Doctoral awards ceremony for 102-year-old paediatrician

At the ceremony in the Erika-Haus, the refurbished former nurses‘ dormitory at the UKE, Prof. Dr. Dr. Syllm-Rapoport received congratulations from Prof. Dr. Burkhard Göke, Medical Director and Chairman of the Board of the UKE, Prof. Dr. Dr. Uwe Koch-Gromus, Dean of the Medical Faculty and UKE Board Member, and Katharina Fegebank, Second Mayor and Senator for Science, Research and Equality of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, for obtaining her doctoral title.

„After almost 80 years, it was possible to restore some extent of justice, in particular thanks to the efforts on the part of our Dean. We note this with satisfaction. We cannot undo injustices that have been committed, but our insights into the past shape our perspective for the future,“ said Prof. Dr. Burkhard Göke.

„Since the UKE’s 125th birthday, patients and visitors literally stumble over our efforts to come to terms with the national-socialist past at the UKE. The commemorative „stumbling stones“ („Stolpersteine“) remind us of the dismissal of ’non-Aryan‘ members of the teaching staff at the Medical Faculty at Hamburg University between 1933 and 1934. Today’s awards ceremony for Prof. Rapoport is testimony to our acceptance of historical responsibility. We have great respect for the academic achievement of Ms Rapoport at such an age,“ said Prof. Dr. Dr. Uwe Koch-Gromus.

Senator Katharina Fegebank thanked the UKE for this „wonderful gesture of historical consciousness“: „The decision to accept the doctoral thesis after such a long time and to belatedly award the doctoral degree to Prof. Syllm-Rapoport deserves the international attention that it has received. Ms Rapoport’s example demonstrates how valuable it is to have the right to study what one wishes and to obtain the vocational qualification or academic degree that one wants – regardless of background or political beliefs,“ said Senator Fegebank.

Ingeborg Rapoport, née Syllm, completed her medical studies in 1937 and wrote her doctoral thesis on the subject of diphtheria. The then-incumbent Director of the Paediatric Clinic at the UKE, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Degkwitz, confirmed in writing in 1938 that he would have accepted this piece of work as a doctoral thesis „if the applicable laws did not prohibit Ms Syllm’s admission to the doctoral exam due to her ancestry“. In 1938, Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport emigrated to the USA – without academic title. There, she sent applications to various universities. In Philadelphia, she was granted the opportunity to re-sit her final exams after an additional two years of medical studies.

Together with her husband, Samuel Mitja Rapoport (1912–2004), and her four children she moved to the GDR in 1950. In 1969, Ingeborg Rapoport held the first chair in Germany for neonatology at the Charité in Berlin. Prof. Rapoport now lives in Berlin-Pankow.

Prof. Koch-Gromus heard of this case on the occasion of her 100th birthday and endeavoured to resolve the situation. Together the decision was made to take the oral exam, for which Prof. Rapoport prepared with friends and relatives. In mid May, the exam committee consisting of three members: Prof. Koch-Gromus, Prof. Dr. Gabriele M. Rune (Institute of Neuroanatomy at the UKE) and Prof. Dr. Dr. Michael Frotscher (Institute of Structural Neurobiology) travelled to Berlin to hear the exam. The defence of her doctoral thesis on the subject of diphtheria took place in Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport’s apartment.

After the exam, the Dean was enthusiastic about the candidate: „She was brilliant, and not only for her age. We were impressed with her intellectual alertness, and made speechless by her expertise – also with regard to modern medicine.“

The 102-year-old concluded her studies with the overall grade magna cum laude (with particular praise, a performance worth particular recognition).

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