Gustav von Bergmann became known to a wider public not least as the namesake of the medal awarded by the German Society of Internal Medicine at irregular intervals since 1994. It was the society's highest award until 2010, but was then replaced by the Leopold Lichtwitz medal.
Gustav Richard August von Bergmann was the son of Ernst von Bergmann, a professor of surgery, and his wife Pauline, née von Porbeck-Asbrand.1 Gustav von Bergmann graduated from high school in 1897. He then studied in Berlin, Munich, Bonn and Strasbourg. He passed the state examination in Strasbourg in 1902 and received his doctorate in 1903. He subsequently worked as an assistant at the II Medical Clinic of the Charité in Berlin until 1912. He habilitated in 1908, and received the title of professor in 1910. He moved to the Hamburg-Altona Municipal Hospital as Director of the Internal Department in 1912, where he was succeeded by Leopold Lichtwitz in 1916. He took over a full professorship in Marburg in 1916, in Frankfurt am Main in 1920, and at the Berlin Charité in 1927, where he took over the full professorship of his teacher Friedrich Kraus and became director of the II Medical University Hospital. He was elected to the Leopoldina in 1932. He was the director of the II. Medical Clinic in Munich from 1946 to 1953. He had already officially retired in 1951. He received the Grand Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic in 1953.
He was not part of the the military. He did not join the NSDAP, but was a member of the NSV and a supporting member of the SS.
He designated "circulation, stomach, intestine, liver, thyroid gland" and "funktionelle Pathologie" (functional pathology) as his areas of expertise in the thirties. The latter was the eponym for his opus magnum in 1932, which emphasized psychosomatic causes of disease.
His first wife Auguste (Caroline Pauline) Verwer (born on March 26, 1882), whom he had married on June 27, 1904, died on May 8, 1923. Both were Lutheran. He married his second wife Emilie (Katharine Maria) Simokat, a Catholic (born on August 22, 1885) on July 2, 1924. From his first marriage von Bergmann had three children, Ernst (born April 18, 1905), Friedrich (born September 17, 1907), and Wolfgang (born October 19, 1912).
As a young adult, Gustav von Bergmann by no means behaved in complete conformity with society. For example, he ignored the contact ban between members of fraternities and non-members that was considered customary in the student milieu of the time.2 Bergmann avoided fraternities, because he did not want to make "an ideology of the enjoyment of alcohol."3 He preferred to visit the theater.4 However, Gustav von Bergmann's dignified liberalism was joined by alienating traits as early as the 1920s. Peter Kohnstamm – son of the director of the sanatorium Dr. (Oskar) Kohnstamm in Königstein am Taunus, which was well-known in medicine and art alike, and a close friend of Fritz von Bergmann, who lived in nearby Frankfurt – had an unpleasant memory of a youthful encounter with Fritz' father. Fritz and his brother Ernst had asked their parents to let them use the house for a party with friends. Gustav von Bergmann agreed, but in the presence of Peter Kohnstamm, he informed his sons, "The boys should take care that not more than thirty-three percent of their guests are Jews."5 Fritz von Bergmann and Peter Kohnstamm kept in touch later; Kohnstamm emigrated to Great Britain in 1933.
Controversial Appointment to the Charité in Berlin
Appointed to the chair of internal medicine in Frankfurt am Main in 1920, von Bergmann moved to the Charité in 1927. His appointment as successor to Friedrich Kraus was not without controversy. The Berlin faculty had initially tried to recruit Franz Volhard, Alfred Schittenhelm or Hans Eppinger and had not shortlisted von Bergmann. The justifications made vis-à-vis the Ministry were not only strictly science-based: "In the faculty's opinion, Prof. von Bergmann would be too soft-natured and more inclined to compromise, and could therefore not be considered for the Berlin position. "6 It was only through special votes and ministerial intervention that von Bergmann received the call, but he quickly knew how to fill his new position and also how to gain importance and recognition among the faculty.7
Adapting to the Nazi System
Von Bergmann's potential for social criticism remained only dimly discernible during the Nazi era. His Berlin colleague, the surgeon Rudolf Nissen, remarked in retrospect on his original liberal stance in 1969, "The conviction, however, only lasted as long as the like-minded government had."8 It fits the mould that von Bergmann continued to be active in science policy after 1933. He was second vice-chairman in 1937/38, and chairman of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte (Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians, GDNÄ) in 1939/40, whose chairmanship he apparently resumed without bias upon its re-establishment in 1950.9 Hitler appointed him as member of the "Wissenschaftlicher Senat des Heeressanitätswesens" (Scientific Senate of the Army Medical Service) in 1942. In addition, he was a member of the advisory board of the "Deutsche Gesellschaft für Konstitutionsforschung" (German Society for Constitutional Research). He became an advisor to Karl Brandt in 1944, who was the coordinator of medical research and head of the health service.10 Von Bergmann was approved by the DFG in 1935 for a project on the disposition to colds, and during World War II he participated in the DFG research project "Untersuchungen über die Möglichkeiten der Leistungssteigerung bei körperlicher Arbeit unter Sauerstoffmangel," which was approved in February 1938.11
Rejection of a Call to Free Switzerland
Von Bergmann was presented with the opportunity to move from Berlin to Zurich at the beginning of 1937. The Zurich medical faculty, which was looking for a successor to Otto Naegeli, showed serious interest in von Bergmann's candidacy in preliminary talks. On the occasion of a visit to Zurich, the latter had also expressed thinking "quite positively about the possibility of taking over the clinic."12 But the plans quickly fizzled out. It is true that Bergmann, who for his part had sought exploratory talks with the Berlin ministry, had initially signaled approval. "After further consultation," however, von Bergmann had reconsidered and turned down the Zurich faculty on the grounds that "after all, my Berlin position gives me greater opportunities for working, if only because I have a fully recruited, quite good associates, and in Zurich it would take a long time before I could impose this attitude on my scientific field of interest. "13 The confidential correspondence with the Zurich faculty does not mention any "coercion" by the ministry, which von Bergmann later claimed as the reason for his "refusal of the call" to Zurich.14
If one looks at von Bergmann's publications on science policy, one may speak of an attempt to exert influence through adaptation. With regard to the politically desired "synthesis of scientific medicine and natural healing methods," von Bergmann praised "the cooperation between Grote and Brauchle at the Rudolf Hess Hospital" in 1938 and decided on statements like the following: "It is no coincidence if the National Socialist movement is leading us back to the classical ideal, the harmonious training of body, soul and spirit, not only in the buildings, which again follow a classical direction, as presented by Schinkel, but also in the passionate striving for public health, as was recently said: 'We are closer, than some might be aware of, to classicism' (Minister Goebbels). "15 He combined his commitment to the medical ideal ("ability and performance through training and experience, regulated by a heart and cool mind") with criticism of the medical reality, for which the Nazi regime had been responsible for five years after all: "The overburdened panel doctor knows very well that the lack of time for his patients often enough makes it impossible for him to apply his skills thoroughly, and this alone has become a crisis of confidence in the doctor for many a member of the nation. The German physician has set himself greater goals than in the past: a new generation should grow up stronger and healthier. [...] May the blossoming further education of physicians and the lively interest shown in the old and new directions in medicine give rise to a medical profession which is given the time for the optimal fulfillment of its daily tasks; no physician can do a thorough job with 30 or 60 patients in the morning consultation, to change this is a very great task the Reichsärzteführung [Reich medical leadership] is facing."16
Gustav von Bergmann's medical thinking, including his concept of "functional pathology," was considered by himself to be "fruitful for the health leadership" of the Nazi state. He did not shy away from analogies between medicine and politics. In 1940, he stated with astonishing frankness and yet carefully camouflaging : "If Rudolf Virchow, in his inclination toward the political-democratic principle, called the organism a 'federal state of cells,' it would be natural, under the experiences of the present, to call the organism with its 'environment' (v. Uexküll) a 'totalitarian state'."17
Ideal of Patient-Oriented Medical Action
Information about von Bergmann's thinking is also provided in his book "Das Weltbild des Arztes und die moderne Physik" (The Physician's World View and Modern Physics), published by Springer-Verlag in Berlin in 1943.18 In it, von Bergmann assumes a determined "mechanical natural-scientific conception of the world" that predetermines "our entire life" and postulates an "inescapable fate."19 He assigns this conception to "'classical' physics", which he contrasts with "'modern' physics", which knows "that its statements are limited."20 In this, his reasoning ties in with the thinking of men like Johannes Müller, Jakob and Thure von Uexküll, and Carl Friedrich and Viktor von Weizsäcker.21 He does not quote genuinely National Socialist sources, or only in passing.22 Von Bergmann's discussions of Darwin's theory of natural selection do not lead to the practice of Nazi racial hygiene, but are treated theoretically in the context of the opposition between reason and instinct.23 It is the change in physics that interests von Bergmann, not that in the field of politics.24 Similarly to his sources, he sees ideal medical action, oriented toward guiding the sick, healing, and social help, threatened by medicine that argues exclusively "causally" and is oriented toward the natural sciences.25 There is no mention of the threat posed by political ideologies. Even in view of the totalitarian dictatorship of 1943, it would certainly be an overinterpretation to assume that von Bergmann intended to allude to the rigor of National Socialism by describing the analytical coldness of the natural sciences. Clearly recognizable and conspicuous, however, is that von Bergmann's book lacks the otherwise widespread homage to the Nazi regime. At the same time, it is remarkable that a National Socialist science organizer, such as Max de Crinis, took up von Bergmann's considerations positively, considered himself to be "in perfect agreement with v. Bergmann" and called for greater consideration of psychological factors for physical suffering in anamnesis.26 This cannot be surprising, since von Bergmann speaks of the fact that "numerous facts of pathology aim at struggle, defense, protection, replacement, eradication, restoration, healing."27
No Help for Persecuted Employees
The potential of his Jewish employees was not of much concern to von Bergmann. If they were threatened by the new rulers, as was the case with the likes of Ernst Wollheim, Herbert Herxheimer, Bernhard Kugelmann, Ernst Mislowitzer, Siegfried Seelig, Samuel Georg Zondek, or Martin Goldner, he did not intercede on their behalf, but worried about efficient cooperation between government authorities and the administration of the Charité.28 He did not use any discretionary powers, but asked the ministries for clear guidelines. In doing so, von Bergmann made use of his good personal connections. For example, he succeeded in reaching Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen within "a few hours" in March 1933.29 He also conferred with Ministerial Councillors Emil Breuer and Justus Theodor Valentiner.30 He wanted to make sure that contradictions in the "instructions of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture" on the dismissal of "Jews" were eliminated in order to achieve a standardization of "unclear formalities."31
Sober Enforcer of Nazi Injustice
Reading the minutes of the faculty meeting of March 28, 1933, von Bergmann, then vice-dean, appears as the sober enforcer of Nazi injustice: "The vice-dean makes known that he has informed all non-salaried staff of his clinic – insofar as they are of Jewish descent – by official notice that they will definitely have to leave on Friday, March 31, 1933. Doubts remained only with regard to the medical trainees who had not yet completed the 4 months of training in internal medicine. Here, therefore, a decision was impossible, since it is to be made by the competent authority, the Prussian Ministry of the Interior."32
In addition, the Berlin faculty doubted that Jews who had converted to Christianity should also be affected by the new regulations. To clarify the open questions, a commission was established, which included von Bergmann as well as the renowned surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch and the pediatrician Georg Bessau, who would later be responsible for vaccination experiments on mentally and physically handicapped children.33 The commission convened on March 30 "through the mediation of Herr Sauerbruch" for a meeting with Breuer and Landgerichtsrat Karl Schnöring from the Ministry of Culture and the later "Reichsgesundheitsführer" (Reich Health Leader) Leonardo Conti from the Prussian Ministry of the Interior.34 In allowing individual exceptions for extraordinary or indispensable persons and postponing a decision with regard to the medical trainees, the ministries' expectations were clearly stated. "All Jews without distinction of religion in paid and unpaid positions" were to be dismissed.35 There was no criticism from the vice-dean or other participants in the following special faculty meeting on March 3. On the contrary, the minutes note, "The faculty members present raise no further concerns and, noting their loyalty, are prepared to make the anticipated personnel changes so that most of the notices can be delivered before April 1, the next day."36
The Public Ignoring of One-Time Employee Martin Goldner
This April 1, 1933 was the day of the boycott of Jewish businesses and practices that had been imposed by the Nazi regime. Gustav von Bergmann used the occasion to disseminate an order at a staff meeting that "Jewish assistants were not allowed to enter the grounds or clinics of the Charité."37 This was handed down by Martin Goldner, one of von Bergmann's most important assistants. As a resident, he worked for his boss and was instrumental in the preparation of his major work, "Funktionellen Pathologie". Von Bergmann acknowledged this by naming Goldner in the title of the first edition of the work.38
In the second edition, four years later, von Bergmann concealed the collaboration of his Jewish collaborator, who had meanwhile been dismissed and emigrated later. Instead, von Bergmann placed a political fanfare at the beginning of the work. Not "crisis" but "clinical reformation" was the order of the day: "We are facing a revolutionary era in the new Germany, which obliges and enlists the physician more strongly for the general good and has also taken upon itself the great task of further medical education, which is to be provided to all physicians."39 Von Bergmann also counted "genetic science for human beings" as part of this, which – after Mendel's discoveries had fallen into oblivion – had recently seen a rapid development and can be transmitted to "the next generation of physicians; indeed our empire strives for genetically healthy offspring and forbids the crossbreeding with foreign blood in heroic laws." 40
Avoiding the term "Neue Deutsche Heilkunde" (New German Medicine), von Bergmann now professed his support for its central demands, advocating, for example, "learning from the ancient experience of popular medicine, adopting 'natural healing methods' from healers on a much wider scale, recognizing which of its undeniable successes in our people are based on what the innate qualities constitute, also in the gifted, scientifically trained physician."41 The ideological and public health adjustments von Bergmann made in his magnum opus in 1936 were carefully noted and disappointed colleagues such as Ludwik Hirszfeld, a Warsaw hematologist and immunologist personally acquainted with him, who had hoped for more steadfastness from Bergmann.42
Not a Blind Accomplice of the NSDAP
Of course, von Bergmann did not develop into a blind vicarious agent of the NSDAP. When the faculty was pressured in 1934 to allow the habilitation of Otto Muntsch, a military district hygienist and senior staff physician, von Bergmann declined to provide a corresponding expert opinion on the "most modest work(s)."43 The SS intended to appoint its Sturmbannführer Bernward Josef Gottlieb, who was teaching in Graz at the time, to the Berlin medical history chair in succession to Paul Diepgen ten years later. Von Bergmann was a member of the appointment committee opposing this request. Despite the intervention of Martin Bormann and Hitler himself, the "competence disputes typical of the Nazi polycracy" did not lead to an appointment until the fall of the regime.44 At this time, von Bergmann had just been awarded the Goethe Medal on the occasion of his 65th birthday and his house had been "totally bombed"; he described his general condition as "good".45
The Removal of the Traube Monument as an Act of Anti-Semitism
While von Bergmann was concerned with scientific qualification in the cases of Muntsch and Gottlieb, he at the same time advocated the dismantling of the memorial of former luminaries of the subject. The monument to the co-founder of experimental pathology, Ludwig Traube (1818-1876), erected in 1895 and placed in front of the new building of the II Medical Clinic of the Charité in 1910, was removed in July 1940.46 Clinic director Gustav von Bergmann let the Charité management know that it was not "in the spirit of the National Socialist state's worldview [...] that the monument to a Jewish professor should stand in front of the clinic."47
Judgmental and Influential
Von Bergmann is commonly counted among the twelve full professors who shaped the Charité from the Weimar Republic through to the Nazi era and into the years of Soviet occupation.48 His influence grew rapidly and his vote carried weight, even when it came to new appointments such as after Richard Siebeck's departure from the Charité in 1941. As chairman of the appointment committee, he not only dealt with favorites (Nonnenbruch ahead of Friedrich Koch and Assmann), but also had a keen eye over the majority of his colleagues. He did not spare clear judgment: he considered Max Bürger (Leipzig) "less suitable", "his medical personality" appeared "less winning". Helmuth Bohnenkamp (Freiburg) had "physically slackened". He criticized Kurt Gutzeit (Breslau), saying that Gutzeit's former colleagues Heinrich Teitge (Berlin) and Gustav Wilhelm Parade (Innsbruck) had been "very much involved" in the creation of his most important works. Hanns Löhr (Kiel) appeared "brusque," was "controversial" with his iodine research, and had also published a "popular work."49
At the first congress of the GDNÄ after the end of the war, Gustav von Bergmann found words of mourning and remembrance that seemed sincere.50By contrast, his semiphilosophical paper "Neues Denken in der Medizin" presented two years after the end of the Nazi regime, is surprising in its falling back on antiquity, emphasising the "unity of body and soul," and ignoring immediate past history, which should definitely have been taken into account in the tile he had chosen.51
Walter Amelung, who had known von Bergmann since the early 1920s and had experienced him during his time in Frankfurt as "suavely elegant, amiable, witty, with charming bedside manners, and scientifically bubbling over with new ideas," described him as having "aged prematurely, but still superior at congresses" after the war.52 Hans Heinrich Berg and Gerhardt Katsch – whom von Bergmann himself described as his "oldest and most related collaborator"53– come to a similar conclusion.
At the II Medical University Hospital in Munich, which von Bergmann still presided over in 1953 at the age of 74, he increasingly encountered criticism over the years – not for political reasons, but because of his declining performance. A student, Hellmut Mehnert, who later became chairman of the DGIM, was falsely presented by von Bergmann in the lecture hall as suffering from tubercular septicemia with an unfavorable prognosis. Later, von Bergmann refused to represent Mehnert's dissertation, which had received a summa cum laude from Hans Ley, to the faculty, as he said that he lacked the strength to do so.