Sunday 17 December 2017

Woman (102) gets doctorate 77 years after Nazis denied her for 'racial reasons'

Dr Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport Credit: Reuters
Dr Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport Credit: Reuters Newsdesk Newsdesk

A German woman aged 102 has officially passed her doctorate, after the Nazi government refused to let her sit her final exams in 1938.

Neonatal expert Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport, who is likely the oldest person in the world to get their PhD, was awarded her title by the University of Hamburg 77 years after it refused her entry to her final exam.

Academic authorities cited “racial reasons” for the ban. Ms Rapoport’s mother was Jewish, making her “a first-degree crossbreed” in Nazi parlance.

Officials marked her exam forms with a yellow stripe and deemed her ineligible for academic advancement. 

Her treatment was hardly unique. Thousands of “non-Aryan” students and professors were pushed out of universities under the Third Reich, with many being imprisonment and later sent to die in concentration camps for speaking out against the Nazi presence in the German university system.

Unable to finish her studies and facing an uncertain future, Ms Rapoport, then named Ingeborg Syllm, immigrated penniless and alone to the US in 1938.

She applied to 48 medical schools and was accepted by one: the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia

But the transition was not an easy one as she did not have the piece of paper to prove she was a doctor.

“My final exams [from Germany] carried no weight so I had to study there for two more year, I had to overcome a lot of hurdles,” she said. 

“I hadn’t anticipated what it would have meant not getting my title,” she said, explaining that her professor Rudolf Degkwitz  filled a certificate out to say that he would have passed her were it legally possible.

Mr Degkwitz was imprisoned by the Nazis after he spoke out against euthanasia.

Ms Rapoport eventually moved back to Germany – becoming a highly respected professor of neonatology at the Charité hospital.

“This is about principle, not about me,” she told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

“The university wanted to put right past wrongs and have demonstrated great patience, for which I am thankful,” she said.

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