Richard Siebeck

born on 04/10/1883 in Freiburg im Breisgau
died on 05/15/1965 in Heidelberg

DGIM Member – 1965

Appointment as DGIM Honorary Member 1955

Richard Siebeck was born in Freiburg im Breisgau on April 10, 1883. His father was Paul Siebeck, a publisher with an interest in theology who was married to Thekla Landerer, and who launched the "Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche" in 1891, which still exists today.1 Richard Siebeck married Agnes von Müller, the daughter of the Tübingen theologian Karl von Müller, in 1909 and after her death in 1922, married Marie von Rümelin in 1923. She was the daughter of the Tübingen law professor and temporary chancellor of the university, Max von Rümelin. 2

Siebeck took up his medical studies in Tübingen in 1901, but also studied in Freiburg and Berlin for a time. He passed the state examination in Tübingen in 1906, and accepted internships in Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Copenhagen. He received his doctorate in Heidelberg with the dissertation "Versuche über den Kreislauf der Peripherie" in 1907. He remained at the medical clinic there as a physician under Ludolf von Krehl (1908-1914). He habilitated with the thesis "Über die osmotischen Eigenschaften der Nieren" in 1912 . The atrocities of the First World War, during which he served mainly as a hospital physician at Sedan, left their mark on him. This led to an increased preoccupation with questions of faith – he was in contact with Karl Barth – and with social medicine.3

Returning to Heidelberg, Siebeck was appointed associate professor in 1918. He took over as director of the Versorgungsärztliches Beobachtungskrankenhaus in 1921, before accepting a call to Bonn in 1924, where he was appointed director of the medical clinic. He returned to Heidelberg in 1931, where he took over from his teacher Ludolf von Krehl and was appoionted temporary dean. He left Heidelberg again in 1934, this time to work in Berlin as director of the I. Medical Clinic of the Charité and temporarily also as dean. He returned to Heidelberg in 1941, where he headed the Ludolf Krehl Clinic until his retirement in 1951.

Siebeck was awarded the Iron Cross II Class, the Knight's Cross II Class, the Württemberg Friedrich Order, and the Cross of Honor for Frontline Fighters. He became an extraordinary member of the scientific senate of the Army Medical Service in 1935 and a full member in 1939. He was a supporting member of the SS from October 1, 1933, and during the Nazi era also a member of the NS Medical Association, the NS Student Combat Aid, and a staff member of the NSDAP's Office of Public Health. He had been a party member since May 1, 1937.4

Holistic Medicine

Richard Siebeck was rooted in the tradition of a medicine combining approaches of natural science and the humanities viewing the patient as a human being, i.e. as an entity. Ludolf von Krehl – whom Siebeck described as an "honored teacher and fatherly friend" – had a similar approach to this school of thought, along with the second prominent Krehl student, Viktor von Weizsäcker.5 Siebeck appeared as a clinician who appreciated the influence of the youth movement at the universities and its liberal traits, as well as student sports during the Weimar period. He was critical of a "cult of the unspiritual and vigorous," as well as of "corporate life," where too much was drunk and there was a lack of "any social sense and conscience toward girls of supposedly different status," such as  "saleswomen or waitresses".6

Siebeck and Ludolf von Krehl initially successfully objected when Hans Sachs, "Germany's first serologist," was placed on leave of absence for anti-Semitic reasons at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg in 1933.7 As dean of the Heidelberg medical faculty, he was also responsible for a statement of solidarity, which read: "We cannot overlook the fact that German Jewry has shared in the great achievements of science and that great medical personalities have emerged from it. It is precisely as physicians that we feel obliged to represent the standpoint of true humanity within all the requirements of the people and the state, and to assert our concerns where there is a danger that responsible attitudes will be displaced by purely emotional or libidinal forces."8


That Siebeck nevertheless became a supporting party member of the SS and NSDAP party comrade, indicates how "inconsistent and full of various shades of gray" his relationship with National Socialism was.9 Siebeck was among those whose friends were disappointed because of his despondency. 10 His Bonn successor, Paul Martini, made it clear: "The obvious mendacity[,] with which the Jews were being agitated against, was not only seen by a few, to be sure; but insofar as they had already allowed themselves to be accepted into the party, almost all of them felt so subjugated or were really so subjugated that they hardly dared to think freely within themselves, and others had learned in the meantime, to place far too much importance on the concern for their own miserable existence, than daring to speak openly, not even to old acquaintances, whom they knew rejected the 'party' even more harshly than they themselves did. The most bitter experience for me (and also for others) was the behavior of Richard Siebeck, precisely because we held him in particularly high esteem. It began with the fact that he did not call on his close friend Karl Barth – the Protestant theologian and already famous at that time – during a visit to Bonn, as he usually did, after the latter had refused to take the oath of office in 1933. This had, however, been easier for him as a Swiss, than for all of us. Richard Siebeck was first a successor of L. Krehl at his clinic in Heidelberg, then he accepted a call to the Charité in Berlin, although – according to his whole world view, he would have had to reject National Socialism – and with his good name, would give the wrong figurehead for National Socialism in Berlin a fortiori. After he had been in Berlin for a few years, he experienced how the party forced his best student, H. Marx, out of the Charité because he openly admitted to being a member of the Protestant 'Confessing Church'. He finally understood which society he had joined; we did not hold it against him that he did not officially resign from the party, but I avoided him, after he almost implored me to speak much more quietly, while we were having breakfast together at the Hotel Rose during our Wiesbaden Congress. I hope that he finally had an eye-opener by November 1938. To my delight, physicians in the clinical semesters attending his lectures later during the war, told me that he had been a support for many of them, since he had made no secret of his Christian attitude."11

The Instrumentalization of Hellmuth Marx

DGIM member Hellmuth Marx had followed Siebeck from Heidelberg to Berlin in 1934. He had habilitated as his student two years earlier. Because of his Nazi antagonism and as a member of the "Bruderrat der Bekennenden Kirche" (Brother Council of the Confessing Church), Marx had to leave the Charité. He became head of the internal department of the Westphalian Deaconess Institution Sarepta in Bielefeld-Bethel in 1937. His rehabilitation to Münster was rejected, as had been his previous appointment as associate professor in Berlin. He was considered a candidate for the Freiburg chair of internal medicine at the end of the war. But Marx had died of toxic diphtheria in June 1945. For Siebeck's Heidelberg successor, Karl Matthes, he was Siebeck's "best-known and most promising student", who himself called him "the very best."12 Matthes lobbied on behalf of Marx's survivors for his recognition as a victim of Nazi persecution in 1962, probably in vain.13

Astonishingly, Siebeck used Marx in 1949, who had died four years earlier, to exonerate SS-Rottenführer Otto Heinrich Arnold, who had already joined the NSDAP in 1930 and was not a DGIM member. Siebeck claimed that Arnold had been "very close" friends with Marx: "If Arnold had somehow been a dangerous man, Marx would certainly have rejected his friendship."14 In fact, Arnold and Marx had accompanied Siebeck to Berlin in 1934. He returned to Heidelberg in 1943, as Siebeck had two years earlier.15

Return From Berlin to Heidelberg

The assessment of Siebeck by officials in the Reich Ministry of Education varied widely. Werner Jansen, a physican and  department head for university medicine, asked the Minister in 1936 "if he would agree in principle to bring Mr. Siebeck to Leipzig by the most reliable means, of course".16Paul Morawitz had died in Leipzig on July 1, 1936, while the "dissolution of the second medical post of the university" had been undertaken in Berlin, since the new building of the Charité had led to "tremendously high costs".17 Jansen further remarked, "In Siebeck, Berlin loses a man who is at most average; but since the others except Bergmann and Volhard are no better, Leipzig still has the best possible appointment in Siebeck."18 The change did not take place; Siebeck remained in Berlin and was appointed dean. In this capacity he showed a certain steadfastness when it came to the recognition of academically questionable members of the Wehrmacht. After the faculty had rejected an early appointment of Colonel Otto Muntsch as associate professor "for reasons of principle", Siebeck told the Minister of Science that "It should be avoided that more scientifically deserving lecturers, who are not promoted on account of their membership in the army, should be disadvantaged."19 Muntsch was appointed as associate professor a year later, in November 1939 – after already having transferred to Prague.20 Even later, Siebeck advised colleagues to make purely scholarly appointments, citing "embarrassing bows to contemporary figures of grandeur present" at lectures as a negative.21

It was Max de Crinis who in 1941, at least semi-publicly, spoke about Siebeck quite differently than Jansen. The director of the Charité Nervenklinik, who was influential in the Reich Ministry of Education, and an SS Hauptsturmführer, told Ferdinand Hoff, an internist from Königsberg, who had hopes of moving from Königsberg to Heidelberg that "Professor Siebeck here in Berlin would like to transfer to Heidelberg, he is such a good man that we will fulfill his wish."22

Foreign Reports for the Nazi State

Siebeck took advantage of the opportunity he was granted to travel abroad and paid the price of being of service to the regime with political background stories. At least superficially, these reports were not directed against specific individuals. When the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Institut Louis Pasteur was celebrated, during Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Siebeck wrote, among other things: "We first reported to the German Embassy in Paris, where we were most kindly received and advised by Dr. Bräuer, Counsellor of the Embassy. We were also shown great obligingness at the foreign organization of the NSDAP [...] . [...] The mood in Paris was completely calm, the newspapers at first seemed speechless about the tumultous events. The next day a certain exasperation was expressed, partly at our own government, partly at the English, who wanted to send new divisions to help when it was too late. On the whole, the mood toward Germany seemed fairly calm, but extraordinarily irritated toward Italy."23

As head of the German delegation, which also included Professors Laubenheimer (Frankfurt am Main), Peter Mühlens (Hamburg), and Hans Schlossberger (Berlin), Siebeck offered congratulations full of nation-oriented pathos, but without anti-French overtones: "With all nations that share our culture, Germany admiringly honors Louis Pasteur, one of the very greatest scientists and at the same time a true and faithful son of the French people. Science also grows on the soil of the fatherland, from forces rooted in the people, but the great geniuses radiate far beyond borders, their work affects the whole world. Louis Pasteur was such a great man. He was French in body and soul, but what he created bore rich fruit in all countries, not least in Germany. [...] Thus, today German science honors the glorified genius of Louis Pasteur. We are not only honoring the great man of science, we are also honoring the upright and faithful son of his fatherland." Six months before the outbreak of the war, Siebeck recalled the peacemaking potential of science: "Jenner in England, Pasteur in France, and Robert Koch in Germany – what one created cannot be thought of without the others – a symbol of common, peaceful work among peoples."24

Siebeck's distance from the regime sometimes shrank to a barely discernible level. He reviewed the "Ärztliche Rechts- und Standeskunde" by the Nazi health politician Rudolf Ramm in the "Wiener klinische Wochenschrift" as an "excellent overview" in 1943, in which the National Socialists' expectations of the "physician as health educator" and "race nurse" were laid out.25

Strengthening Science at the 1937 Congress

When Siebeck presided over the 1937 Wiesbaden congress of the DGIM, its National Socialist penetration had become a matter of course. Siebeck admittedly benefited from the fact that after the 1936 congress, which had served not least to propagate the "New German Medicine," the DGIM had pressed for more scientific substance and Berlin had held back comparatively. It may be interpreted as criticism of the previous year's congress and the politicization of medical publications, when Siebeck stated during the Congress' opening speech: "We do not want to argue with phrases, but with real findings. [...] It must not be the case that a vast number of papers appear from scientific institutions, basically offering hardly anything of relevance, or information that does not stand up to scrutiny and that proves worthless after a short period of time."26

To foreigners, of course, the atmosphere seemed spooky even in 1937. Willi Raab, Hans Eppinger's assistant in Vienna at the time, later recalled, "More than ever, everything seemed to work with machine-like precision; the military spirit had even entered scientific meetings. Speakers marched in front of a huge swastika, the audience standing at attention thrust their right arms into the air in the manner of ancient Roman circus fighters for the so-called 'German salute', the Führer of the Reich was highly praised both for his statesmanship and especially for his alleged medical merits – probably referring to his rejection of salvarsan as a 'people-poisoning' Jewish insidiousness – and finally, on cue, the salvo like crashing eruption of 'Sieg Heil!', which was repeated three times. There was no indication of the impoverishment of the German people discussed time and again in Austrian government propaganda; on the other hand, both the obtrusive adulation of all party leaders and measures, the fearful shyness of people from discussing current political questions, the atmosphere of mutual distrust and systematically fomented hatred not only against the Jews, but against everything that had had rank and name in Germany before 1933, had an oppressive and unpleasant effect. "27

National Socialist activism in the universities was a horror to Siebeck. He called for state respect for university teaching and research, that there should be no party appointments, and that the individual scientist should be left alone in the truest sense of the word: "Only if universities really fulfill their special task among the people, if they are then granted the high esteem they deserve by all authoritative bodies, and if the goal always beckons to the capable, only then can the profession of university teacher and scholar once again attract the best. We must openly admit that it fills us with concern for our young academics. In this situation something else must be said: 'Talent is formed in silence' – and our stormy times are often not very favorable to this silence. But we also need the talent, the quiet scholar, who may sometimes be pensive and yet lives in full devotion to his work, for his research is also a service to the people and is indispensable for our German future."28

Dallying With the Regime

Siebeck, too, did not believe he could dispense with advances toward the regime. He quoted Theodor Frerichs's 55-year-old words about German medicine standing "its own ground" and not following "foreign influences and inspirations" and being "at least equal to that of all other cultural peoples",29 as Schittenhelm had in 1933. There is, according to Siebeck, "no medicine per se" but, among others, a medicine "of the Greeks, of the Arabs, of scholasticism". "And there is and will be a German medicine of new departures."30 For Siebeck, the times of "moral and political decay" were not the years of his presence in the dictatorship, but those of the Weimar Republic.31 He concluded his speech with a commitment to "full dedicaiton to the sick and to public health," a pledge of allegiance to the "Führer" and the "Sieg Heil," which did not put individual welfare aside. 32 That the Heil shouts were initiated by the chairman this time, was due to the absence of the Reichsärzteführer, who, after having appeared the previous two years, may have found the rather conventional tableau of topics at this year's congress rather boring. Not aviation medicine or racial hygiene, but rheumatism, diabetes and thyroid disease were the congress' focal points.

Siebeck is to be credited for taking advantage of the possibilities of a return of the DGIM Congress to a more rigorous scientific approach, when the pressure from Berlin subsided. That naturopathic approaches nevertheless appeared in the congress program, was due to the grand words of reconciliation between "biological medicine" and naturopathy the year before. For an observer from abroad like Willi Raab, the 1937 congress was repulsive because of its National Socialist trappings. Those interested in research and science, however, could now hope, after the propaganda for the "New German Healing" in the previous year, that their expectations would be better met in the future.

Siebeck restrained himself from making public political statements after 1945. Although he enjoyed thinking about philosophical and, in the narrower sense, medical-historical questions, his opus magnum "Medizin in Bewegung. Klinische Erkenntnisse und ärztliche Aufgabe" only makes very hidden references to the medical crimes of the Nazi era and the associated ruptures.33


See Silke Knappenberger-Jans, Siebeck, Paul, in Neue Deutsche Biographie 24 (2010), pp. 315-316 ( Stefan Büttner, Siebeck, Richard, in Neue Deutsche Biographie 24 (2010), pp. 317-318 ( Hartmut Baier, Richard Siebeck und Karl Barth - Medizin und Theologie im Gespräch. Die Bedeutung der theologischen Anthropologie in der Medizin Richard Siebecks (= Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie, 56), Göttingen 1988.Universitätsarchiv (UA) der Humboldt-Universität (UA) Berlin, UK Personalia 5, 98, vol. I, Siebeck; cf. Volker Roelcke, Richard Siebeck und die Medizin im Nationalsozialismus. Attitudes and actions until 1945 and in the postwar period. Forschungsbericht, Giessen 2016, passim and Büttner, Siebeck.Richard Siebeck, Medizin in Bewegung. Klinische Erkenntnisse und ärztliche Aufgabe, 2nd improved. Aufl. Stuttgart 1953, p. IX.[Richard] Siebeck, Sexualethik, akademische Jugend und Hochschule, Bonn 1929 (= Bonner Akademische Reden, 4), p. 10.Siebeck quoted in Wolfgang U. Eckart, Medicine in the Nazi Dictatorship. Ideologie, Praxis, Folge, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar 2012, p. 115; cf. ibid, p. 112, p. 254, and p. 259; on Sachs, see also Werner E. Gerabek, Sachs, Hans, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 22 (2005), p. 332.Cite n. Eckart, Medizin in der NS-Diktatur, p. 113.Roelcke, Richard Siebeck, p. 54.See Eckart, Medizin in der NS-Diktatur, pp. 113 f.Institut für Ethik, Geschichte und Theorie der Medizin, Münster, Erinnerungen Paul Martini, typescript, p. 227 f.Matthes to Ministry of Culture Stuttgart, May 11, 1962, cited in Axel W. Bauer, Innere Medizin, Neurologie und Dermatologie, in: Wolfgang U. Eckart/Volker Sellin/Eike Wolgast (eds.), Die Universität Heidelberg im Nationalsozialismus, Heidelberg 2006, pp. 719-810, p. 762; Richard Siebeck, Medizin in Bewegung. Klinische Erkenntnisse und ärztliche Aufgabe, 2nd, improved. ed. Stuttgart 1953, p. IX.See Bauer, Innere Medizin, p. 762 ff.Cited in Bauer, Innere Medizin, p. 759.See Bauer, Innere Medizin, p. 756 f.Federal Archives (BA) Berlin, BDC Siebeck, Jansen/REM to Minister/REM, July 23, 1935, attn. Vahlen, 7/24/1935, attn. Zschintzsch, 24.7.1935.BA Berlin, BDC Siebeck, Jansen/REM to Minister/REM, 23.7.1935, gez. Vahlen, 7/24/1935, attn. Zschintzsch, 24.7.1935. Cf. Ludolf von Krehl, Lebensbilder. Paul Morawitz +, in: Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift, no. 34 (1936), pp. 1397-1398.BA Berlin, BDC Siebeck, Jansen/REM to Minister/REM, 23.7.1935, gez. Vahlen, 7/24/1935, attn. Zschintzsch, 24.7.1935.HU Berlin, Archiv, UK Personalia, M 314, vol. II, Otto Muntsch, Siebeck to Minister REM, 9.12. 1938.HU Berlin, Archiv, UK Personalia, M 314, vol. II, Otto Muntsch, Zschintzsch/REN to Rector HU Berlin, 30 Nov. 1939.Medizinische Universität Wien, Sammlungen und Geschichte der Medizin, Eppinger, Kongressunterlagen, MUW-AS-004424-0051, Siebeck to Eppinger, 25 June 1944; cf. in detail below on Risak's prevented appointment to Vienna.Cited in Ferdinand Hoff, Erlebnis und Besinnung. Erinnerungen eines Arztes, Berlin/Frankfurt/Vienna 1971, p. 359; Hoff explains ibid, p. 9 his reproductions of conversations are "not authentic in wording, but to the best of our knowledge correctly reproduced in sense."HA Berlin, UA, UK Personalia 5, 98, vol. I, Richard Siebeck, Siebeck to Minister REM via Rector HU, 17. 3.1939.HA Berlin, UA, UK Personalia 5, 98, vol. II, Richard Siebeck, Siebeck to President Institute Pasteur, 17.3.1939.Rudolf Ramm, Ärztliche Rechts- und Standeskunde. Der Arzt als Gesundheitserzieher, Berlin 1942, title and p. 130; Richard Siebeck, [review of Rudolf Ramm], in Klinische Wochenschrift 22 (1943), p. 127; cf. Risak, [review of Rudolf Ramm], p. 113. Cf. Florian Bruns, Medizinethik im Nationalsozialismus. Entwicklungen und Protagonisten in Berlin 1939-1945, Stuttgart 2009 (= Geschichte und Philosophie der Medizin. Band 7), pp. 88 ff. u. p. 126.R. [ichard] Siebeck, Opening Address, in: Verhandlungen 49 (1937), pp. 1-8, p. 2.Willi Raab, Und neues Leben blüht aus den Ruinen. Stationen meines Lebens 1895-1939. ed. by Ernst Holthaus and Ernst Piper, Munich 2009, p. 248.Siebeck, opening speech, p. 8.Siebeck, opening speech, p. 3.Siebeck, Opening Speech, p. 2.Siebeck, Opening Speech, p. 3.Siebeck, Opening Speech, p. 8.Siebeck, Medicine.

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