Rudolf Alfred Stern's path to medicine was predetermined by his father Richard Stern, director of the Medical Polyclinic of the University of Breslau. After having served in the war and having been awarded the Iron Cross Second and and First Class, and studying medicine (doctorate in 1921), Rudolf Stern worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry under the direction of Fritz Haber in Berlin for two years. Here he dealt with colloid chemistry issues before returning to Breslau, where he took up an assistant position at the Medical Clinic under Oskar Minkowski.1 He was able to habilitate under Minkowski – who had a major influence on clinical diabetes research and was chairman of the DGIM in 1920 – with a thesis on the clinical significance of cholesterol in 1925.2 Influenced by his own experiences in World War I, Stern worked in parallel on "Die traumatische Entstehung innerer Erkrankungen" – the title of the work published in 1930, which was also a revision of his father's monograph published in 1896.3 After Minkowski retired and his successor, Wilhelm Stepp, took office, Stern's situation at the Breslau clinic deteriorated.
Discrimination Through Wilhelm Stepp
Stepp denied Stern further advancement in his academic career and also "delayed" Stern's appointment as an associate professor at the University of Wroclaw, which he finally, still achieved in 1930. The family suspected anti-Semitic motives behind Stepp's actions.4 Stern was only able to practice privately soon after the beginning of the Nazi era. In private practice he was presented with a "clientele mixed in every respect," "Aryan" and "Jewish," "rich and poor".5In complicated cases, Stern sought consultative advice, such as from the Frankfurt internist Franz Volhard [Hyperlink Englisch] in 1935, who assisted his young colleague in treating a "rich, seriously ill Jewish patient".6
Stern was no longer a member of the DGIM at this point. He had been listed for the last time in the DGIM membership directory in 1932.7
Emigration to the USA
Although Stern was a sought-after consultant, he made emigration plans in 1935, under the impact of increasing discrimination and violence. After several offers – including from Tehran and Istanbul – had fallen through, he emigrated to New York with his family in March 1938. There he was accepted by Francis Carter Wood at the Cancer Research Institute of Columbia University. Stern obtained his U.S. license to practice medicine the following year. He worked at New York hospitals, and was admitted to several prestigious medical societies, including the New York Academy of Medicine. He became involved in the "Rudolf Virchow Medical Society" from 1941, and was appointed its president in 1959.8
Stern was considered an extensively educated clinician and earned the medical trust of high-ranking personalities of his time. Among his patients was Chaim Weitzmann, the first president of Israel.9Wilhelm Berger, a full professor in Graz who had been expelled by the National Socialists, reported in 1956: "From occasional discussions with two leading internists, Geheimrat Minkowski in Breslau and Friedrich von Müller in Munich, I know that they regarded Professor Stern as an up-and-coming man and a candidate to head a clinical chair. "10
During his time in Breslau, Stern was a longtime trusted physician and friend of chemist and Nobel Prize winner Fritz Haber, who became the godfather to his son Fritz Stern, born in 1926.11 Named after Haber's first name, Fritz Stern wavered in American emigration between studying medicine or history – and chose the latter (against Albert Einstein's advice).12 Fritz Stern became one of the most important historians of 20th century German history. He published his father's memoirs of Fritz Haber in 1963.13 Haber had died of a heart attack in Basel in 1934, despite all the medical efforts of his friend Rudolf Stern.14 Stern himself died in New York in 1962 at the age of 67.