Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

An Old Fashioned Doctor

My father was the youngest child of seventeen siblings. Several of his brothers and sisters died in childhood, but eleven children grew to adulthood. When my father was born, several of his older brothers were married and already had children of their own. The family was very close and affectionate, and when I grew up, as an only child, I was surrounded by male and female first and second cousins and never missed not having brothers and sisters.

My father studied medicine in several German medical schools, as was customary, and was exposed to the most famous professors of his day. He received his degree in Berlin, where Rudolf Virchow was one of his much feared teachers.

My father opened his practice in a small north German town, but after his marriage moved to Berlin where he opened his practice in a low--middle class and worker's neighborhood. Practice and living quarters were combined in one apartment on the third floor of the apartment building at 41 Metzertstrasse To reside in the same apartment where the medical office was located was the accepted norm--Sigmund Freud had the same arrangement--and patients had to walk up two flights of stairs, as no elevator was available. The neighborhood had been developed after the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Streets were named after the victorious battles and the apartment houses were built of heavy solid sandstone It is now part of East Berlin. [With the downfall of East Germany and unification between the two Germany’s, Berlin became one entity again. When visited in summer 2006, the neighborhood was fully restored and was a very desirable area]     

My father belonged to the old school of doctors, who, due to the specialization of medicine, has not survived. He treated all complaints, set bones, brought babies into the world, saw a generation of them grow up and in their turn produced a new generation. He liked to pull teeth, remove tonsils, and perform other minor surgery. He always carried candy in his coat pockets and was followed like the Pied Piper by a swarm of children in the street, when he made his rounds of housecalls. Candy was hard to come by for the children of the First World War generation.

The house door was locked at eight o'clock in the evening, but my father had a nightbell attached to his sign in the vestibule. Since most patients did not possess a telephone that bell rang nearly every night and off my father went to attend the sick

After a physician had successfully practiced medicine for 25 years in Germany, he received the honorable title of Sanitatsrat as an acknowledgement for his service under the Emperor. In the winter of 1918, an official imperial coach pulled up in front of the house and delivered this title of distinction, signed by Emperor Wilhelm II. How it was accomplished I never found out, since the Emperor had already fled to Holland. My father never used his distinguished title, for he was always a devout democrat, when his family and friends were still enthusiastic adherents of the German Empire. He believed that only a democracy would help the people in their fight for freedom and a decent standard of  living. 

Through the years of practice my father regularly went to medical lectures in order to stay in close contact with  advances in medicine. A practicing physician in Germany was never a member of a hospital staff. Full-time physicians in the hospital treated the sick. It was my father's dream that someday I would accompany him to these lectures when I finished my medical studies.

This dream never materialized. In 1935, I left Berlin for America. When my parents visited me in early 1937, they were advised not to return to Germany, but my father refused to stay. Though as a Jew he was not allowed to practice medicine under Hitler's laws, he felt that his Jewish patients would need him. Who could have foreseen the unimaginable nightmare of the concentration and deathcamps. My father died in December 1937 after surgery; my mother left Berlin and came to live with us in 1938.


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