Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport studied diphtheria at the University of Hamburg in Germany and at 1938, the 25-year old Protestant-raised, German-born Ingeborg Syllm submitted for her doctorate thesis defense
Ms. Ingeborg Syllm was denied her chance for her thesis defense because her mother was of the Jewish ancestry, making her an official 'cross-breed'
As a 'cross-breed' the Nazi regime forbidden the university from proceeding with her defense, for 'racial reasons'
She became one of the thousands of scholars and researchers banished from German academe, which at the time included many of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, on account of Jewish ancestry or opposition to Nazi policies. Many of them ended up suffering or dying in concentration camps
Rudolf Degkwitz, Syllm’s professor, was imprisoned for objecting to euthanizing children
Syllm, however, was able to reach the United States and earned her medical degree from the old Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
Eventually she married a fellow physician named Samuel Mitja Rapoport, had a family, and moved back to Germany in the 1950s, where she achieved prominence in neonatology
Syllm-Rapoport, who is now 102 years old, might have remained just a doctor (if a very accomplished one) had not the present dean of the Hamburg medical school, Uwe Koch-Gromus, heard her story from a colleague of her son, Tom Rapoport, a Harvard cell biologist
Determined to do what he could to mitigate this wrong, Koch-Gromus arranged Syllm-Rapoport’s long-delayed defense
Despite failing eyesight, she brushed up on decades of developments in diphtheria research with the help of friends and the Internet. Koch-Gromus called the 45-minute oral exam given by him and two colleagues on 13 May in her Berlin living room “a very good test. Frau Rapoport has gathered notable knowledge about what’s happened since then. Particularly given her age, she was brilliant.”
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