Ingeborg Rapoport: The female face of the Charité Hospital

The holder of the first European chair of neonatology

Ingeborg Rapoport: Sozietät der Wissenschaften; dpa

Ingeborg Rapoport, née Syllm (1912-2017), was the founder of the first clinic of neonatology in Germany, the holder of the first European chair of neonatology, a legendary figure in the well-known Charité Hospital in East Berlin, and the oldest Ph.D. holder in the world. Born in Cameroon, which was at that time a German colony, she studied medicine in Hamburg, where her father, of conservative and nationalist beliefs, worked as a merchant. Her parents were both Protestants, even if her mother, the known pianist Maria Feibes, was of Jewish ancestry. Once the Nazi regime was established in 1933, the musician converted to Judaism giving a sign against the political situation and paid the price for her choice: She lost her job as a music teacher and then immigrated to the United States. Five years ago, she got divorced from her husband. Like mother, like daughter. Ingeborg, known as Inge, showed the same courage in life, which is divided into three lives [see Rapoport, Ingeborg (1997). Meine ersten drei Leben: Erinnerungen. Autobiographie. Berlin: Edition Ost]. In her first life, she completed her study on medicine and submitted her doctoral dissertation − an experimental work on diphtheria. As she was classified as a 'Mischling', the University of Hamburg denied her the medical degree [Dr.med.], a false that was corrected 77 years later, when she received the title at the age of 102 years old. In 1938, she finished her studies as a physician in the USA, where she emigrated after this injustice and before the November Pogrom(s). She studied in medical schools in Brooklyn, New York, Baltimore, and Akron, Ohio, and completed her studies (the respective studies in Germany were not completely acknowledged) at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, after receiving many rejections, such as from the Columbia University due to her poverty. She worked as a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital in Cincinnati and became the head of the outpatient department. In her new homeland, she married the biochemist Samuel Mitja Rapoport and gave birth to four children. Rapoport became politically engaged after witnessing the poverty of African Americans. When the House Un-American Activities Committee launched, in terms of McCarthyism, an investigation of the couple for engaging in communist activities, they fled to Austria, where they were observed by the CIA. The members of the CPUSA searched for career opportunities in England, France, and Scandinavia – countries reluctant to accept communist immigrants searching for political asylum. Similar efforts in Israel failed as they were avowed anti-Zionists. The Rapoport's finally settled in East Germany (GDR/DDR). In 1959, she received her Habilitation and was inter alia awarded the National Prize of East Germany and Honoured Doctor of the People. Rapoport contributed to the considerable reduction of infant mortality in East Germany, which was at that time much lower than in West Germany. All credit belongs to her.


*Mischling was, according to the Nuremberg racial laws of 1935, a pejorative legal term used to denote children of both 'Aryan' and Jewish ancestry.


Text: #JohannaPanagiotou

Project: #WomenWroteHistory


#Ingeborg Rapoport

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Communications, Publications & Arts

May 2018