Leopold Lichtwitz was born in Ohlau in the Czech Republic on December 9, 1876. His father Jakob Lichtwitz (1843-1920) was the royal district physician and privy medical councilor there. The magistrate thanked him warmly for his "exceedingly great services" in 1920. Jakob Lichtwitz had already been an honorary citizen of Ohlau since 1913.1
Joining the DGIM
After graduating from high school in Ohlau in 1896, Leopold Lichtwitz studied medicine in Breslau, Munich, Freiburg im Breisgau, and Leipzig. He received his doctorate in Leipzig with a dissertation on the influence of mustard oil on the absorption of fat in the small intestine in 1901. He stayed on as a general practitioner in his hometown of Ohlau until 1906. He then went on to study chemistry and physical chemistry in Leipzig in 1906/07, before he became an assistant physician at the Medical Polyclinic in Freiburg im Breisgau. He moved to a position as assistant physician at the Medical Clinic in Göttingen on January 1, 1908, where he habilitated in internal medicine in December of the same year. He was appointed senior physician at the Medical Clinic in the spring of 1910 and was entrusted with the management of the Medical Polyclinic in October 1910. His name is listed in the DGIM membership directory for the first time in 1911. He was appointed "Titularprofessor" (honorary professor) in 1913.
Successor to Bergmann in Altona
Lichtwitz moved to the Altona Municipal Hospital as Gustav von Bergmann's successor in 1916, during the founding phase of the medical faculty in Hamburg. Here he first took charge of the internal medicine department and eventually rose to become director of the hospital. He appeared as a "passionate modernizer."2 He advocated a "consistent decentralization of teaching at the bedside."3 In this he found the full support of Max Brauer, later mayor of Altona and Hamburg's first mayor, who was the city treasurer at the time.4 Under Lichtwitz, specific modernization measures in Altona included the establishment of a resting area and a roof garden for tuberculosis patients, a bath department, a hospital pharmacy, an X-ray department and a chemical laboratory. 5 Lichtwitz was soon regarded as a teacher "with a sharp mind" and "a sense of humor that was slightly sarcastic but always to the point [...] characterized by a deep and genuine humanity."6
Hans Adolf Krebs and Arthur Jores Among the Staff
Lichtwitz's Hamburg collaborators included future Nobel laureate Hans Adolf Krebs, who was dismissed as a Jew in Freiburg in 1933 and fled to Cambridge, England, and Arthur Jores, who was demoted by the Nazis, due to his contacts with Lichtwitz. He was promoted to Eppendorf clinic director, Hamburg university principal, and DGIM honorary member after 1945.7 Lichtwitz's book "Klinische Chemie" (Clinical Chemistry) first published in 1918 and considerably expanded in 1930, became a standard work.8 For the "Handbuch der normalen und pathologischen Physiologie" (Manual of Normal and Pathological Physiology)" (1929), he collaborated with later National Socialists such as Alfred Schwenkenbecher as well as with later persecutees such as Abraham Adler and Julius Strasburger.
The 1902 marriage to Gertrud Bielschowsky (1879-1947) remained childless. He participated in World War I for a short time as a war-volunteer doctor and leader of a Red Cross column. He was a co-signer of the war euphoric "Erklärung der Hochschullehrer des Deutschen Reichs" (Declaration of the University Teachers of the German Reich) supported by over 3,000 professors and university lecturers In 1914.9
DGIM Chairman 1932/33
Lichtwitz left Altona to become director of the Rudolf Virchow Hospital in Berlin in 1931, where he established a "'Diagnostikum' (diagnostic center)' for special metabolic examinations".10 By this time, Lichtwitz was already a member of the board of the DGIM and had been chosen as chairman and congress president for 1933. He had almost completed his planning for the congress, when Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933. The DGIM deemed it opportune shortly after, to relieve the physician – who had been vilified as a Jew by the new anti-Semitic rulers – of the task intended for him.
Lichtwitz had presented his concept for the congress meant to take place one year later at the DGIM committee meeting on April 13, 1932. He advocated "topics" that "have not yet been dealt with at the congress" and named "social and occupational medicine" as a priority. "Furthermore", the minutes of the committee meeting state, "the significance of heavy metals for physiological and pathological processes could be discussed." Other topics he mentioned were "the involvement of the skeleton in internal diseases" and "the transformations in the adrenal problem." Obviously, there were no objections, but additional suggestions were made. Paul Morawitz as DGIM chairman suggested "a neurological topic" to keep the congress attractive for psychiatrists and specialist neurologists. Ludolph Brauer (Hamburg) then demanded, with approval, "real organ neurology must be interrelated to internal medicine." In addition, Morawitz mentioned the subject of "brain tumors", Paul Martini (Bonn) "The diseases of the efferent urinary tract" and Brauer "in connection with occupational diseases: The dangers of gas poisoning and gas protection."11
Dismissal Prior to the Wiesbaden Congress
The routine preparations that had been set in motion following the thematic deliberations, were discussed within the DGIM subsequently to the change of government of January 30, 1933, and were soon steered in a different direction. DGIM chairman Alfred Schittenhelm, who had been designated for 1934, officially took the initiative in consultation with managing director Anton Géronne in March 1933. Vice Chairman Paul Morawitz had been away for three weeks, including a trip to Egypt.12
Schittenhelm submitted the question "whether it is at present tenable for Professor Lichtwitz to chair the Congress" to the committee members in a circular letter classified as "strictly confidential on March 22, 1933. It goes on to say: "Professor Lichtwitz himself suggested in a letter Dr. Géronne has just received that the responsible circles of the Congress were considering whether changes might be necessary, and he also pointed out that the Congress as such could be postponed, though he did not mention that his resignation was a possibility."13
Because Executive Director Géronne declared that the "adjournment of Congress" would "not be such a good idea" and Schittenhelm apparently ruled out a Congress in keeping with tradition, committee members had to choose among three options:
"1. Professor Lichtwitz does not chair the convention, but another committee member does, for instance Vice Chair Professor Morawitz.
2. The congress meets under the chairmanship of Professor Lichtwitz as a purely scientific meeting, but there is no banquet with the usual speeches.
3. The congress will not be held at all this [sic] year."14
Schittenhelm himself pretended to favor the second model, but pointed out the difficulty that would exist with regard to a telegram to the Reich President and especially to a birthday telegram to be sent to Hitler on April 20: "Professor Lichtwitz, as chairman, would then have to give notice of the sending of the telegrams in his opening speech on behalf of the committee. If Professor Lichtwitz did not agree to this solution, then the Vice-Chairman would have to chair the Congress. Canceling the Congress should be out of the question, since our Congress also has the duty, in my opinion, to take a position on the reorganization in a positive sense."15
With this, Schittenhelm had expressed that he wanted to bring the DGIM in line with National Socialism. He was successful with this request. Even a NS-critical committee member such as Paul Martini only cautiously took Lichtwitz under his wing, admittedly pleading for a clear, not further restricted implementation of the second option. Martini wrote on March 24, 1933:
"A change of chairman without Mr. LICHTWITZ himself declining to preside, would not be in keeping with the dignity of the Congress, which would thereby have disavowed itself. It would also be an unchivalrous act toward Mr. LICHTWITZ, whose person has not changed since his election by Congress. If Congress made a mistake at that time, it will have to answer for the consequences, but it cannot make someone else pay for it. The third proposal, to skip the Congress altogether this year, would be an escape, [...] a breach of duty. On the other hand, the second suggestion [...] seems to me to be the correct one. The banquet is not a necessary part of a scientific meeting, but under the chairmanship of Mr. Lichtwitz, it would almost inevitably lead to conflicts. It seems to me probable that Mr. Lichtwitz will also see that it will be right both for him and for the Congress as such to make this sacrifice."16
Martini's sincere and Schittenhelm's severely constrained plea for the second option did not prevail. Lichtwitz was urged to resign.
Lichtwitz himself observed the proceedings closely and exchanged views with Wolfgang Heubner, among others, who had repeatedly advocated for the left-liberal German Democratic Party (DDP) while in Göttingen during the Weimar Republic.17 Heubner was a DGIM member and, as successor to Paul Trendelenburg, had been director of the Pharmacological Institute at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin since 1932. He wrote in his diary on March 23, 1933: "Leo Lichtwitz recounted that the administrative director of the Virchow Hospital had been deposed and 4 physicians had been arrested. In the Reichstag, adoption of a far-reaching enabling act for the Reich government for a period of 4 years with the votes of the Center and the State Party; only the Social Democrats opposed. Speech duel between Wels (Socialist) and Reich Chancellor Hitler. About five sixths of all votes in favor of the government (hypnosis or clear minded action?)."18
Escape to New York
Lichtwitz had no doubts whatsoever that the escalation of the situation would have consequences for his position within the DGIM. Apparently he did not find unfettered solidarity anywhere, and prominent DGIM members, such as Gustav von Bergmann, turned their backs on him completely. Lichtwitz decided to leave Germany during the last days of March. Wolfgang Heubner noted on March 26, 1933: "Call from Lichtwitz in the morning that he had been asked by some board or committee members to resign from the chairmanship of the congress in Wiesbaden. I was for postponement of the congress, Bergmann, with whom I spoke, for holding it without Lichtwitz."19Heubner recorded on March 30, 1933, exactly two months after the beginning of Hitler's chancellorship: "In the evening Lichtwitz and wife left for Switzerland."20 The Lichtwitz couple never returned to Germany.
Alfred Schittenhelm reported to the committee on the circumstances "which determined Mr. Lichtwitz to resign as chairman" on April 17, 1933. Subsequently and at Lichtwitz's request, a survey of the committee members had taken place: "Most of the committee members would have expressed themselves in favor of holding the congress on the scheduled date and of Mr. Lichtwitz's resignation from his position as chairman for this year."21
The very fact that a physician regarded as Jewish had been appointed by the DGIM as its chairman in 1932/33 could have been cause for solidarity with a colleague who was obviously restricted in his rights and threatened. This did, however, not happen. Lichtwitz left a gap at the Wiesbaden congresses. Herbert Elias, a colleague from Vienna nine years younger than Lichtwitz, recalled Lichtwitz in a German-language New York newspaper in 1943: "At the annual congresses of the German Society of Internal Medicine, he and his school always had something new to add. His witty and sharp discussions and speeches, as well as his whimsical toasts, delighted his audience." Elias remarked about Lichtwitz in general: "As a physician of the consilium, Lichtwitz offered extraordinary support due to his great clinical experience, his clever common sense, and his profound knowledge of human nature. [...] Apart from this, everyone who came into contact with Lichtwitz as a person was spellbound by his personality. Everyone felt the straight character in this person, who hit the nail on the head without any ado, sometimes dryly factual, sometimes with a joke. If squeamish souls felt unjustly hurt by his manner, it was Lichtwitz himself who regretted it the most."22
Lichtwitz kept company with many scholars. For example, he left a note in Albert Einstein's guest book in 1932.23 Einstein had spent the summer vacation in Scharbeutz under Lichtwitz's care four years earlier.24 Even after that, Lichtwitz – who was in Altona – still paid Einstein medical visits when he was in Berlin, and "firmly took charge of him", which was met by a certain reticence on the part of Einstein. 25 At first Lichtwitz demanded that Einstein take it easy, then that he "give up the refuge of illness."26 It should be noted that Lichtwitz was happy to provide information about Einstein's state of health among his acquaintances.27 Perhaps for this reason, Fritz Haber, who suffered from a heart condition, refrained from consulting Lichtwitz, although he had been advised to do so.28
Montefiore Hospital and Columbia University
Lichtwitz's new path took him to the United States. One of his confidants there was the opinionated Gustav Peter Bucky.29 Bucky, who had already worked at New York hospitals from 1923 to 1930 and had obtained American citizenship, headed the X-ray Institute at Rudolf Virchow Hospital during the last years of the Weimar Republic. He returned to the United States in 1933, under pressure of the new political circumstances.30 He was considered Lichtwitz's advocate in New York, together with the reformer of medical studies in the United States and member of the Leopoldina, Abraham Flexner, so that he was thus quickly able to obtain a senior position at Montefiore Hospital.31 Although Isidore Snapper was initially designated for the position of "Head of the Medical Department of Montefiore Hospital New York C" as the "first choice" of hospital director Ephraim Michael Bluestone,32 Snapper remained in Amsterdam for the time being. Thus Lichtwitz was able to take over the chief resident position, plus a professorship at Columbia University.33
Soberly, pathologist Heinrich Zangger noted in a letter to Albert Einstein in November 1934, "I just received papers from Lichtwitz, a year ago he was still very depressed in Locarno, when I wrote to Abraham Flexner, now he is chief at Montefiore."34 Lichtwitz was not uncontroversial at Montefiore Hospital. To some, he was considered "a figure from the past," a "Prussian aristocrat."35 This was not only due to his habitus, but also to his skepticism about new pharmacotherapeutic procedures. Thus, he rejected treatments with the drug sulfanilamide – possibly under the impression of the "Elixir Tragedy (Sulfanilamide Disaster)" (1937).36 Lichtwitz himself was so dissatisfied with the conditions at Montefiore that he aroused anger during the farewell party given in his honor in 1941. He compared hospitals in the United States and Germany in front of 200 guests and concluded that the American ones – and Montefiore in particular – were significantly worse.37 Rudolf Nissen, who was well acquainted with Lichtwitz, later recalled that Lichtwitz's behavior had always been characterized by his "sense of intellectual cleanliness" as well as an "uncompromising truthfulness that could not be shaken by anything". It was not without bitterness that Nissen further noted: "It became apparent here in New York that this gnarled tree could no longer be transplanted. Though he was able to externally adapt to new professional circumstances, he was unable to feel at home."38
Self-Confident and Open to Criticism
Lichtwitz also had a conflictual situation with Albert Einstein. Lichtwitz had still conveyed greetings from Albert Einstein to Heinrich Zangger in the winter of 1937/38, when the latter was again seeking rest in Interlaken (Switzerland).39 Later, however, there were fierce disagreements between Lichtwitz, on the one hand, and his friends Bucky and Einstein, on the other.40 Bucky and Einstein jointly patented a camera that automatically regulated the incidence of light in 1940. Lichtwitz had organized an event for his new clinic, to which Bucky did not receive an invitation, but Einstein did. In a letter to Lichtwitz, Einstein leaves no doubt about his disgruntlement: "Today I learned by chance that Mr. Bucky [...] has not been invited. I must assume that this is an insulting intention towards my dearest local friend who, through his achievements in the field of medicine, and no less through his acts of self-sacrificing friendship towards you, would have had quite different rights to such an invitation than I! I feel this so painfully that it is simply impossible for me [...] to attend the celebration."41 The friendship between Bucky and Einstein continued until Einstein's death in 1955.42
On the "List of Harmful and Undesirable Writings"
The National Socialists did not lose sight of Lichtwitz. After he published his "Pathologie der Funktionen und Regulationen" (Pathology of Functions and Regulations) with Leiden-based publisher Sijthoff in 1936, the book soon found itself on their "Liste des schädlichen und unerwünschten Schrifttums" (list of harmful and undesirable writings).43 Lichtwitz declares in the preface: "This is the book of a physician who has had the great good fortune to work within a framework of excellent collaborators under the most favorable conditions both in the Old as well as the New World."44 This remark was not criticized by the censors of the Nazi state, while other text passages were very much criticized in a report for the Secret State Police. Among other things, it says: "Another derogatory criticism of the political leaders of our time and especially of the relatively young statesmen of the Reich is found in the following remarks. P. 16: 'Between the fortieth and seventieth year the highest, spiritual activity is developed. History and the present show great old men as leaders. But history also teaches, and the future will make it terribly clear, what leadership by immature spirits incapable of maturation means for mankind'. On the basis of the passages cited and the fact that the author is a Jew, [sic] objection is raised to the distribution of this book."45
Lichtwitz also refrained from commenting on the political situation in most of his other works, which were often published in the United States and not infrequently dedicated to Montefiore Hospital.46 At most, references to his biography offered some explanation, such as "the difficulty which one encounters in writing in another than his native tongue."47
Attempt at Damnatio Memoriae
The year Lichtwitz's "Pathologie der Regulationen und Funktionen" was published, the DGIM initiated a damnatio memoriae: from 1936 his name no longer appeared on the annually renewed list of former board members who were still alive. This did not prevent colleagues who were friends of Lichtwitz' from staying in touch with the man who had been forced into emigration. Wolfgang Heubner visited Mr. and Mrs. Lichtwitz in the USA in the early summer, and was pleased with the comparatively good position Lichtwitz had achieved.48 Lichtwitz's former assistant Arthur Jores had fallen out of favor with the National Socialists shortly before, because he had sent one of his publications to Lichtwitz in New York with a personal dedication, which had not gone unnoticed.
At the same time, Lichtwitz did not turn his back on his friends in Europe. He traveled to Switzerland to participate in the "Schweizer Medizinischen Woche" in Interlaken in September 1937. Here he met, among others, Heubner, Nissen and Otto Loewi, who had recently been awarded the Nobel Prize. The "Medical Week", initiated by the Basel clinic director and DGIM member Alfred Gigon in 1935, provided a forum for exchange and meeting for numerous displaced Jewish scientists.49 It was not without satisfaction that Heubner noted in his diary that "Leo Lichtwitz had given a lecture on the regulatory disorders of carbohydrate metabolism that was fabulously rich in content and carried intellectual level."50
When Lichtwitz died in 1943, Rudolf Nissen delivered the eulogy at the "Rudolf Virchow Medical Society" in New York.51In National Socialist Germany, any professional public commemoration of him was omitted. It was only after the end of the war and three years after Lichtwitz's passing that Wolfgang Heubner recalled Leopold Lichtwitz: "The long-cherished hope of seeing him working among us in a free Germany once again has been painfully dashed."52
The DGIM has been awarding the Leopold Lichtwitz Medal to physicians who can look back on an extraordinary lifetime of achievement since 2014.