German doctors in British exile

Susanne Krejsa MacManus describes how the German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases is recovering the stories of its members expelled under the Nazis. She explains how one of them, Ernest Maurice Fraenkel, found exile in Britain. 

The German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases (DGVS) was founded in 1913 by the famous Professor Ismar Boas. In 1933, it had a membership of 430 professors, lecturers, scientists, physicians, surgeons, pharmacologists and researchers, many of them eminent in their field. Approximately one-quarter of them were classified as Jews or non-Aryans under the Nazi regime, including Professor Boas.

The official boycott had started a few weeks after Adolf Hitler became Reichskanzler of Germany in 1933, and in March 1938 in Austria after the so-called Anschluss. Every institution/organisation/association, including the DGVS, had to exclude and disenfranchise their Jewish members. The lives of approximately 8500 medical doctors in Germany and 3500 medical doctors in Austria were at risk.  They lost their jobs. They were persecuted, forced to flee Germany or deported to concentration camps.

At least 20 DGVS members came to Britain. Dr. Ernest Maurice Fraenkel (1886-1948) was the first to arrive. A professor of medicine at the University of Berlin, he was on the staff of the University Clinic, the Charité Hospital and the Rudolf Virchow Hospital there. In 1933, he escaped to London via Paris and got a job as a research worker at Westminster Hospital, where he continued his work on the Rous sarcoma virus and the filterability of the tubercle bacillus.

In 1936, he took the Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery of the Society of Apothecaries (LMSSA) in London, and shortly afterwards began working at the London Country Council (LCC) laboratories on the significance of moulds in certain cases of asthma. Naturalised in 1940, he practiced in Buxton in Derbyshire during the war.

On his return to London in 1945, Fraenkel was made consulting allergist to the LCC and published papers on allergy, bronchial asthma and related subjects. After his death in 1948, British Medical Journal described him as “a physician with a philosophic outlook, and some of his ideas were held to be in advance of his time”.

 We remember

In 2013, while preparing for its 100 year anniversary, the DGVS found the members’ list from 1932/1933. They saw crossed out in red pencil were the names of their former Jewish members.

We Remember”, now available in English, is the DGVS initiative to commemorate them. Their aim is to get their former members back, restore their reputations, honour their contributions to the discipline and remind themselves of the roles their former colleagues had for the scientific society. So far, about 90 biographies, including that of Professor Boas, are available online. Another 25 are in the process of research and production.

Why is this interesting for members of the BSHM? A lot of facts and knowledge have been lost: connections, details of their lives, often even the place and date of their birth, are not known. So, one of the main goals of DGVS archivist Harro Jenss MD, is to find colleagues, family members and others to learn more about these doctors’ lives in Britain. “We would also be grateful to receive hints and corrections or even new sources which help us to fill gaps,” he says.

Here are the names of members of the DGVS who made it to Britain: Abraham Adler (1891 – 1948), Alfred John Alexander (1880 – 1950), Erwin Cohnreich (1889 – 1943), Heinrich Davidsohn /Henry J. Davidson (1884 – 1963),  Georg Eisner (1885 – 1947), Ernest Maurice Fraenkel /Ernst Moritz Fränkel (1886 – 1948), Robert Goldschmidt (1878 – 1970), Simon Isaac (1881 – 1942), Walter Kaufmann (1877 – 1949), Otto Kestner (1873 – 1953), Johann Lewinski (1878 – 1940), Greta Noah (1902 – 1984), Leo Pollak (1878 – 1946), Erwin Pulay (1889 – 1950), Ernst Rachwalsky (1889 – 1962), Berthold Stein (1874 – 1947), Ludwig Weil (1874 – 1961), Erich Kurt Wolffenstein (1899 – 1976), Walter Zweig (1872 – 1953).

Today, the DGVS unites more than 6500 doctors.

Susanne Krejsa MacManus is an independent journalist, author and archivist in Vienna. She is a member of the History of Medicine and Medical/Health Humanities working group of the Commission for History and Philosophy of the Sciences at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).