- Ernst Theodor Von Brücke (1880-1941) and Alexander Forbes (1882-1965): Chronicle of a Transatlantic Friendship in Difficult Times
- Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 40, Number 1, Autumn 1996
- pp. 45-54
- View Citation
- Additional Information
ERNST THEODOR VON BRÜCKE (1880-1941) AND ALEXANDER FORBES (1882-1965): CHRONICLE OF A TRANSATLANTIC FRIENDSHIP IN DIFFICULT TIMES ERNST-AUGUST SEYFARTH* Ernst Theodor von Brücke of Innsbruck and Alexander Forbes of Boston were two renowned neurophysiologists during the period between the two world wars. Shared scientific interests led to their personal acquaintance in 1929. Ten years later, after the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany and in a time ofcrisis, when von Brücke was expelled from his professorship and was further persecuted because of his mother's Jewish ancestry, their friendship was to become decisive. The present chronicle recalls some of the scientific achievements of these two remarkable neuroscientists and reports on admirable efforts by Alexander Forbes, which led to the successful rescue of von Brücke and his wife Dora Teleky from Austria in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Historical Background When the Nazis assumed power in Germany inJanuary 1933, one of the first measures taken by the newly elected government was to remove all persons from the civil service who had been declared "undesirable" because of their political affiliation or because they were ofJewish descent. The state ran and controlled all universities and most research institutes. Hence, the new measures applied to everyone in these institutions who was classified by the Nazi authorities as being Jewish. Between 1933 and 1938 The author wishes to thank the Brücke family, in particular Prof. Dr. Hans von Brücke, Dr. Elisabeth Wieser-Brücke, and Dr. Stefanie Axenfeld, for numerous documents and for their continued interest. Mrs. EHn Wolfe and Mr. Richard Wolfe at the Countway Library of Medicine gave decisive help, and Mrs. Florence Forbes Locke provided photographs and showed me her father's diaries. I am also very grateful to Steven J. Zottoli, Andrew S. French, and Edward A. Kravitz for their advice and encouragement. * Zoologisches Institut,J. W. Goethe-Universität, Siesmayerstrasse 70, D-60054 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.© 1996 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/96/3904-0966$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 40, 1 ¦ Autumn 1996 45 numerous laws were decreed, including the infamous "Nürnberger Rassengesetze ," that led to the dismissal of hundreds of faculty members and other personnel [1, 2]. With the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938, the same government decrees were immediately implemented in the newly annexed territory. Prominent scientists, such as the neuropharmacologist and Nobel laureate Otto Loewi in Graz, were imprisoned, their homes were searched and vandalized, and their families terrorized. Like many of their persecuted colleagues in Germany in previous years, numerous Austrian scientists were now forced to search for positions abroad [3-5]. Ernst Theodor von Brücke Born in 1880 and raised in fin-de-siècle Vienna as the grandson of Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke (1819-1892), one of the founders of modern physiology , Ernst Theodor von Brücke was trained in physiology and medicine in Leipzig and Vienna. He did physiological research at Anton Dohrn's Zoological Station in Naples, and received his doctorate in medicine from Vienna University in 1904. Subsequently he returned to Leipzig as an assistant in Ewald Hering's Institute of Physiology, where he became Associate Professor in 1913. In 1916, von Brücke was appointed Professor and Chair of Physiology at the University of Innsbruck, Tyrol. Von Brücke's research covered an unusually broad range of topics and experimental systems. He published well over 100 papers, many together with younger colleagues, and wrote numerous authoritative handbook and review articles1 (see also [6, 7]). While still a student in medical school, he became interested in visual psychophysics and published three papers (together with the wellknown ophthalmologist Arthur Brückner) dealing with binocular vision and visual illusions. He then turned to the comparative anatomy and physiology of organs innervated by the autonomic nervous system. In this work he used a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate animals and preparations, ranging from insect larvae and lobsters to cats and dogs. Observations (in 1905) on rhythmic gizzard contractions in the marine gastropod Aplysia (an animal that has since become a model research object in neurobiology...