Gotthold Herxheimer was born in Wiesbaden as the eldest son of the Jewish physician Salomon Herxheimer (1842-1899) and his American wife Fanny, née Livingstone.1 The family moved to Vienna shortly after his birth and from there to Frankfurt am Main, where Herxheimer settled as a dermatologist. Salomon Herxheimer's brother Karl Herxheimer (1861-1942) was also a dermatologist. As a founding member of the University of Frankfurt, he assumed the chair of dermatology and venereology and became leading in his field. He was deported to Theresienstadt, where he died a few months later.2
Gotthold Herxheimer attended the Frankfurt "Realgymnasium" (secondary school) Wöhlerschule and the Städtisches Gymnasium from 1882 until his graduation in 1891. He studied medicine in Strasbourg, Berlin, and Greifswald. He passed the state examination in Greifswald in 1896 and received his doctorate under Friedrich Mosler (1831-1911) with a thesis on scleroderma.3
Herxheimer worked as an intern for the pathologist and Virchow student Johannes Orth (1847-1923) at the University Hospital in Göttingen from 1898. He joined Carl Weigert (1845-1904) two years later at the Pathological-Anatomical Institute of the Senckenberg Foundation in Frankfurt am Main. When a department of pathology was established at the municipal hospital, Herxheimer, who was only 30 years old, took over its management and developed it into one of the leading pathological research institutes in Germany.4 He was awarded the title of professor in 1907 for his intensive research work.
Herxheimer worked on many topics of general, special, and clinical pathology. He wrote about 250 scientific publications.5 He became known especially for his research on diabetes and the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas; he also focused on the relationship between syphilis and acute yellow liver atrophy as well as the pathology of the epithelial corpuscles. As editor of the "Grundriss der pathologischen Anatomie", which dates back to Hans Schmaus (1862-1905), and author of other overview and textbooks, including "Technik der pathologisch-histologischen Untersuchung", Herxheimer also made a fundamental contribution to his subject.6 Some of his publications also bear witness to a (specialist) historical interest.7
Herxheimer served in Belgium during World War I as a pathological anatomist and prosector of the war hospitals on the Western Front.8 Herxheim, who was was patriotically minded, had already served as one-year-volunteer in the royal Bavarian Infantry "Leibregiment" (regiment of the Bavarian Kings).9 He was an enrolled member of the German National People's Party.10
Herxheimer was a founding member of the Association of West German Pathologists (1920) as well as the Economic Association of German Pathological Anatomists (1921), the forerunner of the Federal Association of German Pathologists. He also joined the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians and was elected first executive director of its 92nd Assembly in 1930. In addition to the DGIM, Herxheimer was also involved in the German Pathological Society.
Upheaval in 1933: National Socialist Repressions and Professional Exclusions on Political Grounds
Herxheimer was either non-denominational or had converted to Protestantism.11 Nevertheless, he was classified as "Jewish" by the National Socialists. As a result, he lost his position as head of the Wiesbaden pathological institute in 1933 after more than 30 years of service, for which he had been widely praised the year before on the occasion of his 60th birthday by Anton Géronne (*1881).12
The German Pathological Society (DPG) had elected Herxheimer as its chairman for two years in 1931. However, with the National Socialist takeover in 1933, it quickly showed opportunistic behavior without much resistance. At the intervention of Georg Benno Gruber (1884-1977), the National Socialist-minded secretary of the DPG, the executive committee decided in the spring of 1933 to arrange for Herxheimer's resignation. The reason given was concern about a possible public protest against Herxheimer at the annual meeting planned to take place in Rostock on Whitsun. Gruber relied on a letter from dermatologist and companion Max Busch (1886-1934), who wrote to Gruber on April 12, 1933, regarding the planned meeting: "I would appreciate it if he [Herxheimer] would resign similar to [Leopold] Lichtwitz. I would further recommend to advise Jewish colleagues who have registered lectures to resign. I do not consider it 'opportune' to give the floor to the Jewish colleagues, after notable representatives of the Jewish race have been agitating against the new Germany everywhere, misjudging the damage done by Jews and the oppression of the German national element and aspirations caused or at least strongly favored by them, but never rejected."13
Herxheimer resigned as a consequence of the dwindling support on the board; his predecessor in office, Werner Hueck (1882-1962), took over on an interim basis. The board also decided to postpone the annual meeting in Rostock to the following year in order to guarantee that it would run smoothly. Herxheimer had played a major role in organising and overseeing the meeting preparations.14 This information was, however, not addressed at the meeting. Instead, Hueck stated in his opening address in 1934 that Herxheimer had "prepared the meeting for 1932 and 1933 as chairman [...], but then voluntarily resigned as chairman the previous year."15 Nine years later (1953), the DPG chairman Curt Froboese (1891-1994) made a claim on the treatment of "non-Aryans" in his opening address to the 37th annual meeting in Marburg. He claimed that the professional society had "never – i.e. not even during the years 1933-1945 – struck off any member for such reasons, excluded him, or suggested that he leave the society.16
The Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians (GDNÄ) was also ambivalent about Herxheimer. As the first executive director in 1932, he was responsible for the 92nd meeting of the society and in this capacity gave an address to all participants. In the "Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte" published in 1933, however, the address of the first managing director was not printed, contrary to what was custom in earlier and later conference volumes.17 Nevertheless, Herxheimer was listed in the "negotiations" of 1934 as a member of the board for the scientific committee 1935/36.18 There seems to be no discussion about a possible resignation in the few preserved minutes of the GDNÄ board meetings. Regarding the "movement of members," the minutes of the board meeting in Hanover on September 15, 1934, state in general terms: "It is regrettable that there has been a sharp decline in the number of members. Mr. Rassow reported that as a result of the difficult times and especially because of the departure of many non-Aryans, the number of members, which in the peak year of 1928 was around 8,000, had currently dropped to 4347."19
When Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875-1951), as first chairman of the GDNÄ, gave the ceremonial address at the annual meeting in 1936, he did not mention Herxheimer in the act of commemoration for deceased members, even though his death may already have been known at that time. Ludwig Aschoff (1866-1942), the GDNÄ chairman in 1931/32, in turn only referred to Herxheimer's position as chairman of the DPG in his obituary: "The German Pathological Society elected him [Herxheimer] as its chairman at that time and thus paid him the greatest tribute. Circumstances of time and increasing illness caused him to resign as chairman."20
Trip to Africa
There is no clear answer to what Herxheimer's state of health actually was like in 1933. According to the current state of research, it is unlikely that his state of health influenced his decision to resign.21 All the same, it seems that Herxheimer had been suffering from a heart condition at the end of 1933.22He traveled to Mombasa with his wife Gertrud, née von Pochinger (*1888), at the end of 1933.23 He died of a heart attack in 1936 while on a recreational trip to Simons' Town near Cape Town (South Africa).24