[Otfrid Foerster (1873-1941) and his ambivalent attitude towards National Socialism]

Nervenarzt. 2020 Feb;91(Suppl 1):22-28. doi: 10.1007/s00115-019-00840-9.
[Article in German]


When Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich Otfrid Foerster was almost 60 years old and an internationally renowned neurologist, neurosurgeon and a pioneer of localization research. Since 1922 he held the chair of neurology in Breslau (Wroclaw) and from 1925 to 1932 he was president (later honorary president) of the first Society of German Neurologists. In 1934 "his" Neurological Research Institute in Breslau was inaugurated. Biographical studies have unanimously established that he has never been a member of the party, that he found himself promptly marginalized after 1933 within his own ranks, and that he never participated in eugenic measures or "euthanasia" activities. A re-reading and analysis of his relevant papers and publications on neurology reveal however reverences paid to the Nazi state, which are surprising in this clarity. A possible explanation for Foerster's overall ambivalent attitude, he was married to a non-Aryan woman (in Nazi jargon), is the threat posed to his relatives by Nazi racial hygiene laws. On the other hand, there are clear indications of his conservative German national patriotism encouraging and supporting a restrengthened state and the National Socialist vision of the German Reich as a "great power". Further investigations will have to show how the numerous influential factors that had a bearing on his biographical characteristics, political attitude, medical research interests and private motivation should be weighted.

Keywords: Medicine in National Socialism; Neurological investigations; Neurology/history; Neurosurgery/history; Society of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Eugenics
  • Euthanasia* / history
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • National Socialism
  • Neurologists
  • Neurology*