Early years to 1944

Ludwig Guttmann was born on 3 July 1899 in Tost, Upper Silesia, Germany (which is now Toszek in Poland), and raised in the Jewish faith.  He started studying medicine at the University of Breslau in 1918 after he was turned down for military service on medical grounds.  He continued his studies in Würzberg and Freiburg and took his MD degree in 1924, writing his thesis on tumours of the trachea.

Return to Breslau

Having returned to Breslau, he worked with Europe’s leading neurologist Professor Otfrid Foerster from 1924 to 1928.  In 1928, Guttmann was invited to start a neurosurgical unit in Hamburg but this post only lasted a year as Foerster asked him to return to Breslau as his first assistant – a job Guttmann felt he could not refuse.  He remained in this job until 1933 when the Nazis forced all Jews to leave Aryan hospitals.  Under such oppression, Guttmann became neurologist to the Jewish Hospital in Breslau and was elected Medical Director of the whole hospital in 1937. 

 "He took the Gestapo from bed to bed, justifying each man’s medical condition. He pulled faces and grimaced at the patients from behind their back, signalling to them to pull the same expressions and then saying, ‘Look at this man; he’s having a fit!’ " Eva Loeffler, daughter

On 9 November 1938 (Kristallnacht), Guttmann gave orders that any male person entering the hospital was to be treated, despite the racial laws specifying that Jewish doctors could only treat Jewish patients.  The following morning, he had to justify the large number of admissions (64) to the SS and the Gestapo.  Like all Jews, Guttmann's passport had been confiscated and he was not allowed to travel; however in December 1938 he was ordered by von Ribbentrop to travel to Lisbon, Portugal to treat a friend of the dictator, Salazar.  On his return he was granted permission to go to England for two days.  He was already in contact with the British Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and was offered a grant.  He decided to emigrate with his wife and two children.

To OXford and Stoke Mandeville

"It was 1939 and I was six years old. I remember I was abnormally frightened at the time; I used to cry a lot. Even as a small child I picked up the fear and sadness felt by my parents." Eva Loeffler

His daughter continues, "Although Jews were allowed to take out some furniture, clothes and linen they were not allowed to take any money, gold silver or jewellery. But the official who was supervising us came round the day before and told my mother ‘I shall be an hour late tomorrow’. It was obviously a hint that we might pack what we wanted; but my mother was too frightened to take anything forbidden as she thought it could be a trap."

Photo:A young Guttmann soon after his arrival at Stoke Mandeville Hospital

A young Guttmann soon after his arrival at Stoke Mandeville Hospital

photo NSIC

The Guttmanns left Germany on 14th March 1939, and went to Oxford where the family found a small house to live in. Guttmann was working at the Radcliffe Infirmary and at St Hugh’s College Military Hospital for Head Injuries.  Then in 1943 he was asked by the Government to become Director of the new National Spinal Injury Centre at the Emergency Medical Services Hospital at Stoke Mandeville.  He accepted the post on the condition that he could treat patients in his own way with no interference.

Eva Loeffler

Eva is Ludwig Guttmann's daughter. She came with him from Germany as a young girl and subsequently trained as a physiotherapist, working briefly at Stoke Mandeville. Read the full interview with Eva below.

This page was added on 06/04/2011.
Comments about this page

What a man! We owe him such a debt of gratitude for what he did for so many in this country, and in the world. People who would otherwise have been destined to a very short and miserable life with no meaning or usefulness, which was so tragic. With Dr Guttmann's treatment and vision, so many have been able to have a life after severe spinal injuries, and in lots of cases travelling the world as international athletes. God bless dedicated people like Dr L Guttmann. Terry.

By terry wilson
On 29/08/2012

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