In the first gallery of the Holocaust History Museum is a room that portrays the lifestyle of German Jews and their cultural background. Displayed in the room are furnishings and personal effects from the home of Prof. Herman Zondek.
Herman Zondek was born in a small town in the area of Posen in 1887. He served as a medical doctor in the First World War and rose quickly in the hospital hierarchy. In 1926 he was appointed to head the city hospital “am Urban” in Berlin. His achievements as a doctor are apparent in the long and respectable list of his renowned patients, among them two German chancellors: Streseman and Von Schleicher.
Professor Zondek’s senior position in public medicine meant that he was one of the first German Jews to be directly and immediately affected by the Nazi measures. In March of 1933 Nazi storm troopers entered Prof. Zondek’s hospital, locked him and other doctors, “Jews and Communists” in a room, and proceeded to inform the Professor that he was relieved of his duties as Director of the hospital. Prof. Zondek left Germany for Zurich that same day, never to return.
His memoirs tell us something of his feelings at that time:
“I cannot begin to describe the feelings that engulfed me in the following days and weeks. The past was behind me…clinical activity in hospitals, scientific research, many friendships, a wide circle of patients from all walks of life, from the pinnacle of political and cultural life – all of this dissolved in a moment into nothing… with no field of action, fearing for my family…thus I sat full of worries in my hotel room in Zurich.”
In September 1933 Professor Zondek received a letter in Zurich from former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher whose failure to retain power paved the way for Hitler:
“My dear Herr Professor,
… I was deeply grieved that you want to bid us farewell for good. I had still nurtured the hope that your great knowledge and your medical genius might yet be retained for Germany, but I realize now that I shall have to bury that hope. At this parting of our ways I feel it both a duty and my wish to thank you with all my heart for the wonderful treatment I have received from you in your capacity both as a doctor and as a friend. …
In unchanging friendship and gratitude,
Kurt von Schleicher”
In 1934, encouraged by Chaim Weizman, Professor Zondek came to Eretz Israel and took upon himself to head the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem. Professor Zondek passed away in 1979.
In his autobiography he wrote:
“Only after I left Germany was it clear to me that we, the Jews of Germany had been living until 1933 in a fools paradise.”
Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Gift of Gerda Zondek, Jerusalem, Israel