Media formats available:

Generally, I have an optimistic viewpoint in my editorials for Practical Dermatology. I think of myself as a “glass half-full” type of person, so it pains me to relate a viewpoint that is outside that realm, but the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism worldwide forces me to bear witness to some difficult truths. As a Jewish dermatologist and grandson of a family immersed in the Holocaust, my identity is shaped not only by the stories of my ancestors, but also by the accomplishments of the many Jewish dermatologists who preceded me. There are a wealth of giants in the field who have advanced the field significantly over the years including, but not limited to Rudolph Baer, Karl Herxheimer, Abraham Buschke, Paul Unna, Erich Langer, Albert Neisser, Josef Jadassohn, Stephen Rothman, Max Jessner, Hermann Pinkus, Marion Sulzberger and countless others who found their way into dermatology in Nazi or pre-Nazi Germany.1 Jewish physicians were generally excluded from the preferable specialties historically and accepted to either dermatology, pediatrics, or psychiatry due to the lowly position of those specialties in the medical fields (with the risks and attendant treatment of syphilis being the reason dermatology was deemed to be “acceptable” for Jews). During the Holocaust, at least 40% of the population of German dermatologists and 25% of Austrian dermatologists were murdered in the concentration camps, disappeared, or committed suicide. Of note, Buschke and Herxheimer both died in Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The recent spate of anti-Semitic rhetoric, violence, and moral equivocation among colleagues, friends, and professional societies is most troubling to me because of my background, as mentioned above. While I don’t tend to wear my religion on my sleeve, I find it difficult to remain silent in these eerily reminiscent times.

My family’s own story, like that of many of my Jewish colleagues, is rooted in pain. My great-grandfather, a Hungarian farmer, was shot and killed in front of his children in 1919, while Jewish women were raped by peasants and soldiers; my grandfather survived that day by hiding behind a bush. Two other great-grandparents were killed on a forced march from Suceava, Romania, to a concentration camp in Ukraine. My great-uncle, a chemist and academic fermentation researcher in Italy, survived the concentration camps by distilling alcohol for the guards, who spared his life. He eventually came to Chicago after the war, working first in Stephen Rothman’s dermatology research lab at the University of Chicago and later as a professor at Roosevelt University, where he met and introduced my father to my mother. Despite the pain, I consider our family’s eventual survival to be a triumph; for every story like mine, there are other stories of Jewish families either entirely eliminated by the Nazis or escaping by hiding and converting from Judaism, erasing their true identity for all future generations. These stories surely influence the emotional psyche of my fellow dermatologists.

The October 7th, 2023 massacre in Israel adds a tragedy, livestreamed and celebrated by the perpetrators, which reminds us again of our own histories but worse than anything most of us could have ever imagined in the current world. The aftermath, with increasingly frequent and violent anti-Semitism around the world, has shocked many to the core.

This is one reason why statements of condemnation by national organizations must be actively solicited and negotiated.

We continue to hope and pray for the safety of all members in our community and in the Middle East, both our co-religionists and the innocents in Gaza who are governed by terrorists. We pray for an end to the senseless violence that comes from hate replacing kindness and decency as the motivating force in our society.

Burgdorf WHC, Bickers DR. Dermatologic relationships between the United States and German-speaking countries: part 2--the exodus of Jewish dermatologists. JAMA Dermatol. 2013 Sep;149(9):1090-4. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.5023. PMID: 23986294

Completing the pre-test is required to access this content.
Completing the pre-survey is required to view this content.

We’re glad to see you’re enjoying PracticalDermatology…
but how about a more personalized experience?

Register for free