Joshua Otto (Owsei) Leibowitz initially grew up in Vilnius.1 His father was a banker, and his eldest sister, who later emigrated to the United States, studied botany. Leibowitz's mother died when he was only 32, as did a younger brother. After his mother's death, the family moved to Riga, where Leibowitz attended high school. After graduating from high school, he studied medicine in Heidelberg under Ludolf von Krehl (internal medicine), Viktor von Weizsäcker (neurology), Hans Driesch (biology), and Karl Jaspers (philosophy and psychiatry), among others. He was instructed in religious studies by Rabbi Salman Baruch Rabinkow, whose students included the social philosopher Erich Fromm. Due to the war, Leibowitz had to interrupt his studies and came to Baden-Baden and Bad Nauheim as a "civil prisoner". He received his doctorate in 1922 with a dissertation written under the name Owsei Leibowitz on "Über die Prädilektion reflektorischer Erregbarkeiten" (On the Predilection of Reflexive Excitabilities), which was republished in 1928 under the title "Reflexmechanismus spastischer Lähmungen" (Reflex Mechanism of Spastic Paralysis).
Curative Physician in Bad Homburg
He worked at the Gdansk Municipal Hospital under the direction of the neurologist Adolf Wallenberg from 1923 to 1925. He moved to the Dr. Goldschmidt Sanatorium in Bad Homburg von der Höhe in 1926, where he took over medical leadership from the founder Siegfried Goldschmidt. The National Socialists forced Leibowitz to change his life plans. He probably resigned from the sanatorium in 1935. Already involved in Jewish communal life, he now lectured on Jewish medical history, such as Maimonides, at the Free Jewish Teaching House in Frankfurt am Main.
Doctor and Medical Historian in Jerusalem
Well acquainted with Zionist thought, Leibowitz decided to emigrate to Palestine via France in 1935. Apparently, he returned to Europe several times until 1937 though, probably also to Nazi Germany. In Israel, Leibowitz became a medical historian and professor (1959) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He had previously been the head physician of the Arza Sanatorium near Jerusalem until 1948, an institution of Kupat Holim, the health insurance fund of the Israeli trade union movement Histadrut. He also ran a private practice. Leibowitz ran the largest military hospital in Jerusalem during the wartime turmoil that followed the founding of the State of Israel.
Leibowitz was honored many times, even in old age. He served as president of the "International Academy of the Histroy of Medicine" from 1979 to 1986. 2 He died at the age of 98.