One part of the reporting I did for the story in this week’s Yom HaShoah issue, about medical resistance during the Holocaust, how physicians and nurses and other members of the putative healing professions took a stand against Nazi genocide, sounded familiar.
I grew up hearing a story along these lines – but in this case, how some doctors in Nazi Germany did not stand up.
Dr. Hans Sauer, a Vienna-born urologist whom I never met – he died of a heart attack at the operating table a few years before I was born – was my late father’s father. Rather, he was my father’s stepfather, but Dad always referred to “Dr. Sauer” as his father.
Dr. Sauer, a Lutheran, worked in the early 1930s on the staff of the University of Berlin – a prestigious position at a prestige teaching hospital. He was married to Dad’s mother, Gertrude, a Jew.
My father’s birth parents divorced when he was young; his father played no part in his life thereafter, and Dad never talked about the man.
When Dad said “my father,” he meant Dr. Sauer.
Dr. Sauer, Dad told me over the years, was a loyal husband, devoted to his wife. In Weimer-era Germany, in my father’s family assimilated circles, such an affectionate intermarriage was common.
Came the Nuremberg Laws. Jews lost their jobs. As an “Aryan,” Dr. Sauer’s position was safe. Ostensibly. His marriage to a Jew was known. His fellow doctors, Dad told me – though he had little connection to Judaism, his teenage years in Berlin were apparently painful; he rarely spoke about them – pressured him to leave Gertrude.
Dr. Sauer refused. He was thrown out of the hospital Literally. His erstwhile colleagues tossed him out of a second-story window, Dad would tell me, when pressed to discuss those times.
Dr. Sauer apparently was not seriously injured by his defenestration. But he realized he had no future in Germany. With the help of sympathetic non-Jewish friends, the Sauers made their way to the United States, where Dr. Sauer rebuild his life, finding a position as an oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a leading research and treatment center in Buffalo.
In Buffalo, my hometown, the Sauers left the anti-Semitism of the Third Reich behind.
I’ve never forgotten the story Dad told me of the cowardly physicians who forced Hans and Gertrude and Claus Peter – among thousands of refugees who were lucky enough to escape Nazi Europe in time – to emigrate and remake their lives in a foreign country.
The Nazis, in name or in spirit, who put their loyalty to the Fuhrer before their Hippocratic Oath, deserve our condemnation. Which is why I have more admiration for the members of the medical profession, the subject of my article this week about Cheyenne Martin’s groundbreaking research in Galveston, who risked their lives to save others’ and were a credit to humanity.
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