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Petra Werner. Der Heiler: Tuberkuloseforscher Friedrich F. Friedmann. Munich: Koehler & Amelang, 2002. 298 pp. Ill. €19.90, Sw. Fr. 35.20 (3-7338-0319-1).
The name of Friedrich F. Friedmann is well known in the history of tuberculosis, mainly as one of the would-be German inventors of a short-lived therapy of tuberculosis, like Albert Landerer, Julius Heinrich Sommerbrod, and, of course, Robert Koch. In 1902 Friedmann found the first case of a spontaneous tuberculosis in a turtle at the Berlin Zoo, and a year later, a second case. In the following years he elaborated a procedure to breed bacteria extracted from the turtle's lung. Out of this material he produced his remedy for tuberculosis, a dozen years after Robert Koch had failed with his presumed remedy "Tuberculin." The idea behind Friedmann's medicament was that the pathogen of the turtle's tuberculosis, which was quite harmless for humans, could heal human tuberculosis. He believed in the principle of immunologic mimicry, on the assumption that the germ was close enough to the tubercle bacteria to be able to activate human immunology. Because tuberculosis was still widespread and therefore also an economic problem, not only patients and physicians were very interested in the new medicament but also representatives of the state, politicians, philanthropists, and profiteers. Friedmann got in touch with all of them—for which he became both famous and notorious.
Petra Werner has made an attempt "to push the rumors aside and to walk the tightrope between history and stories in an explanation of the 'phenomenon Friedmann'" (p. 13). The "phenomenon" becomes quite clear as she succeeds in outlining the historical and political circumstances and the persons (and their [End Page 231] interests) who were involved, but Friedmann himself remains quite indistinct because (I would guess) Werner has partly succumbed to his "fascination." Nevertheless, she manages to show the complex connections among the protagonists, and their role and share in the "phenomenon."
This is indeed interesting, and not only for the history of medicine. Friedmann was a young, quite unknown but very self-confident physician, who broke a lot of rules: he attacked—as an outsider—famous experts on tuberculosis; he experimented with patients; he advertised his remedy through the media; and he acted like a miracle healer, giving no detailed information about his remedy, publicizing his remedy on a tour in the United States, and displaying a taste for the dramatic that was not accepted by the establishment. His contacts with politicians—which earned him a professorship against the will of the Medical Faculty—and with dubious (not to say criminal) profiteers, and his activities in general, lead one to wonder whether he was rather naive, or a clever businessman. Medical experts were confronted with desperate patients whose last hope seemed to be Friedmann's remedy. Its effectiveness had not been definitively established, and the majority of physicians were rather mistrustful. The social democrats started favoring Friedmann because his remedy was inexpensive and because of their deep mistrust of the bourgeois academic physicians.
The coming into power of the National Socialists in 1933 does not seem to have had grave consequences for Friedmann; his emigration in 1937 to Monaco sounds undramatic. This is quite surprising, for I have frequently found his name in anti-Semitic documents in German archives. Werner apparently did not think it worth her while to investigate this aspect of the fight against Friedmann. Nor has she resolved the important question of whether Friedmann was a naive physician or an enterprising businessman. These deficiencies make this book an unsatisfying biography.
Institut für Geschichte der Medizin der Robert Bosch Stiftung