In 1938, Ingeborg Syllim-Rapoport was 25 years old and nearing completion of her doctorate in Neonatology, a practice that provides special care for premature and high-risk babies. She had completed her doctoral thesis was about to take the final step of presenting it to a panel of doctors when a problem arose.
The problem was that she was part Jewish and living in Nazi Germany just before World War 2. Because of her ethnic heritage, Syllim-Rapoport was denied the opportunity to become a doctor. At the time, the Nazis had been disenfranchising professionals of Jewish heritage from universities and schools. Her doctoral supervisor, Rudolf Degkwitz, had written in a letter that he would have happily granted the doctorate for her extensive work on the treatment of diphtheria, however the Nazi race laws prevented him from doing so.Suddenly aware of her risky future in Germany, Ingeborg and her husband emigrated to the United States before the war began. She eventually received a medical degree in Philadelphia and worked as a pediatrician for several years. In 1952, she moved with her family back to East Berlin where she raised four children and became the head of the Neonatology department in Berlin’s Charite Hospital.
However her successful career was not enough to overcome the injustice that she felt about the Nazis. Determined to complete her doctorate in Germany, Ingeborg Syllim-Rappaport finally received her diploma in June 2015 at the age of 102. She impressed the Dean of the University of Hamburg, Burkhard Goetke, who said “She was brilliant, and not only for her age.”
Asked about her determination to complete her doctorate, Ingeborg said that she did not do it for herself but to take a step in resolving the terrible injustices created by the Nazis. Her main aim was to “prove that we are moving towards a better future”. She told a local German public television station “for me personally, the degree didn’t mean anything, but to support the great goal of coming to terms with history, I wanted to be part of that”.
©Copyright 2015 Glenn Stewart Coles