Hans Hirschfeld grew up in Berlin as the son of the Jewish merchant Seelig Hirschfeld and his wife Gittel (Henriette), née Eppenstein.1 After graduating from the Lessing Gymnasium, he took up medical studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in 1891. He received his license to practice medicine there in 1897 and received his doctorate the same year at Rudolf Virchow's Institute of Pathology under Oscar Israel (1854-1907) with a thesis on the morphology of leukocytes.2 He received an award from the Paderstein Foundation for his dissertation.3
Hirschfeld completed his medical residency under Alfred Goldscheider (1858-1935) and Georg Klemperer (1865-1946) at the hospital in Moabit. Hirschfeld earned both a specialist degree in internal medicine and advanced training in neurology. He then set up a practice in the immediate vicinity of the hospital (Alt-Moabit 110). When Klemperer took over part-time management of the Institute for Cancer Research at the Charité in 1910, he made Hirschfeld head of the laboratory and later also his intern responsible for outpatient care. In this way Hirschfeld came into the working environment of Artur Pappenheim (1870-1916), with whom he shared a pronounced research interest in hematological issues. Together with Theodor Brugsch (1878-1963) and Ernst Grawitz (1860-1911) they founded the Berlin Hematological Society in 1908.4
Research at the Institute for Cancer Research in Berlin
Ferdinand Blumenthal (1870-1941) was appointed as the new director of the Institute for Cancer Research in 1917. He was responsible for expanding and modernizing the institute and strengthening its reputation as an internationally recognized research institution. Hirschfeld, who had habilitated in 1918 with a thesis on pernicious anemia and had been appointed professor (extraordinarius) in 1922, was given his own department of hematology and histology at the institute.5 It became a magnet for many scientists, also from abroad.
Hirschfeld's research covered the entire spectrum of hematology. Special emphasis was placed on distinguishing the different types of leukemia, spleen function, and laboratory diagnostic methods. Many of his histological and hematological investigations drew on and further developed corresponding basic research by Virchow, Ehrlich, and Pappenheim. Among other things, Hirschfeld proved the connection between Howell-Jolly corpuscles and asplenia.6 Hirschfeld's efforts to establish a clearly understandable nomenclature within hematology were considered a further important achievement. In addition to research, Hirschfeld always remained clinically active and was one of the first in Germany to introduce patient-friendly fine needle puncture of tumors.7
Hirschfeld published a total of more than 160 technical papers. His " Lehrbuch der Blutkrankheiten für Ärzte und Studierende" that was published in 1918, also gained international recognition. A second edition was published in 1928.8 Hirschfeld edited Pappenheim's "Haematologische Bestimmungstafeln" after the latter's death.9 Hirschfeld was the co-editor, together with Anton Hittmair (1892-1986), of the "Handbuch der allgemeinen Hämatologie" (1932-34), a four-volume, more than 3,000-page overview of the still young discipline.
The Folia Haematologica was a project that was particularly close to his heart. Founded by Pappenheim as the first international journal for hematology in 1904, Hirschfeld not only contributed numerous articles of his own, but was also a member of the editorial team. After Pappenheim's death in 1916, he continued the journal and was its co-publisher and main editor from 1920, along with Otto Naegeli (1871-1938) and Hal Downey (1877-1959).
Hirschfeld's research and specialist contributions had earned him a reputation as a leading representative of hematology in Germany by about 1930, and he was one of the most internationally renowned experts in his field.10
Repressions Under the National Socialist Regime
Hans Hirschfeld married Rosa Todtmann (1875-1948) on November 24, 1903. The couple had two daughters, Ilse (*1904) and Käthe (*1906). Together with Rosa's sister Else, the family was baptized as Protestants in the Dankes-Kirche (church of praise) in Berlin in 1908.11 Nevertheless, Hirschfeld and his family were considered "Jewish" by the National Socialists and thus became victims of the anti-Semitic NS policies.
A group of Nazi supporters prevented Hirschfeld and numerous other Jewish physicians from reaching their jobs at the Charité on April 1, 1933, as part of the so-called "Jewish boycott." Hirschfeld was formally granted leave of absence about one month later, on May 5, 1933. His teaching license and position were terminated in September 1933 under §3 of the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service"12 Just a short while before, Hirschfeld had been taking care of his cousin, the chemist and managing director of Ruilos GmbH, Georg Eppenstein (1867-1933), who had been brutally tortured by SA members in June 1933 during the so-called "Köpenicker Blutwoche" (Köpenick's Week of Blood) that he died of the consequences at the Charité in August 1933.13
The National Socialist authorities banned Hirschfeld from publishing in 1936.14 When his license to practice medicine was also revoked in 1938, he worked as a so-called "Krankenbehandler" (NS-terminology for a Jewish doctor allowed to treat Jewish patients only). The cancellation of Jewish leases the same year, forced Hirschfeld and his wife to leave their apartment at Alt-Moabit 110. The couple moved into an apartment on the second floor of the Droysenstrasse 18, garden house, where Hirschfeld presumably also practiced. He took a position at the Jewish Hospital with Hermann Strauss (1868-1944) and became head of the chemical-serological-bacteriological laboratory there. The family' assets were levied in 1940 and confiscated for the benefit of the "Third Reich".15
Late Plans for Emigration
Hirschfeld regarded National Socialism as a temporary phenomenon.16 Despite the increasingly severe restrictions on his public and professional life, he turned down job offers from abroad. Although the Emergency Association of German Scientist in London had a record of Hirschfeld and the List of Displaced German Scholars listed him at the Jewish Hospital in Buenos Aires from 1934, emigration to South America never took place.17 Hirschfeld felt protected from National Socialist attacks primarily by his position as co-editor of the Folia Haematologica. When he was forced to give up the editorship of the journal after Otto Naegeli's death in 1938, he was very much affected.18From this point on, Hirschfeld made serious, but unsuccessful efforts to emigrate. His letters of request for employment at institutes in London, New York and Oslo remained without positive response.19
Viktor Schilling (1883-1960) succeeded him as editor of Folia Haematologica. The readers were not informed about the background of Hirschfeld's resignation.
Professional Exclusions on Political Grounds
The German Hematological Society was founded in Bad Pyrmont in 1937 on the initiative of Viktor Schilling, Werner Schultz (1878-1944), and Hans Schulten (1899-1965), and the first International Hematology Conference was held in Münster and Bad Pyrmont a few months later. Schilling, who had been head of the medical clinic in Münster since 1934 in succession to Paul Krause (1871-1934), took over the chairmanship of the meeting. Hirschfeld, on the other hand, was neither invited nor was there any publicly documented inquiry about him or other Jewish colleagues. In his opening address, which included a historical outline of hematology, Schilling mentioned him in passing.20 Overall, the conference proceeded according to National Socialist guidelines.21
The German Society for Internal Medicine no longer listed Hirschfeld as a member after 1933. The Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift, one of Hirschfeld's most frequent places of publication, also stopped printing his papers after 1933.
Deportation and Death in Theresienstadt
The Hirschfelds were deported from Berlin to Theresienstadt on Transport I/74 no. 9464 on October 30, 1942.22 Any remaining assets were confiscated as "Heimeinkauf" (home purchases, which were to guarantee life-long lodging, board, and healthcare). Their daughters had already emigrated in the 1930s and survived the Holocaust in exile in the United States and England, respectively.23 Hirschfeld took up a consulting position in the ghetto's central chemical-medical laboratory at Theresienstadt and organized courses on hematology in the continuing education program initiated by Jewish physicians. Hirschfeld died on August 26, 1944, at the age of 72; the exact circumstances of his death are not known.24His body was cremated two days later in the crematorium. His wife Rosa survived and emigrated to England to join her daughter Käthe. She died in 1948.
Engaging with the Past: Denial, Coming to Terms, Commemoration
Despite his international reputation, Hirschfeld initially remained largely forgotten and marginalized after 1945. He was hardly cited by domestic authors, in contrast to those abroad.25 Hirschfeld was also no longer mentioned in the second edition of the "Handbuch der Allgemeinen Hämatologie" published with Anton Hittmair in 1957-69. He had been replaced by the co-editor Ludwig Heilmeyer (1899-1969), who had already contributed to the first edition. Hittmair wrote a short obituary on Hirschfeld, which was published in the American journal "Blood" in 1948.26
Schilling, by now a full professor in Rostock, paid tribute to Hirschfeld and others in a collective obituary in the first post-war issue of Folia Haematologica. He praised Hirschfeld as a "classic" and spoke of his "harrowing descriptions of the concentration camp Theresienstadt"; his merit for the Folia Haematologica was not mentioned though.27
It was not until 1986 that a commemorative event took place, which was also attended by the editor-in-chief of Folia Haemotologica and which became part of an extensive reappraisal of Hirschfeld's fate. Subsequently, Folia Haematologica featured his name on the cover again until the journal was discontinued in 1990. The German Society for Hematology and Oncology (DGHO) paid tribute to Hirschfeld in 2012 at its 75th anniversary congress with an exhibition and extensive documentation.28
A "Stolperstein" (stumbling stone) was laid in in commemoration of Hans Hirschfeld in front of his last home at Droysenstrasse 18 (Charlottenburg) on March 17, 2011, with the support of the DCHO.29
The University of Ulm named a square at the entrance to the campus after Hans Hirschfeld on October 4, 2021, to commemorate him and his fate.30