Siegfried Josef Thannhauser

born 28.06.1885 Munich
d. 18.12.1962 Brookline/Massachusetts

DGIM Honorary Member 1920 – 1937

Appointment as DGIM Ehrenmitglied 1955

Siegfried Thannhauser was the only child of Joseph Thannhauser and his wife Lotte Langermann. The family owned a ceramics manufactory. Siegfried Thannhauser passed the school-leaving examination at Munich's Luitpold Gymnasium in 1904 and then began studying medicine at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. He received his doctorate and his license to practice medicine with a thesis on homogentisic acid in 1910. At Hans Fischer's urging, he decided to take a second degree in biochemistry, which he completed with a PhD in 1912.

Thannhauser habilitated under Friedrich von Müller in Munich in 1924. That same year, he took over as director of the Medical Polyclinic in Heidelberg. He became director of the Düsseldorf Medical Clinic in 1927. Thannhauser, by then highly renowned as a specialist in metabolic diseases, moved to the Medizinische Klinik Freiburg as successor to Hans Eppinger in 1930.1He had come first, ahead of Wilhelm Nonnenbruch, on the list of nominees.2

It was soon known that he allowed his collaborators the greatest freedom in research, but certainly interfered with publications if the results were not plausible to him.3 He promoted the careers of physicians who seemed suitable to him, such as that of the later Nobel Prize winner Hans Adolf Krebs.4

Discharged as Dean-Elect

He was elected dean for the 1933/34 academic year in November 1932.5 The "Badischer Judenerlass" (Baden Jewish Decree) on forced leave of absence for "non-Aryan" civil servants led to Thannhauser's resignation as dean-elect on April 12, 1933.6 Because of his front-line fighter status, he was initially able to reverse his leave of absence as of April 28, 1933, but the harassment did not end. His guaranteed lecture fees were cut from 4,000 to 1,000 marks. The Nazi student union leader denounced him for "statements hostile to the state," which led to embarrassing questioning without the accusations being confirmed. The employment of a "non-Aryan" intern led to Thannhauser being reprimanded.7

He was suspended "with immediate effect" on April 17, 1934; the intention was to transfer him to the University of Heidelberg as a "scientific assistant." At the same time, he was offered retirement.8 Clearly, Thannhauser rejected a demotion, recalling his and his family's service to the Reich in World War I.9 But his arguments did not find any resonance. He felt compelled to "request his retirement" on June 13, 1934, with his "family in mind".10

He did not receive any support from his faculty colleagues, or the DGIM. Only his assistants Hans Baumann and Franz Krause, both DGIM members, had already approached the Minister of Education and State Commissioner Otto Wacker in Karlsruhe in April 1933 to "express – on behalf of the assistants of the entire clinic – that they have full confidence in their previous superior, the Jewish Professor Dr. Thannhauser [...] and that they ask that he [...] continue to remain at the clinic."11 Thannhauser explicitly complained to the physiologist Josef Kapfhammer, who had replaced him as dean, saying that the faculty had "abandoned him."12

Suicidal Thoughts and Emigration

Thannhauser was hit hard by the humiliating treatment. He only suppressed suicidal thoughts because of his responsibility for his family.13 "Signs of [...] friendship and sympathy" from outside of his circle of colleagues may also have contributed. The Archbishop of Freiburg, Conrad Gröber, and noblemen of Baden were among those who did not withdraw their support for Thannhauser.14 The owners of the "Chemische Fabrik von H. Rosenberg" let him use a laboratory.15

He managed to leave for the USA with his wife Franziska, who was pushing for emigration, and their three daughters, in the spring of 1935, after accepting the invitation of his colleague Joseph Pratt from the "New England Medical Center" of Tufts University Boston.16 Pratt wanted to help, and also to pay off a "debt of gratitude" to Ludolf von Krehl and Friedrich von Müller.17 Von Müller, for his part, was grateful to Pratt for the support of his habilitation student, whom he held in high esteem, including for his care during an illness of Thannhauser's.18

Ankara had been discussed as an alternative, but Franziska Thannhauser – with her daughters in mind – was concerned about the Islamic environment there.19 The invitations had been arranged for by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose representatives were there to greet him, when he arrived in the harbor of New York.20 In Boston, he also met the DGIM member Heinrich Brugsch; he had come from Universitätsklinik Leipzig as a nephrologist.21 Thannhauser was able to continue with his research. The "Thannhauser Lab" became famous in professional circles. It was under the auspices of Gerhard Schmidt – also an émigré ­– but was not named after him.22 He successfully worked to "bring the achievements of the latest medical research to bear in the hospitals of smaller rural districts" with the help of the Bingham Association Fund.23 From Boston, he was able to help other émigrés. He hired dermatologist Bertha Ottenstein in 1945, the first woman to have habilitated in Freiburg.24

No Return

Thannhauser and his family became American citizens in 1940. "No longer of serviceable age," he was "spared" "to see the fate and disgrace of a people seduced by the devil with his own eyes."25 The news, that was already circulating contemporaneously, that Thannhauser had come to Munich as a consulting internist for the U.S. Army seems to be wrong.26 Efforts by several German authorities to have him remigrate were declined.27 The Freiburg medical faculty would have liked to see him as the successor of Helmuth Bohnenkamp, who had succeeded him and was now suspended; in Munich, they courted him as Schittenhelm's successor, i.e., for the tenured professorship once held by Thannhauser's teacher Friedrich von Müller. Thannhauser's position was clear: "I cannot return, the wound is too deep, it will never heal. The disappointment of my trust in the goodness of the German people, in the honesty of my friends, was too great. The years that I can still work productively belong to the country that took me in and nurtured me in my deepest time of need."28 He thought he had "instilled the love for man as the basis for being a doctor in thousands in Germany", but they had become "executioner's servants."29

His colleagues became aware of what the Wollheim family – who had decided to return to Germany from their Swedish exile – said: "Thannhauser was a sad man."30 The grief for the lost homeland, however, did not fill him with bitterness or hatred. With satisfaction he observed the efforts in Germany to persuade him to return, including the award of honorary doctorates to him by the Freiburg and Munich faculties and the new edition of his textbook.31 He corresponded with some German colleagues, such as Martini and Heilmeyer, for decades. Heimeyer reported a "touching letter" from Thannhauser as late as 1960. He had once again been invited to Freiburg unsuccessfully: "He said that he would not be able to keep his sentimentality in check, when entering the lecture hall, and that the once enthusiastic and inspiring teacher was no longer, giving way to an aged distorted picture of himself."32 Martini said "this cut him to the quick, for his nature is German, or if you will, Upper Bavarian. He's really awesome, and he would have done us all good."33


The DGIM last listed him as a member in 1936, surprisingly at his new Boston address.34 Siegfried Thannhauser died at the age of 77 after a heart attack.35 Under Ludwig Heilmeyer, a ward of the Freiburg Clinic was named after Thannhauser in 1950.36 the University of Freiburg awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1964. The German Society for Digestive and Metabolic Diseases has been awarding the Thannhauser Medal since 1969 and the Thannhauser Prize since 1973 with the support of the Falk Foundation.37


For the curriculum vitae, see Jasmin B. Mattes, Demütigung - Vertreibung - Neuanfang: Aus Freiburg geflohen in alle Welt, in: Bernd Grün/Hans-Georg Hofer/Karl-Heinz Leven (eds.), Medizin und Nationalsozialismus. Die Freiburger Medizinische Fakultät und das Klinikum in der Weimarer Republik und im "Drit­ten Reich," Frankfurt am Main u.a. 2002 (= Medizingeschichte im Kontext, 10), pp. 161-188, p. 174 ff; Hermann-Josef Hellmich, Die Medizinische Fakultät der Universität Freiburg i. Br. 1933-1935. Eingriffe und Folgen nationalsozialistischer Personalpolitik, Diss. Freiburg i. Br. 1989, pp. 297-304, p. 34 ff; Nepomuk Zöllner/Alan F. Hofmann, Siegfried Thannhauser (1885-1962). Ein Leben als Arzt und Forscher in bewegter Zeit, 2nd rev. ed. Freiburg i. Br. 2002, passim; Rudolf Nissen, Siegfried Thannhauser 1885-1962, in: ders, Fünfzig Jahre erlebter Chirurgie. Ausgewählte Vorträge und Schriften, Stuttgart/New York 1978, pp. 349-351.See Hellmich, Faculty, p. 35.See Frederic Lawrence Holmes, Hans Krebs, vol. 1, The Formation of a Scientific Life 1900-1933, New York/Oxford 1991, p. 384; Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, p. 16.See Holmes, Krebs, Formation I, p. 384.See Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 40; Annette Schulz-Baldes, Das Jahr 1933. Die Medizinische Fakultät und die "Gleichschaltung" an der Universität Freiburg, in: Grün/Hofer/Leven, Medizin, pp. 139-160, p. 142 u. p. 157.See Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 37 ff; Schulz-Baldes, Jahr 1933, p. 157; Eduard Seidler/Karl-Heinz Leven, Die Medizinische Fakultät der Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau. Grundlagen und Entwicklungen, fully rev. ed. and ed. ed. new ed. Freiburg/Munich 2007 (= Freiburger Beiträge zur Wissenschafts- und Universitätsgeschichte, N.F., Vol. 2), p. 455.On the accusations against Thannhauser, cf. Mattes, Demütigung, p. 174 ff; Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 42 ff.See Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 46.See Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 50 f. ; Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, p. 23.See Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 52.Seidler/Leven, Fakultät, p. 456.Universitätsarchiv Freiburg, B 171236, Thannhauser to Kapfhammer/Dean MF, 14. 6.1934, cited in Mattes, Demütigung, p. 176 u. Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 54.Thannhauser to Dean Beringer/MF Freiburg, 6.3.1946 (reproduction in Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 297-304, p. 297).See Nissen, Blätter, p. 255; Nissen, Thannhauser, p. 350; Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 57.Nissen, Thannhauser, p. 350.See Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, pp. 17f., p. 23; Müller, Lebenserinnerungen, p. 223.So, in any case, Nissen, Thannhauser, p. 349.See Müller, Lebenserinnerungen, p. 328.See Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, p. 23.Thannhauser to Dean Beringer/MF Freiburg, 6.3.1946 (reproduction in Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 297-304, p. 298).See Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, p. 17.See Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, p. 19.Thannhauser to Dean Beringer/MF Freiburg, 6.3.1946 (reproduction in Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 297-304, p. 299).See Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 83 ff. u. Mattes, Demütigung, p. 176 u. p. 163 ff.Thannhauser to Dean Beringer/MF Freiburg, 6.3.1946 (reproduction in Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 297-304, p. 300).See Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 57 and, apparently misinterpreting the sources, Mattes, Demütigung, p. 176.See Hellmich, Fakultät, p. 57; Mattes, Demütigung, p. 176 ff.Thannhauser to Dean Beringer/MF Freiburg, March 6, 1946 (reproduction in Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 297-304, p. 301).Thannhauser to Dean Beringer/MF Freiburg, 6.3.1946 (reproduction in Hellmich, Fakultät, pp. 297-304, p. 301); cf. also Thannhauser to Rector Hohmann/Munich, 10.11.1946 (partial reproduction in: Georg Hohmann, Zum Andenken an Professor Dr. Siegfried Thannhauser, in: Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, pp. 35-39, p. 37).Zeitzeugengespräch Hans-Georg Hofer/Frank Wollheim, 10.3.2017.Zöllner, N. [epomuk], Siegfried J. Thannhauser, in Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 88 (1963), pp. 337-340, p. 340; cf. Nissen, Blätter, p. 255.MHI Bonn, NL Martini, No. 100 (Wissenschaftsrat, Mediziner-Kommission), Heilmeyer to Martini, 11. 2.1960.MHI Bonn, NL Martini, no. 100 (Wissenschaftsrat, Mediziner-Kommission), Martini to Heilmeyer, 17.2.1960.DGIM, Verhandlungen 48 (1936), p. XLIV.See Nissen, Thannhauser, p. 349.See Ludwig Heilmeyer, Siegfried Thannhauser, in: Zöllner/Hofmann, Thannhauser, pp. 32-35, p. 34.See Jenss/Gerken/Lerch, 100 Years, p. 40.

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