Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

My Uncle David

Uncle David was an older brother of my father, as a matter of fact, more than ten years older. He was the most flamboyant member of the Caspari family and looked more like an Italian tenor than a Jewish physician. He never wore a coat, rather a woolen cape which gave him the appearance of an artist. He was a general practitioner, since specialists were still rather rare in the nineteenth century. I  am sure that today he world have been a psychiatrist for he had a deep understanding of people. His female patients adored him.  Over the years he became the patriarch of the Caspari family, and was asked for advice in any situation that developed: marriage difficulties, parent-child relationships, business difficulties, death, and so forth. It was an honor when he came to visit, and when he occasionally came to see me, when I was sick, his presence would give me a feeling of peace.  

He had a rather stormy youth as I found out years later, as one did not talk about family skeletons, safely stowed in the back of the closet. His marriage bad been arranged, as  was customary among middle-class Jews. His wife, Aunt Ida, came from a wealthy and intellectually educated family, and she herself, for her time, was highly educated; however, she was not very good looking and unimpressive. I do not know what pressure was put on my uncle to agree to this marriage, for he had been deeply in love with a young cousin, Paula, who at the age of sixteen was forced into a marriage with a considerably older rich banker. I was very fond of cousin Paula, and when I was a medical student visited her in the hospital, shortly before her death. It was then that she told me that on her wedding night she ran away from her bridegroom because he was "hairy like an ape." However, the family saw to it that she returned to her husband; the marriage was unhappy and at one point she ran away with her great love, her cousin, my Uncle David, but eventually they were brought back and reunited with their legal spouses. During the first World War Paula's husband lost all his money and died a pauper soon after.

Tante Paula [Aunt Paula] was taken care of by the family, and it is at this point in time, as a child, that I truly became aware of her. She was still a beautiful woman. Uncle David and his wife had become a devoted couple. They had two children: a daughter who I hardly knew, since she married young and emigrated with her husband to Palestine where they owned a successful hotel. Uncle David also had a son, Joachim, whom I vaguely remember as a very handsome young man in his medical lieutenant’s uniform at the end of the First World War. He, too, emigrated to Palestine. He took his degree in the Berlin Medical School, where he specialized in pediatrics. There Joachim studied with one of the foremost pediatricians of the time, and when I attended the same institution, I still had the good fortune to hear him lecture,  although for only one semester. Since he was a progressive and a liberal, he was dismissed when Hitler came to power. In his stead, a devoted Hitler admirer became the head of the pediatric department; he began each lecture with “Heil Hitler.” My cousin, however became a very successful pediatrician in Israel, loved by Muslims as well as Jews and a street in Haifa is named after him.  

When my uncle David heard that I wanted to study medicine he took me aside and gave me good advice that I never forgot and tried to follow all my professional life: "Look at the patient when he walks into the consultation room and more often than not you will have a good idea about what bothers him." This advice is very old fashioned today where a physician hardly looks at the patient, focusing his attention on numerous test results. However, within the past year I read two articles in major medical journals admonishing the physician not to rely on tests alone, but to take time to talk and observe the patient. 

I got officially engaged on my mother’s birthday in May 1933, when George [Rosen] was introduced to the family. Even uncle David and his wife came on this occasion and my uncle sat down with George and had a long conversation. Before he left he told me that I had chosen my future husband very well and wished me great happiness. I do not think that George was truly aware of what really happened on that occasion. He had enjoyed the discussion with my uncle David, but I never found out what they discussed.
In 1933, after Hitler won the election, my uncle and his wife decided to move to Palestine, where their children and grandchildren had built new lives. Many members of my family followed them and Uncle David again became the head of the Caspari family, but in another land. The last Caspari family reunion in 1990, counted over 150  members. Uncle David died in December 1937, the same week that his brother Paul, my father, died in Berlin.

Only after I wrote this brief essay did I realize that Uncle David had been my favorite uncle and that the impression he made on me and on my life was profound and enduring.


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