Ernst Wollheim

born on 03/24/1900 in Libau (Courland)/Liepaja (Latvia)
died on 08/02/1981 in Würzburg

DGIM Member 1924 – 1981

Appointment as DGIM Honorary Member 1971

Ernst Wollheim was born on March 24, 1900 in Libau, Curonia (Liepaja/Latvia), as the son of Arthur Wollheim, a merchant and Royal Prussian Commercial Court Counselor, and his wife Marie Levy. He married Hedwig (Hedda) Kuhn in 1922, who was two years older. Both claimed to be "non-Aryan" and Catholic during the Nazi era.

Doctor in Berlin

Wollheim graduated from the Friedrich-Werderschen Gymnasium in Berlin in 1917. He performed military service from June to November 1918. He then studied in Berlin with Friedrich Kraus and, after Kraus' retirement, with Gustav von Bergmann, among others, and also at times in Heidelberg and Freiburg. After passing the state examination in 1922 and having received his license to practice medicine in 1923, he received his doctorate in 1924. He was an assistant at the II Medical University Clinic of the Charité in Berlin from 1923 to 1933, where he habilitated in 1929.

Wollheim lived centrally with his family at the Steinplatz in Berlin, and participated in the social life of the twenties. The Jewish tradition of his family hardly played a role for him anymore. He converted to Catholicism with his wife and children. They participated in the church life of Berlin's diaspora communities, for example in Corpus Christi processions.1

Friendship with Joseph Roth

Among Wollheim's patients was Friederike (Friedl) Roth, the wife of Joseph Roth, who was still a left-liberal journalist and writer at the time. Friedl Roth fell mentally ill in 1926 and was murdered 14 years later in the gas chamber of the Hartheim killing center as part of the "euthanasia" action T 4.2 Wollheim and Roth were friends for several years. Even after Roth's emigration to Paris, they met, for example at the Hotel Schwanen in Rapperswil in 1934.3 Wollheim had recommended the house to Roth, where the writer had several productive weeks.4

Asylum in Lund, Sweden

Wollheim moved to a full professorship at Lund University (Sweden) in 1934. He was greatly assisted by DGIM member Sven Ingvar, the director of the Department of Internal Medicine in Lund. Ingvar, originally a neurologist, knew Wollheim from visiting residences to the Charité in the period before 1933, when Wollheim was Ingvar's supervisor. Wollheim was officially dismissed in Berlin under Section 4 of the "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums" (Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service) for political unreliability in 1935.5 If even the surgeon Rudolf Nissen wrote in his memoirs in 1978 that Gustav von Bergmann had remained "silent", "when his 'non-Aryan' assistants had to leave the clinic," one will have to say even more critically today that he did not only remain silent, but was actively involved in the expulsion.6

Wollheim, however, found ongoing support in Lund. He directed the Laboratory of Circulatory Research from 1937 to 1942, then accepted a teaching position at the Pharmacological Institute of Pathophysiology. Nevertheless, he had probably viewed his time in Lund as a temporary exile from the beginning. The family spoke German when they were amongh each other and connections to Germany as well as to other emigrants were maintained. Thus there was contact with Siegfried Thannhauser in Boston and the Göttingen physiologist Hermann Rein, whom he admired for his research in the field of the physiology of the heart muscle. There was a photograph of Rein on Wollheim's desk. Rein was considered critical of the Nazis despite an early signature of support for Hitler, a supporting membership of the SS, and his aeromedical work for the benefit of the Luftwaffe. Rein visited Wollheim in Lund at least once.7

Traveling through Germany During the War

Fitting this depiction, Ernst Wollheim was not afraid of traveling through Germany, even from Lund. He obtained the necessary papers for these trips through a diplomat friend in the German embassy without any major problems. On his way back from vacation in Switzerland, he always stopped in Berlin. He witnessed an early air raid on Berlin, and – on his last visit to Germany and Berlin during the Nazi era in June 1941 – the reactions to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. His return trip to Lund was fraught with difficulties, as transport links to Sweden were temporarily interrupted.8 There he reported his impressions to his incredulous colleagues and was certain: "The war is now lost!"9

Wollheim's link to Switzerland was not only his holidays there. He had also developed a drug for hypertension for Ciba in Basel together with Kurt Lange, later professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College.10 The proceeds of the patent also benefited the family in Lund.11

Rejection of the Call to Berlin

Ernst Wollheim received a call to the chair of internal medicine at the Charité in Berlin as a successor to Gustav von Bergmann soon after the end of the Nazi era. Granted a "multiple entry visa" by the Swedish consulate, Wollheim was able to move freely through all of the city's occupied zones. The city was hardly recognizable in view of the destruction. Wollheim expressed his "shock".12 That he did not accept the call to Berlin, however, had another reason. He received an unfriendly reception from the former DGIM committee member and later vice president of the Kulturbund of the GDR, Theodor Brugsch. He found it insulting that Brugsch let him visit his supposed new workplace "only with the clinic's youngest resident".13

The accumulation of "difficult memories," emotional alienation, and political and bureaucratic difficulties led Wollheim to stay in Lund for the time being.14

Ordinarius in Würzburg

Wollheim was appointed professor on August 11, 1948. He ended his employment in Lund that same month, and was appointed full professor and clinic director in Würzburg.15 The dean there, Hans Rheinfelder, had cautiously asked Wollheim in March 1948 whether he would "in principle be willing and able" to take over the department of internal medicine at the University of Würzburg.16 He became a highly respected influential physician and researcher, shaping the nascent field of cardiology. He also recognized the opportunities computer technology presented for medicine.17

Wollheim took on numerous tasks and offices, including that of chairman of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Kreislaufforschung (1950/51) and that of WHO advisor for his field (1955). He additionally assumed the position of director of the university clinics at the Luitpold Hospital in Würzburg in 1964.

Active Appointment Policy

Wollheim actively intervened in Würzburg's appointment policy. He prevented the "Anatom der Milz" (anatomist of the spleen), Robert Herrlinger, from receiving an adjunct anatomical professorship. Herrlinger had stood "directly next to the guillotine of the Posen Gestapo prison" and had undertaken experiments "on still pulsating decapitated dead persons".18 Herrlinger swerved into medical history and first was appointed adjunct professor (1958), then an associate professor (1960) for this subject.19 Wollheim also objected to the appointment of Ferdinand Hoff,20 but not to DGIM member Hans Franke, whom Wollheim hired as senior physician in 1948.21 Wollheim proposed Franke as an associate professor in 1948.22 He endorsed Franke's appointment to the extraordinary "Lehrstuhl für Medizinische Poliklinik" (chair for medical polyclinic) in 1954,  and its conversion to a full professorship in 1956.23Franke, who was born in Königshütte, Upper Silesia on October 27, 1911, also had a brown past. He was a member of the SA and sought admission to the NSDAP.24 His first scientific placements included positions with Kurt Gutzeit in Breslau and Wilhelm Parade in Innsbruck.25 Franke was "de-Nazified" (Group V) in a Spruchkammerverfahren (denazification trial) in Gelsenkirchen.26

Opposition to Right-Wing Fraternity Members and Left-Wing Members of the Generation of 1968 

Wollheim was dean in 1961/62, and rector in 1963/64. He distanced himself from fraternities, which attracted nationwide attention. "Der Spiegel" reported that he had stayed away from "a commemoration of all student fraternities for the 382nd foundation festival of the university" "after the fraternities had given him the choice of either accepting the singing of the first verse of the Deutschlandlied or having them declare before the start of the event that the hymn would not be sung at his request".27

Liberal students were, however, also skeptical of Wollheim, who had been a Rockefeller Foundation fellow. To them, he was seen "as a representative of a fossilized ordained society" who "shaped a distinctly authoritarian style of leadership at his clinic", "defined less by exemplary qualities, than by the power tools of oppression and fear."28

As president, he chaired the congress of the International Society of Internal Medicine in Munich in September 1962. His "reparation proceedings" had not yet been completed at this time. He finally received word in January 1965 that the period of his displacement from 1933 to 1948 would be recognized as a period of service for the purposes of salary and pension law.29 Wollheim remained active for the DGIM into old age. He was sent to the International Congress of Internal Medicine in New Delhi in 1970 as a delegate of the society at the age of 70.30

He became emeritus on March 31, 1968, and honorary member of the DGIM in 1971. Wollheim's wife Hedda died on August 13, 1976, and he himself died on August 2, 1981.31

Only Internist Who Returned

Wollheim is the only emigrated internist to hold a chair in West Germany after 1945. In retrospect, Kurt Kochsiek, winner of the Gustav von Bergmann Medal of the Year 2010, recalled, "We younger people wondered in the 1950s why apparently hardly any attempt was made to recall at least some of the expelled professors. Of the internists, only my predecessor on the Würzburg chair in 1933, Professor Dr. Ernst Wollheim, was recalled from Sweden. He had already been dismissed in 1933, a few weeks after the seizure of power, as a young private lecturer at the Charité in Berlin by Professor Dr. Gustav von Bergmann."32


Testimony interview Frank Wollheim with Hans-Georg Hofer, March 10, 2017. Frank A. Wollheim, born in 1927, is Emeritus professor in the Department of Rheumatology at Lund University, son of Ernst Wollheim.See David Bronson, Joseph Roth. Eine Biographie, Cologne 1974, p. 340 ff; Wilhelm von Sternburg, Joseph Roth. Eine Biographie, Cologne 2010, p. 227 ff; Géza von Cziffra, Der heilige Trinker, new ed. Berlin 2006, p. 77.Contemporary Witness Interview Frank Wollheim, March 10, 2017; cf. Heinz Lunzer/Victoria Lunzer-Talos (coed.), Joseph Roth in Exile in Paris 1933 to 1939, Vienna 2008, p. 8 f.See Heinz Lunzer/Victoria Lunzer-Talos, Joseph Roth. Leben und Werk in Bildern, Revised. New ed. Cologne 2009, p. 217.§ 4 of the "Gesetzes zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums" of April 7, 1933, reads: "Civil servants who, after their previous political activity, do not offer the guarantee that they will at all times stand up wholeheartedly for the national state may be dismissed from service. They shall retain their previous remuneration for a period of three months after dismissal. From that time on they shall receive three quarters of the pension (§ 8) and corresponding survivors' benefits." (Reichsgesetzblatt 1933 I, cited in, Sept. 4, 2012).See Nissen, Blätter, p. 130; cf. Jenss/Gerken/Lerch, 100 Years, p. 39.Contemporary Witness Frank Wollheim, March 10, 2017. - On Rein, see in detail Katharina Trittel, Hermann Rein und die Flugmedizin. Erkenntnisstreben und Entgrenzung, Paderborn 2018.Testimony Frank Wollheim, 10.3.2017.Testimony Frank Wollheim, 10.3. 2017.See Ernst Wollheim, Eine neue körpereigene blutdrucksenkende Substanz und ihre Bedeutung für die essentielle Hypertonie, in Acta Medica Scandinavica 91 (1937), pp. 1-33.Testimony Frank Wollheim, March 10, 2017.Testimony Frank Wollheim, March 10, 2017.Michael Hubenstorf/Peter Th. Walther, Politische Bedingungen und allgemeine Veränderungen des Berliner Wissenschaftsbetriebes 1925-1950, in Fischer et al, Exodus, pp. 5-100, p. 85; cf. ibid, p. 84 f.; Brugsch does not mention Wollheim in his memoirs (Brugsch, Arzt). On Brugsch, who is generally regarded as a science politician "advocating a consistent exchange of incriminated university teachers," see below and Elsner, Schattenseiten, pp. 71 ff.Contemporary Witness Interview Frank Wollheim, March 10, 2017.See Udo Schagen, Wer wurde vertrieben? Wie wenig wissen wir? Die Vertreibungen aus der Berliner Mediziinischen Fakultät in 1933. An Overview, in Sabine Schleiermacher/Udo Schagen (eds.), Die Charité im Dritten Reich. Zur Dienstbarkeit medizinischer Wissenschaft im Nationalsozialismus, Paderborn u.a. 2008, pp. 51-65, p. 63.Universitätsarchiv (UA) Würzburg, PA 501 Ernst Wollheim, Rheinfelder an Wollheim, 8.3.1948.See contemporary witness Günter Hennersdorf in:, 4.9.2012, modified: www.privat2015.ghennersdorf. net/documents/text/study/ernst-wollheim-1900-1981.html, 3/19/2019Christoph Mörgeli/Anke Jobmann, Erwin H. Ackerknecht und die Affäre Berg/Rath von 1964. Zur Vergangenheitsbewältigung deutscher Medizinhistoriker, in: Medizin, Gesellschaft und Geschichte 16 (1997), pp. 63-124, p. 90; cf. Götz Aly, Das Posener Tagebuch des Anatomen Hermann Voß, in: Biedermann und Schreibtischtäter. Materialien zur deutschen Täter-Biographie. Beiträge zur nationalsozialistischen Gesundheits- und Sozialpolitik, 4, Berlin 1987, pp. 32, 62, 64 f.; Olaf Edward Majewski, Medicine at the Reichsuniversität Posen (1941-1945) and the Polish Underground University of the Western Territories U. Z. Z. (1942-1945), Diss. med. Heidelberg 2012, p. 163.See Mörgeli/Jobmann, Ackerknecht, p. 91.See Ralf Forsbach/Hans-Georg Hofer, Internisten in Diktatur und junger Demokratie. Die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin 1933-1945, Berin 2018, p. 106.UA Würzburg, PA 597 Hans Franke, Wollheim to Rector/Würzburg, 17.9.1948.UA Würzburg, PA 597 Hans Franke, Wollheim to Dean Meyer/Würzburg, 23.4.1949.UA Würzburg, PA 597 Hans Franke, Dean Saar at the Ministry of Culture Munich via Rector Würzburg, 20.7.1956; ibid, Ministry of Culture Munich to Rectorate Würzburg, 9/27/1954; ibid, Newspaper clipping Mainpost, 6.10,1954.UA Würzburg, PA 597 Hans Franke, Meldebogen Hans Franke, 17.9.1948.UA Würzburg, PA 597 Hans Franke, Dekan Saar am Kultusministerium München über Rektor Würzburg, 20.7.1956; Ibid, Affidavit of Franke, n.d.; ibid, Lebenslauf, 23.2.1959.UA Würzburg, PA 597 Hans Franke, Meldebogen Hans Franke, 17.9.1948.Anonymus, Ernst Wollheim, in: Der Spiegel no. 22/1964, p. 126.Witness Günter Hennersdorf "fell out" with Wollheim as a sixty-eight-year-old in the newly formed Assistentenrat and left Würzburg in 1969 (http://www., Sept. 4, 2012; modified: Würzburg, PA 501 I Ernst Wollheim. See ibid. among others newspaper clipping Main-Post 18.11.1961 and "Wiedergutmachungsbescheid" of the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture, 15.1.1965.Geschäftsstelle DGIM, Wiesbaden, Protokoll DGIM-Vorstands- und Ausschusssitzung of 5. 4.1970, p. I f.UA Würzburg, PA 501 Ernst Wollheim; contemporary witness interview Frank A. Wollheim with Hans-Georg Hofer, 10.3.2017.Letter Kochsiek to Hofer, 3.5.2012.

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