and philanthropist Eric Warburg (1900-1990) protested to the University Rector and even the Hamburg Ministry of Education but they were unwilling to overturn the position of the faculty. In June 1960, two and half years after the original request of Wohlwill, the Hamburg University administration and Wohlwill’s widow compromised: Wohlwill was granted a lower wage category than that of a full professor together with an emeritus pension. The absurdity of this case becomes even more apparent considering that the same faculty had awarded Wohlwill the “Hermann-Kuemmel-Honorary-Medallion” on November 27, 1957 for “his great merits in science” — two months before his application for promotion to full professor!

Richard D. L. Loewenberg

Richard D. L. Loewenberg from Hamburg was the most junior of the five academics, and the earliest to flee the Reich. After obtaining his medical degree and completing internships, Loewenberg worked from 1927-1929 at the St. Georg neurological department. From 1929-1933, he was an assistant under Weygandt at Hamburg-Friedrichsberg, showing a particular interest in youth and social psychiatry. Weygandt wrote a support letter for Loewenberg in 1933 praising his youth psychiatric care, his education of the nurses, and his care of “alcoholic maniacs,” helping to found a Guttemplerloge. Loewenberg also spent time working at the University Neurological Clinic under Oberarzt Georg Schaltenbrand (1897-1979), with Schaltenbrand in 1933 praising Loewenberg’s work and stating that “he is obliged to quit his position here only because of the new legislation” (Loewenberg, 2012, p. 57).

Loewenberg was dismissed without pension as a “non-Aryan” in May 1933, effective by September 30. This set off a worldwide involuntary odyssey for Loewenberg and his family eventually finding refuge in 1937 in California. With his wife being pregnant and realizing he had no future under the Nazis, Loewenberg initially visited the United Kingdom in May 1933 seeking help from the Joint Foreign Committee (an Anglo-Jewish Agency), the Jewish Refugees Committee, and Dr. Redcliffe Salaman (1874-1955). Salaman sent Loewenberg’s papers, testimonials, and Curriculum Vitae to child psychiatrist Emanuel Miller (1892-1970) of the East London Child Guidance Clinic stating that “he is clearly not one of the ‘fliers’ but I am wondering whether he seems to you of any use at all.” Miller was impressed by Loewenberg’s credentials, but he did not think his publications revealed enough child or general psychiatric experience to “be of any use at our clinic, but he would certainly be a valuable member of a mental hospital staff.” Miller continued by stating the following:

[C]ompetition for mental hospital jobs are very keen … [and] I doubt …whether a Home Office permit would be given to him as his work is not sufficiently unique to call for special consideration.

After getting Miller’s response, Salaman wrote, “I have tried again with Loewenberg, and unfortunately failed.” The SPSL, Salaman, and Quastel were more successful in placing Josephy, as mentioned above, especially since Josephy only needed temporary unpaid positions.

Without viable options in Britain to obtain a British visa, Loewenberg investigated global options for escape, including Egypt, Aden, Tangiers, Persia, and even Ethiopia before settling on Shanghai (Loewenberg, 2012). Arriving in Shanghai in October 1933 with his wife and two-month-old baby, Loewenberg’s reasons for choosing Shanghai were “No immigration restriction; Immediate practice of medicine.” Indeed, the internationally administered Free Zone of Shanghai had no visa requirement and was a transient safe haven for many refugee doctors who established medical practices there until they could re-emigrate (Kater, 1989b). Loewenberg’s official application to the SPSL in February 1935 from Shanghai was as unfruitful as the earlier efforts he had made to find a position in the United Kingdom. He stayed in Shanghai from 1933 to 1937, maintaining a private psychiatric practice but also working as a consultant at the Polyclinic for Nervous Diseases of the Tung Nan Medical College, and was a member of the Medical Council of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Loewenberg had expected to make Shanghai a permanent home, and his family integrated into the old established Jewish community there (Loewenberg, 2012). But the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 changed his plans, Loewenberg realizing he needed to immigrate again to the United States, which was “Distant, safe, free, [and there were] relatives there.” Loewenberg had learned English in Germany and used it in China, and his “family gave [an] affidavit of support for [a] visa.”

A distant cousin in El Paso, Texas, had sponsored Loewenberg’s American visa, and he settled for several years in San Francisco. California medical licensing requirements required him to complete another rotating internship even at age 39. He spent a year working 120 hours a week and living in the hospital, earning only $25/month from 1937 to 1938 at St. Joseph’s hospital in San Francisco, while his wife worked night shifts as a nurse (Loewenberg, 2012). The schedule was so arduous that Loewenberg’s young son Peter had to become a pediatrician’s foster child in Berkeley for that year, Peter later stating “they weren’t my family … A lot of pain there” (Loewenberg, 2012, p. 59). Thereafter, with a California medical license in hand, Loewenberg worked on the St. Joseph staff as a psychiatrist and in private practice from 1938 to 1942 (Loewenberg, 2012). From 1941 to 1942, like Josephy’s internment in England, Loewenberg had “restricted movement as an enemy alien,” despite fleeing Germany as a refugee and having already filed a naturalization petition in the United States in December 1937. Loewenberg served the US War Procurement and Assignment Service from 1942-1944 as a railroad physician for Western Pacific Railroad’s Hospital in Portola, California, and was naturalized as an American in 1943 (Loewenberg, 2012). In 1945, he moved to Bakersfield, California, according to his brother, “a place without a neuro-psychiatrist.” He maintained a private practice in psychiatry and was staff psychiatrist at Kern County General Hospital. Loewenberg was the only psychiatrist in the county, while his liberal nurse wife (previously an anti-fascist and leftist in Germany) was active in the Jewish community but also in social justice causes, once helping young activist Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) to recover in their home after a hunger strike (Loewenberg, 2012). Loewenberg became a victim of McCarthyism: According to a private curriculum vitae written by a family member, “In 1948 he had to give up his well-paid position under the pressure of political medicine.” While delivering a lecture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he had become Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Loewenberg suffered a stroke and died tragically at age 56 (Loewenberg, 2012). After his death, his widow Sophie made a claim to the German Amt fuer Wiedergutmachung. She finally accepted a settlement in 1961, far below her original claims.

“Making good again”?

The files of the Hamburg Medical Faculty show that no concerted effort was made after the war to renew contacts with those who had been expelled in 1933, despite the fact that the British Military Government had decided that these colleagues should be preferably considered for open positions in the whole British Zone (van den Bussche, 2014c). Kafka did return temporarily and was invited to lecture in 1949. Reasons for exiled faculty not returning were multiple. On both sides, everybody dedicated most energy to survival matters (housing and food), many refugees had lost family members in the Holocaust and did not want anything to do with Germany, and many also heard about the disastrous living conditions in postwar Germany. On the other hand, faculty members were not eager to discuss how to handle the twofold filled positions (once by a Jew before 1933 and one by an “Aryan” afterwards), or their own complicity in “de-Jewification,” and, last but not least, the spirit of the majority of the faculty members had not changed fundamentally because of the rapid return to office of the “denazified” (van den Bussche, 2014c). The most important preoccupation of the Nazis and non-Nazi “Aryan” beneficiaries was to secure their so-called political opposition and mere “inner emigration” during the Nazi era. In that sense, “Persilscheine,” especially from Jewish former colleagues (Sachse, 2009), were an important tool.

Wiedergutmachung,” literally means “making good again” (Loewy, 1998) and could take place in financial or professional and academic terms. The academic reparation policy of the Hamburg faculty was usually in favor of the requesting exiled colleagues, but, as in Wohlwill’s case, this was not always true. In the example of Kirschbaum, the faculty fully supported his reparation request but this may have been easier as the position in question was “only” an Extraordinarius, not a full professorship. In most cases, the victims obtained compensation after processes often lasting more than 10 years. By the late 1950s most material claims were resolved (Pross, 1998a).

Larger scale research and commemoration activities began only in the 1980s, somehow after the death of most persons immediately involved in Nazi activities. These activities concern single faculties and/or medical disciplines and their participation in Nazi programs, for example, compulsory sterilization and “euthanasia,” especially for pediatrics and neurosciences. These activities are still unfinished and discussions continue in many places. As for the Hamburg Medical Faculty, research, teaching, and medical care for patients were extensively investigated during the 1980s and the biographies of all 16 dismissed professors reconstructed (van den Bussche, 1989). In his central speech at the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the university hospital in 1989, the Faculty Dean and Medical Director, in the presence of the only survivor of the expelled Jewish medical scientists, officially apologized for what had been done to the Jewish university physicians. The doctor titles withdrawn by the Nazis were finally reallocated in 1991 by the president and the Academic Senate of the university. The biographies of all exiled Jewish physicians from Hamburg were reconstructed with the support of the Hamburg Medical Association (von Villiez, 2009), which finally acknowledged its responsibility in 2005. At the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the University Hospital in 2014, “stumbling stones” (Stolpersteine) were laid at the entrance of the hospital in commemoration of the 16 dismissed faculty members, among them the five neuroscientists described in this article. Discussions are ongoing, for example, regarding the persistence of the naming of the Leibniz-Institute for experimental virology as the “Heinrich Pette Institute” since 1948. The effects of Gleichschaltung still ripple through to the present day.


Was it really “emigration” (Stahnisch, 2010) when these five neuroscientists were dismissed from hard-earned positions, legally robbed, intimidated and exiled from their fatherland for which some of them had fought during WWI? “Emigration” is a voluntary move from one country to another, not being disfranchised to the point where leaving, if possible, is the only viable option. Hamburg neuroscience was decapitated (Kater, 1989a) by the massive unjust and unethical removal of qualified personnel not just from a medical perspective but from the human and professional vacuum created by the ostracism and persecution of these individuals.

As all others, the five neuroscientists from Hamburg were victims of the racist Nazi politics. They lost their positions and titles, their workplace, and even medical instruments, such as Josephy’s 580 RM microscope that had to be liquidated, and lost most or all their private property. They fled for their lives (twice for Loewenberg and Kafka), three were imprisoned by the Nazis, and three were interned, detained, or restricted in movements as “enemy aliens” even after escape. They lost friends and family members in many cases, and all lost their culture and homeland. They received little help or support from their university, city, and country. Despite not protesting the injustice of dismissing Jewish colleagues, Nonne showed sympathy to Kafka, Wohlwill, and six other former trainees (Peiffer, 2004). Weygandt, an “Aryan” but forced into early retirement in 1934 because of outmaneuvering by a racial hygiene competitor (van den Bussche, 2014b), also supported Kirschbaum, Kafka, Loewenberg, and Josephy with letters of recommendation. Postwar there was never any outright apology by former Nazi colleagues, exemplified by Demme’s inglorious memorial to Kafka. Some, like Kafka, Josephy, and Kirschbaum, waited many years before leaving Germany. All of them ended up, at least initially, in much less ideal conditions than those they had left. No one gained a rank of full professor abroad, a realistic perspective in their home country under democratic conditions. Abroad, some regained at best an academic position similar to the one lost in Hamburg, mostly after more than a decade. In the meantime, they had to work for a low salary, if paid at all. Resources for scientific research were almost absent, and they often had to work at least initially under more primitive clinical conditions than what they left in Hamburg. Like Wohlwill, Kirschbaum, and Josephy they had to take low-level research assistant positions and often had to live on hospital grounds or to work multiple simultaneous jobs to earn enough to feed their families. All this is in contrast to the theory that the Jewish emigrants played an important role in the scientific development of their host countries (Stahnisch, 2010). There have certainly been such cases, but a generalization in this respect rather seems like exculpation.

Overall trends of emigrant doctors from the German Reich are verified by these five representatives, in that 50% went to the United States, 22% to Palestine, 12% to the United Kingdom, 7% to other European countries (i.e., Sweden), and 1% to Asia (mainly Shanghai). Psychiatrists (including neurologists) made up the largest specialist portion of emigrant doctors (15%) and the largest proportion of immigrants to America (22.3%) (Kroener, 1989). These five neuroscientists overcame at least two large obstacles in that they were all under 60 and spoke some English. But on a more personal level, many emigration trajectories were significantly arduous. Loewenberg suffered from cultural and language difficulties in China as well as a lack of ability to build a thriving practice in neuropsychiatry. In Britain in the 1930s, refugee physicians were not allowed to practice medicine without studying again and repeating the final medical examination without a possibility to practice clinically (Kater, 1989b). Therefore, Britain became a transit station for most emigrants. British Palestine’s borders were also closed to most medical immigrants especially in the late 1930s. Independently of the profession, changing visa quota and/or application deadlines prohibited a departure. Kirschbaum and Josephy faced the fact that the German quota for American visas was not filled at all until 1939 after Kristallnacht (Kater, 1989b). Josephy’s MRH offer expired after his prolonged stay in England interned as an “enemy alien” and still waiting for a US visa. Also, neutral Sweden was not a popular option for immigrants: Border-crossers like Kafka were detained and obtained Swedish citizenship only many years after arrival (12 years for Kafka).

One major reason for the American preference was the distance from the war in Europe and the Pacific. Another reason was the relatively high proportion of positions available in the United States and the opportunity to reestablish one’s medical career quickly, at least in those states with a liberal relicensing policy (Kohler, 1997), which was mostly due to a physician shortage as well as local attitudes. New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Illinois were the most liberal states for refugee physicians (Edsall, 1940), but 15 states relicensed refugee doctors (Kohler, 1997). These more liberal states did not require citizenship for licensure and fully recognized foreign medical degrees, which likely influenced Josephy and Kirschbaum in settling in Illinois, which was facing a physician shortage (Edsall & Putnam, 1941), especially for neuropsychiatrists in mental institutions. Illinois required a one-year long internship but had reserved MRH internship spots that Kirschbaum and Josephy utilized (Zeidman, 2014). Loewenberg also did not face strict relicensing requirements in California, but his gruelling internship requirement caused severe family difficulties.


These five expelled academic neuroscientists’ lives were fractured and set on a trajectory on which they could not prioritize their careers. Wiedergutmachung implies more than mere restitution or reparations, but also healing and coming to terms with the past on both sides (Loewy, 1998). This should not only have been made for financial or academic losses to the victims but professional and psychological losses as well; in reality, psychic damage was not taken into account. German medical experts who were often previous collaborators in Nazi race hygiene measures ignored international study results on Nazi terror victim psychopathology and conducted examinations that often resulted in claim denials. The process itself resulted in a “retraumatization of persecutees” (Pross, 1998b). Even 30 years after German President Richard von Weizsaecker’s (1920-2015) famous “the secret to reconciliation is remembering” speech (von Weizsaecker, 1985), although some apologies and commemorations have occurred, several medical faculties and scientific associations in Germany have never attempted to “make good again” with the victims.