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Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin

SICK CITY: BERLIN ON MARCH 11, 1933

The old administration building of the Krankenhaus Am Urban being renovated in February 2011 (photo: notmsparker)

The old administration building of the Krankenhaus Am Urban being renovated in February 2011 (photo: notmsparker)

On March 11th 1933 Jewish doctors and registrars (junior doctors) working at the 3rd Municipal Hospital Am Urban in Kreuzberg were attacked, beaten up and banned from ever returning to their posts.

As one of the victims, Prof. Dr Hermann Zondek, the then head of the Internal Medicine Ward of Krankenhaus am Urban, wrote later in his book Auf Festem Fuß, the events of that day were not entirely unexpected. The atmosphere among Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues and other staff such as nurses, for instance, had been deteriorating already for a while. Which is not to say that there was any clearly marked front wedged between the hospital employees: many of them considered the way their Jewish colleagues were treated as appalling and unjust. Still, pressed to choose sides, they followed the aggressive herd.

VERWALTUNGSGEBąUDE KRANKENHAUS AM URBAN 1920s

The main administration building of the hospital here in the 1920s.

A sign of things to come arrived three days earlier when a large group of SA men (the so called Brownshirts, a paramilitary wing of NSDAP) forced their way into the hospital and after terrorising the staff, demanded 50 hospital beds to be put entirely at their disposal. The conflict threatened to escalate when the mediation of Kreuzberg’s Mayor, Carl Herz, called in the middle of the night by hospital supervisors, initially failed to produce a peaceful solution.

carl herz

Carl Herz, Mayor of Kreuzberg 

In the end a compromise was struck: 30 beds in exchange for the Nazis withdrawing themselves from the Urban. It is hard to believe that it was a coincidence that on the 10th of March the troops storming Herz’s office in Kreuzberg’s Town Hall in Yorckstraße were most probably (according to Herz’s own account of those days) led by the very same man.

When after the morning round, just past 1:00 PM Dr Hermann Zondek returned to his office, he was told to go to the management building where he was already expected by Graf Helldorf – Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, who only days later became the head of the police force in Potsdam. The only positive thing that can be said about him is that he died executed in July 1944 as a member of the group conspiring to kill Hitler – he was part of the plot together with Graf von Stauffenberg.

In the meantime the leader of the SA pack ordered his troops to block all exists from the hospital to prevent any Jews or socialists from leaving. Zondek was locked up in his room together with all the other “unwelcome” colleagues for at least one hour while the building was searched for evidence of their anti-national, not to say seditious activities. At the same time, Professor Zondek was “kindly asked” (the gun which was waved next to his head certainly facilitated the process of decision-making…) to sign a document in which he “donated” his car parked in front of the hospital to the National-Socialist movement that happened to be in need of means of transportation. In this very car his younger colleagues were carried to the place where they were beaten up in the most beastly manner.

Zondek was lucky in the sense that as a high rank member of the hospital’s management he was submitted to a frightening and humiliating procedure not unlike secret tribunals of the Holy Inquisition. Among the “judges” who gathered in another room, people who where to decide (or rather “announce” as such decisions were made elsewhere) the verdict, was his other colleague, a former intern – or trainee –  of Zondek’s, Dr Kohn (spelled with K to avoid being held for a Jew; later he changed his name to something entirely different and was henceforth known as Dr Kondeyne). Here Zondek was informed about his immediate dismissal and being banned from ever entering the hospital again.

Luckily for him, Professor Zondek listened to an older SA man standing by the door of the room when he was leaving the meeting. “Please, Herr Professor, you should take a leave for the next three weeks and go, preferably somewhere in the south of Germany.” Zondek went. To Zürich and from there to Palestine (later Israel). He never returned to Germany again.

During the Nazi “cleansing of the body of staff” (Bereinigung des Personalkörpers) of the Krankenhaus am Urban all Jewish or considered not devout National-Socialist employees of all levels were fired . Here are some of the names:

Dr Kurt Engelmann (head of the ENT Clinic)

Dr Karel Bobath (neurologist and paediatrician, but first and foremost the future co-author of a leading cerebral palsy therapy method neuro-developmental treatment, known as Bobath-approach)

Dr Fritz von Gutfeld (head of the Microbiology Clinic)

Dr Arthur Hessmann (the head of Radiology Clinic)

Dr Edmund Mayer (head of Anatomical Pathology Clinic)

Dr Ludwig Pincussen (head of Research)

Dr Franz Schück (head of Surgery)

Dr Erich Simenauer (surgeon, badly physically abused at the SA Prison in Pappestraße, where he was also witness to other prisoners being battered to death, here is a link to a German page where he reports on those events)

Dr Leo Wislicki (Radiology, one of the young doctors taken away in Dr Zondek’s car and horribly beaten up by the Nazis; he managed to escape to the UK together with Prof. Zondek and his wife – he joined them at the station at the very last possible moment – where he opened a small surgery in Manchester)

Gertrud Rüden (the Head Nurse of the hospital).

Those are only some of the altogether 43 doctors and many, many more other members of medical staff who lost their jobs and in some cases also their lives after that day in March 1933. The Borough Council of Kreuzberg reports later about that period at the hospital:

“After the national-socialist coming to power some significant personnel changes were introduced. The both Jewish medical directors as well as the eight Jewish registrars and auxiliary physicians stepped down.

After seizing power, in order to enable people to work in the spirit of National Socialism at all, the cleansing of the body of staff was necessary. To achieve this the following (persons) were removed: the Stadtarzt (borough head physician), 2 head doctors and 40 junior rank doctors, 28 of whom employed as charity doctors and 2 as social welfare workers. All of those 43 doctors were Jews! – A proof of how Israel supports its own.”

In March 1933 around 8,000 German doctors of medicine had Jewish roots. In Berlin their number could be estimated at 30-50% of all medical experts: out of 6,500 doctors in the capital then between 3,000 and 4,000 were Jews; 2,000 of those were Kassenärzte (state health insurance system physicians) or panel doctors  and as such lost their jobs first. The Nazi regime gradually and very systematically removed them all and replaced with their own politically- and racially-correct candidates. The question if they were also good enough professionally to take the vacancies was a secondary one.

A plaque on the wall of the old Urban hospital house in Diffenbachstraße 1, listing the names of head doctors attacked on that day in march 1933, commemorates those events.

4 comments on “SICK CITY: BERLIN ON MARCH 11, 1933

  1. F Peter Weeren
    Mar 11, 2019

    A very dark episode in Germany’s history. Let’s hope it never is repeated. With right wing extremism on the rise across the globe, we need more reminders like this. Thank you.

  2. berlioz1935
    Mar 12, 2019

    As usually excellently researched. I shared it with A FB group I’m following. They seem to understand what has happened in 1933.

    • berlincompanion
      Mar 12, 2019

      Thank you, Peter! Hope you are doing well.

      • berlioz1935
        Mar 12, 2019

        I mange and can’t expect more at my age.

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