Alfred John Alexander

born 07.03.1880 Bamberg
d. 15.05.1950 Zurich

DGIM Honorary Member 1913 – 1932

Alfred John Alexander was the third child of Herman Alexander (1841-1885) and Bella Lehmaier (1855-1906). His father Hermann, a lawyer, died of leukemia when Alfred was five years old.1 Ten years later, Alfred "announced to his mother that he intended to become a doctor and find a cure for his father's illness."2 Although his mother would have preferred him to study law, Alfred Alexander went on to study medicine, first in Berlin, then in Munich. 3 After having passed his preliminary exams, his state examination, license to practice medicine and his doctorate with flying colors, he took up a post in Odelzhausen in Upper Bavaria and began his research into blood cancer, as he had intended to do.4 Two years later, in 1905, Alfred Alexander's religion played a decisive role in his further professional career. According to research by Alfred's great-grandson and biographer Thomas Harding, he would have had to convert to Christianity in order to obtain the position of first assistant to Christian Bäumler at the Freiburg Medical Clinic that he had been offered. He refused, opting for a less prestigious position in Berlin instead.5


Meanwhile, Bella Alexander's health had deteriorated. She had aged prematurely and "turned white overnight."6 She had lost her three-year-old daughter Paula and her husband in 1885, when she was only 30 years old herself. Two decades later, she was suffering from heart and asthma attacks. The son hurried from Berlin to visit his mother in Bamberg, found her very weak and consulted with the two attending physicians Guntzburg and Kahn. At Alfred Alexander's request and against Guntzburg's will, Kahn injected the sick woman with morphine so that she "calmed down shortly after" and "then could fall asleep  and pass into the next world free from pain." Alfred Alexander's memoirs read, "She could not be saved, but I was allowed to tell myself that she had a painfree death thanks to euthanasia [sic]."7 Had Kahn's actions become public, both he and also Alfred Alexander would have faced considerable professional and criminal consequences.8

Alfred Alexander temporarily took a break from research and established a general medical practice in Berlin after his mother's death, .

Founding a Family

Alexander married Henny Picard (1888-1970) in 1909. She came from a banking family, and was the daughter of Lucien Picard (1855-1935), Commerzbank director and Swiss consul in Frankfurt, and his wife Amelia Schwarzschild (1869-1936). 9 Alfred and Henny had four children: Bella (1911-2000), Elsie (1912-2004), and the twins Hanns (1917-2006) and Paul (1917-2003).10 Hanns Alexander became known as the commander of a British War Crimes Investigation unit that was able to capture Nazi criminals Gustav Simon,11 the head of the Nazi civil administration in Luxembourg, and Rudolf Höß,12 the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

They lived lavishly in Berlin's New West at Kaiserallee 219/220, today's Bundesallee, and had plenty of domestic staff. The 22 rooms also included practice rooms. Alexander, who had appeared serious and sensitive as a youth, was now described as quick-tempered and having found the ideal partner in his unaffected and calm wife.13

During World War I, Alfred Alexander ran a field hospital for those who had suffered from gas attacks in Alsace and was awarded the Iron Cross First Class.

In the years of the Weimar Republic, Alexander was quickly able to make a reputation for himself. He built a sanatorium with X-ray equipment, a laboratory and a roof terrace at 15 Achenbachstrasse, now Lietzenburger Strasse, while maintaining the practice rooms in the apartment. The "Sanatorium Dr. Alexander" had 31 beds.14 It is said that Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein and Max Reinhardt, were amongst his patients.15

The Summer House by the Lake

Alexander's posthumous prominence was not least due to his plan, to build a country house with a view of the lake in Groß Glienicke, which he realized in 1927. He had leased the land from the Groß Glienicke landowner Otto von Wollank for 15 years with a right of first refusal. Alexander's neighbor was DGIM member Fritz Munk, professor at the II Medical Clinic of the Charité and director of the Internal Department of the Paul Gerhard Stift.16 Alexander and Munk got along well and visited the exhibition "Das Wochenende" (The Weekend) at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds together to get ideas for the wooden houses they had planned.17 Both commissioned the building contractor Otto Lenz with the construction. Today, the summer house Alexander planned is a memorial built by his great-grandson and biographer Thomas Harding, the "Alexanderhaus" at the Potsdam address Am Park 2, also commemorating later residents of the house.18

Despite their cultural interests - Alfred appreciated theater and opera - the Alexanders henceforth spent their weekends – at least from Friday evening to Monday morning – at Lake Glienicke during the summer months. This allows conclusions to be drawn about their religiosity. "Had they been practicing Jews," writes Thomas Harding, "they would have spent the Sabbath in Berlin. [...] But they called themselves 'three-day-a-year Jews,'" because they only went to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah (two days) and Yom Kippur.19

Unlike in Berlin, people lived more casually, more simply, and less formally at the summer home. Alfred Alexander became a passionate gardener and had a twelve-meter-long heated greenhouse built, which he jokingly called the "Orangerie."20 Social life continued to take place in the apartment on Kaiserallee. Corresponding obligations accumulated when Alexander was elected president of the Berlin Medical Association in the late twenties. The number of prominent patients grew, and personalities such as Albert Einstein were received privately for dinner. But the summer house also received visitors, not only family members and friends.21


The Alexanders' situation deteriorated rapidly, when Hitler came to power. The "Schriftleitergesetz" (editors law), which came into force on January 1, 1934, destroyed daughter Elsie's dream of becoming a journalist. She was expelled from the University of Heidelberg the same year.22 Returning to Groß Glienicke, she felt the growing anti-Semitism there as well. The already less than cordial contact with the merchants in the town was reduced to the bare minimum. It's striking that the landlord, now a son-in-law of Otto von Wollank – Robert von Schultz – enabled the neighbor Fritz Munk to buy the property, which had previously only been leased, but did not make Alfred Alexander a corresponding offer. Schultz had joined the NSDAP on April 28, 1933.23

Munk – as director of the Martin Luther Hospital also had contact to the National Socialists – assessed the political situation realistically, and advised Alexander to leave Germany. Alexander's wife and daughters had previously tried to convince their father to leave. The newlywed daughter Bella moved to London with her husband Harold Sussmann.

In fact, Alfred Alexander came to realize that he was also not spared the regime's unjust measures. As a result of the "Verordnung über die Zulassung von Ärzten zur Tätigkeit bei den Krankenkassen" (Ordinance on the Admission of Physicians to Work for the Health Insurances), he lost all income from the treatment of patients covered by health insurances in 1934. When daughter Elsie married her husband Erich Hirschowitz in 1935 – who later went by the name Harding – they could only celebrate in their Berlin apartment because of the extensive restrictions on Jewish events.24 On their honeymoon, the couple repeatedly passed place-name signs that read "Juden unerwünscht" (Jews not welcome) in their black Austin 7. Nevertheless, Elsie and Erich Hirschowitz initially still rented an apartment in Berlin, at Kurfürstendamm 103, not far from Alfred Alexander's apartment.25 This apartment was allowed to be used for meetings by an associate of her father and his non-Jewish girlfriend, since after the enactment of the "Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre" (Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor) a joint appearance in public was inopportune. Finally, the twins Hanns and Paul were also affected by anti-Semitism. Previously insulted and prevented from entering the Wannsee lido, for example, they were expelled from school.26

Emigration to London

All the same, Alfred Alexander still did not seem to have made any plans for emigrating, but did not return from a trip to London in early 1936. When he went to visit his daughter Bella and her family – after the birth of her son they were three –Henny Alexander received a call back home from Alfred's war comrade Otto Meyer. He had already proven to be a good friend on the day of the "Judenboykott" (boycott of the Jews) on April 1, 1933, helping to protect the apartment and practice on Bundesallee. Now he warned: "They will come to get him. You must see to it that he goes into hiding immediately."27 Alfred then remained in London. His in-laws Amelia, a native of Basel, and Lucien Picard moved to Switzerland. They were quickly able to get their grandson Paul to join them, after they had been able to find him employment and an entry visa. Paul's twin brother Hanns, in turn, was helped to obtain employment at a London bank by his brother-in-law Harold Sussmann so that he was able to land at London-Croydon Airport on June 2, 1936. Elsie, Erich Hirschowitz' wife, was always able to travel to London, as her husband managed the branch of his father's leather company there and thus had papers for unrestricted travel between Germany and Great Britain.

So finally, the ony person of Alfred's immediate family for who a means of escape had to be found, was his wife, Henny Alexander. At the same time, she tried to sell the sanatorium with the help of her daughter Elsie. This was only achieved with difficulty and considerably below value. The building was destroyed during the war.28 But now Henny Alexander was able to pay the "Reichsfluchtsteuer" and obtain the necessary papers. There was still time to make lists of the possessions left behind. The key of the summer house was given to Dr. Goldstrom, the family's lawyer. Since a new intensification of the persecution of the Jews was to be expected with the end of the Olympic Games on August 16, Henny Alexander and her daughter Elsie Hirschowitz left Germany separately before the end of August. Elsie fled via Amsterdam, where she convinced her husband Erich to cross with her by ferry from Hoek van Holland to Folkestone. Henny Alexander followed shortly after. She had come to the Netherlands by train via France and then made the crossing. Alfred and Henny Alexander found an apartment in central London.29 The lawyer Goldstrom had organized a sublet for the summer house by the laketo the composer and music publisher Wilhelm Meisel. Both landlord and tenant were to receive 1000 marks per year each from him in the future.30

In order to be able to work as a doctor in the United Kingdom, the now 56-year-old Alfred Alexander had to pass the British exams. To do so, he had to study in Edinburgh. His wife Henny stayed behind in London during this time.31 Alfred and his wife were living at the London address 10 Cavendish Place W1 by 1939.32 Alfred Alexander, by now equipped with the necessary British papers, had set up a general medical practice as a "General Practioner" in Harley Street, probably a year earlier.33 Although his practice did not become as successful as his practice in Berlin had been, he soon needed larger premises and he thus rented additional practice rooms at 62 Wimpole Street in 1945.34

Alexander was "expatriated" by the German Reich on July 24, 1939, and the medical faculty of the University of Munich revoked his doctorate on November 15, 1939. He was granted British citizenship in 1947.35Alfred John Alexander, an avid cigar smoker, died of a heart attack in Zurich in May 1950 at the age of 70.36


See Thomas Harding, Hanns and Rudolf. Der deutsche Jude und die Jagd nach den Kommandanten von Auschwitz, Munich 2013, p. 36 f.Thomas Harding, Sommerhaus am See. Fünf Familien und 100 Jahre deutscher Geschichte, 5th ed. Munich 2018, p. 48.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 48; Sonja Richter, Das Holzhaus am Gutspark. Die Eteignung des Dr. Alexander ( 07/28/2019).See Reichsmedizinalkalender 1937, p. 176; Alfred John Alexander, Über traumatische kryptogene septische Infektion und traumatische eiterige Gonarthritis, Diss. med. München 1903.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 49.Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 48.Cited in Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 50.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 375.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 51.See the family tree in: Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 420; cf. also Harding, Hanns and Rudolf, p. 376.Gustav Simon (1900-1945) was Gauleiter of the Gaus Moselland and, as head of the Luxembourg Civil Administration, responsible for the deportation of Luxembourg Jews. After his arrest by Alexander's War Crimes Investigation unit on December 10, 1945, he avoided conviction on December 18, 1945, by committing suicide.Rudolf Höß (1901-1947) was a Obersturmbannführer of the SS and commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp between May 1940 and November 1943. He was arrested by Hanns Alexander in 1946 and executed in the Auschwitz camp on April 16, 1947.See Harding, Sommerhaus, pp. 48 and 51.See Rebecca Schwoch (ed.), Berliner jüdische Kassenärzte und ihr Schicksal im Nationalsozialismus. Ein Gedenkbuch, Berlin/Teetz 2009, p. 37.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 52 f.Excerpts from three 16mm films show scenes of life at the "house by the lake": ("Alexander Family at Groß Glienicke, Potsdam, Germany. Taken from three separate 16mm films. Shows house by lake, Dr Alfred Alexander with his wife Henny, children Bella, Elsie, Hanns and Paul Alexander, along with Lucien and Amelia Picard, Peter Sussman, Sophie Simon, and friends of the Alexanders. Playing games by lake, swimming in lake, eating at tables in garden, climbing cherry trees. Film shot in 1930s. Copyright Alexander Family), The history of the house and its transformation into a memorial by Alfred Alexander's great-grandson Thomas Harding is shown in a documentary film: Anne Wigger (writer and director), Das Haus am Glienicker See, Radio Berlin Brandenburg (rbb) 2017 ( See also Fritz Munk memorialized medicine around 1900 after 1945, largely avoiding autobiographical material: Fritz Munk, Das Medizinische Berlin um die Jahrhundertwende, ed. v. Klaus Munk, 2nd ed. Vienna/Munich/Baltimore 1979.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 54 f.See Cf. also the children's book Thomas Harding/Britta Teckentrup, Sommerhaus am See. Das Bilderbuch, Berlin 2020.Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 64.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 65.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 68 f.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 95.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 95 f.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 108.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 108 f.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 109.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 110.See Schwoch, Kassenärzte, p. 37.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 113 ff.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 125.See Harding, Sommerhaus, p. 381. ibid, p. 381 ff. also on the fate of the other family members.See Yvonne Kapp, Refugee Doctors and Dentists registered with the Medical Department, 1939, 1B.118. .See Schwoch, Kassenärzte, p. 37.See Harding, Hanns and Rudolf, p. 220; cf. ibid. p. 316.See Schwoch, Kassenärzte, p. 37.See Harding, Hanns und Rudolf, p. 316.

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