Ernst Heilner was the son of the Jewish merchant Max Heilner (1838-1903) and his wife Franziska (Fanny), née Strauß (1846-1915).
After graduating from the Eberhard Ludwig Gymnasium in Stuttgart in 1896, Heilner moved to Munich and began studying medicine. After sitting the preliminary medical exams, he moved to Berlin, but returned to Munich for his final exams and his doctorate. He received his license to practice medicine in 1902, and was awarded his doctorate the same year under Otto von Bollinger (1843-1909) with a case study on thymic hypertrophy in adults. He habilitated in physiology under the nutritionist Carl von Voit (1831-1908) with a thesis on the digestion of glucose, also in Munich. As a private lecturer at the Munich Medical Faculty, he remained active in research at the Physiological Institute under von Voit, and from 1908 under Otto Frank (1856-1944). He was appointed associate professor in 1912 and held this position until the Nazis came to power.
Repressions Under the National Socialists
Heilner was dismissed from the Bavarian civil service with immediate effect in accordance with Section 3 of the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" in June 1933. However, he continued to operate a practice as a specialist in internal medicine at Rückertstraße 7 in Munich. Heilner was arrested on November 11, 1938 in the aftermath of the November pogroms, and interned at Dachau concentration camp until December 1, 1938, where he was forced to sign a power of attorney for the "liquidaiton" of his real estate; his house at Prinzenstraße 21 in Munich was sold and he himself was obliged to pay rent by explicit order of the "trustee".
Because of the increasing restrictions Heilner faced as a Jewish doctor, the income from his private practice was not sufficient to finance his living. By the time his license to practice medicine had been revoked in 1938, he was faced with an increasingly precarious economic situation; moreover, after the change of ownership, a forced eviction of his house was announced for September 30, 1939. It was under these circumstances that Heilner committed suicide, taking an overdose of morphine in his house on September 13, 1939. He was buried in the Garchinger Straße Jewish Cemetery in Munich.1
Heilner's scientific work focused on metabolic and nutritional issues. He became known for developing various "organo-therapeutic preparations" for gout and arteriosclerosis, including a treatment for gout that involved injecting a cartilage extract into joints to bind and excrete excess uric acid. 2 The method was profitably marketed under the name "Heilner's Sanarthrit" but the theoretical considerations of the mechanism of action could not be confirmed in practice.3
Heilner was active in the Automobile Club of Bavaria and was a member of the supervisory board of Deutsche Linoleum-Werke Aktiengesellschaft, based in Berlin, of which his cousin Richard Heilner (1876-1964) was general director. Moreover, he was very fond of playing the violin.4
Because Heilner had neither married nor had children, he designated his housekeeper Maria Malek (born May 12, 1877 in Libice) as his testamentary heir.5