Persecution of Pathologists in the Third Reich




Dominik Groß

Geschäftsführender Direktor, Prodekan


+49 241 80 88096



Ongoing research project at the Institute of Medical History, Theory and Ethics of Uniklinik RWTH Aachen. Two thirds decided to emigrate.


Around 90 percent of the pathologists in the Third Reich were persecuted for their Jewish ancestry. This is the result of a research project conducted by Professor Dominik Groß and his team from the Institute for Medical History, Theory and Ethics at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen. For the first time, this particular group of individuals within the medical community is being investigated more thoroughly, their disenfranchisement, expulsion, and persecution systematically studied – both in the period 1933 to 1945 and in the post-war period. Based on primary sources from numerous archives and a systematic re-analysis of the published secondary literature on the history of Nazi medicine, 89 disenfranchised pathologists were identified and included in the study.

Two-thirds of the pathologists examined (70 percent) demonstrably decided to emigrate; 24 persons remained in their home country; five of these pathologists died in concentration camps, two others decided to commit suicide.
The preferred immigration country was the USA, followed by Great Britain. Most of the pathologists examined were able to establish themselves professionally in their country of choice and after 1945 there was not much of a tendency to remigrate. The reasons for this were a lack of career options in their home country, not being welcomed back warmly by their colleagues and universities there, and not least the fact that some pathologists had experienced stigmatization in the appointment and "reparation procedures" in Germany. "On the other hand - especially in the last decades and partly posthumously - they did receive more and more immaterial recognition in Germany and Austria. Even though these honors could no longer serve to make amends, they are nevertheless signs of a slow change in consciousness," explains Groß.

In a second project, the DGP (until 1945: DPG) and its representatives were at the focus of the investigation. Firstly, it is of interest how the DGP dealt with its disenfranchised colleagues and members during the Third Reich and after 1945, and secondly, it is necessary to clarify the political role played by its presidents and board members during the Third Reich.

"As far as the professional society's dealings with the disenfranchised - Jewish and/or politically dissident - colleagues or members of the Third Reich are concerned, a radical political change can be demonstrated for 1933: When the National Socialists seized power, the Jewish pathologist Gotthold Herxheimer was acting chairman of the DGP; he had been elected before the takeover in April 1931. Herxheimer's forced resignation (1933) was followed by the consolidation of institutional powers; from 1934, all elections and resolutions of the society were controlled by the Nazi regime," reports Groß.

A total of 59 persons could be identified who a) were or became doctors or pathologists in the Third Reich and b) held a leading position in the DGP before 1933, between 1933 and 1945 or after 1945. Paul Ernst (1926) was the first, Gerhard Seifert (1986) the last DGP chairman in the investigated collective. Herxheimer, who was deposed in 1933, was the only DGP president of Jewish origin.

In the case of 47 of the remaining 58 DGP representatives, it was possible to clarify with certainty whether they were party members or not: 30 of these 47 pathologists demonstrably belonged to the party, and the remaining 17 were just as certainly not party members. This corresponds to an NSDAP quota of 64 percent. "Particularly remarkable is the fact that having been an NSDAP member did not prevent those who later became DGP presidents in the Federal Republic of Germany from being chosen," reports the Aachen expert. In other words, prior NSDAP membership was clearly neither a decisive factor nor a deterrant for a presidency.

The results of the scientific research project will be presented at the annual meeting of the German Society of Pathology on June 13, 2019, in Frankfurt.