Monday, May 18, 2015

Test of Time

What I like best about this story of a 102-year-old woman earning the Ph. D. originally denied her by the Nazis in 1938 is not that she was simply awarded the degree she should have been in 1938. It's that she defended her original thesis successfully and earned the degree.

Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport produced a thesis on diptheria when she was a medical student at the University of Hamburg. But since her mother was Jewish, the Nazis denied her entrance to the oral defense portion of the degree requirements and the university did not award the degree. Dr. Syllm-Rapaport emigrated to the United States and began practicing medicine but returned to Germany with her husband following the war. She retired as a full professor of pediatrics and director of the Neonatology Department at a top Berlin hospital.

I imagine no one would have been scandalized if the University of Hamburg had simply awarded her the degree that the Nazis had denied her the chance to earn. But the good doctor did not settle for that and sat for the thesis exam just as she would have 77 years ago, and she passed.

In a way, this is a much more powerful statement to the ideas Nazism espoused about racial inferiorities and the like than it would have been if the university had just decided she should get the degree. The Nazis claimed that having a Jewish mother disqualified Dr. Syllm-Rapaport from earning a Ph. D, but she demonstrated that she was not only qualified then, she still is. The only way the Nazi ideal could win against her was to cheat, which it did. But the victory was only temporary, and the Nazis were wrong.

Of course, they should be used to that by now.

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