Shalom Life | June 16, 2015

102-year-old Finally gets Ph.D after Being Denied by Nazis

Ingeborg Syllm-Rappoport finally gets to defend thesis in Berlin after being denied due to Jewish lineage in 1938

By: B. Shane Morganstein

Published: June 10th, 2015 in News » World

102-year-old Finally gets Ph.D after Being Denied by Nazis

Photo: 102-year-old Ingeborg Syllm-Rappoport

Credit: BBC


Defending her thesis in what is now a very different Germany, 102-year-old Ingeborg Syllm-Rappoport was finally given a chance that was unjustly taken from her in 1938. Syllm-Rappoport, who was studying neonatology, a specialist in caring for newborns, was prohibited by the Nazis from defending her PHD thesis due to her Jewish lineage - her mother was a Jewish pianist.

When the Nazis came to power, they began a campaign of disenfranchisement against minorities and Jews. Over the coming years this persecution would evolve from being prohibited from attending school to being forced to wear special clothing, ultimately resulting in the building of concentration camps and the Holocaust.

"For me personally, the degree didn't mean anything," Syllm-Rappoport told German reporters, "but to support the great goal of coming to terms with history - I wanted to be part of that."

When Syllm-Rappoport originally submitted her written doctorate thesis in 1938, her supervisor wrote her in a letter explaining that though he would have liked to have accepted her work, the Nazi race laws, "make it impossible to allow for Ms. Syllhm's admission for the doctorate."

Syllm-Rappoport then emigrated to the United States, where she would eventually complete her doctoral thesis in Philadelphia. A socialist herself, she moved her family to East Berlin in 1952, where she became the first head of neonatology at Berlin's Charite hospital.

When asked how Syllm-Rappoport did on her thesis last month - which was on the same topic of diphtheria as her original thesis in 1938 - the university's dean of medicine Uwe Koch-Gromus called her, "Brilliant, and not only for her age."

"We were impressed with her intellectual alertness, and left speechless by her expertise," continued Koch-Gromus.

Now, almost eight decades after fleeing from Nazi terror, Syllm-Rappoport completed her studies with the recognition of magna cum laude. She is the oldest student in history to receive her Ph.D.

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