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Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 43.3 (2000) 389-396

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The Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna 60 Years Following Austria's Annexation

Wolfgang Schütz * **

Symposium: Medical Research Ethics at the Millennium: What Have We Learned?

On 13 March 1998, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany and her integration into the Third Reich. Already the night of 11-12 March had marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of terror against the Jewish citizens of Austria--e.g., Nobel Laureate Otto Loewi was arrested during this first night [1]--which swiftly resulted in inconceivable acts of humiliation, in the deprivation of Jewish citizens' basic civil rights, the dismissal from professional positions, forced expulsion from their homes, theft of their private property, and their eventual exile. Those unable to escape were incarcerated in concentration camps, and more than one third of the pre-war Jewish population of Austria perished or was exterminated in the Holocaust.

It is with shame 60 years later that we remember the brutal expulsion of a major part of the faculty members from their positions at the University of Vienna, a process which commenced immediately after the takeover by the Nazis. The medical faculty was particularly severely affected. More than 50 percent of the senior staff were dismissed, mainly for racial, but in some cases for political reasons, inflicting irreparable damage to the Viennese Medical School, which was one of the largest in Europe and held a leading place in the hierarchy of medical excellence. Not only four Nobel Laureates originated from within the faculty--namely Robert Baranyi, Karl Landsteiner, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, and Otto Loewi--but also a series of scientists and physicians of world-wide renown: among many others one might name Anton von Eiselsberg, Adolf Lorenz, Clemens von Pirquet, Sigmund Freud, and Alfred Adler. However, attention should not only be drawn to the famous names, but also to the innumerable nameless doctors, [End Page 389] male and female, from Vienna, who were banished, driven into exile or death, or even murdered [2].

It is especially distressing to note how little was done after the war, following the collapse of the Third Reich, to correct the flagrant injustice and barbarism committed against undesired citizens in 1938--how few of the exiled Austrians were asked to return, how few were reinstated in their former university positions, and how enormously difficult it was to regain their previous homes and property, to obtain their civil and social rights and to receive back their Austrian citizenship. The first Minister of Education of the new Republic of Austria after World War II invited all dismissed university members back to Austria in a speech over the Austrian Broadcasting System in the summer of 1945, but--not surprisingly--most of them did not respond. Of the few who returned, only Hans Hoff attained a leading position in the medical faculty, becoming professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry and neurology. In particular, there has been no general move on the part of Vienna University to honor the faculty members who were dismissed. Many of the expelled were later invited to give lectures in Vienna, and many former faculty members were asked to write articles in the Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift, which had been one of the leading medical journals in the world before the Anschluss. However, these were relatively inadequate gestures.

In contrast to the hurdles placed in the way of those exiled colleagues wishing to return to Vienna, most members of the medical faculty burdened with a Nazi past remained in office after the end of the war, and those initially forced to leave were rapidly reinstated. The most striking examples are the following. The dean of the medical faculty and subsequent rector of the University of Vienna during the period of Austria's annexation, Eduard Pernkopf, was imprisoned in Salzburg by the Allies, but was released a few years later after having achieved the change in his status from incriminated person to...


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