27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember the victims of the Holocaust, of Nazi persecution and of genocides world-wide. Here, the GMC’s Joanne Sheppard and Courtney Brucato look at the vital contribution of Jewish refugee doctors to UK healthcare during and after the Second World War.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a worldwide day of remembrance for the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. It also remembers the millions of victims of Nazi persecution and discrimination such as black, disabled, LGBTQ and Roma people and political and religious opponents of the Nazis, and the victims of more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Darfur region of Sudan.

When Hitler rose to power in 1933, his regime immediately imposed systematic discrimination and persecution against Jewish people with the aim of eradicating Jewish communities from Europe. Under the many anti-Jewish laws that attacked the fundamental human rights of Jewish people, Jewish doctors were initially allowed to provide healthcare solely to other Jews, and subsequently were not allowed to practise medicine at all.

Some Jewish doctors managed to escape before the Holocaust and many came to the UK as refugees where, from 1941, they could apply to the GMC for temporary registration under the Defence Regulation 32B and the Medical Register (Temporary Registration) Order 1941.

Around 4,200 doctors registered under this provision, including many who had fled Nazi persecution. After the war, practitioners who had held temporary registration could apply for full registration, and around 1,000 did so.

GMC archivist Courtney Brucato has researched the lives and careers of three of those doctors.

Dr Julius Joel Handler

Dr Handler was born in 1910 in Brzostek, Poland and worked at the Jewish Hospital in Berlin before he arrived in the UK in 1939. Unlike many who came from Germany at that time, he was exempted from internment. He was granted temporary registration on 26 May 1941 to enable him to practise medicine.

The correspondence associated with Dr Handler’s application gives some flavour of the challenges Jewish doctors faced after fleeing Germany, where despite their expertise and training they were denied qualifications. In a letter to the GMC dated 11 April 1941, Dr Handler explains:

‘Licences issued to Jewish Doctors before the Hitler regime were revoked by the latter. Therefore no Jew was actually entitled to practise medicine in Germany, with a few exceptions granted for indispensable medical care of members of the Jewish Community.

‘I was one of these comparatively few. Even these were not permitted to call themselves ‘Arzt’ [doctor] but only ‘Heilkundiger’ [healer]. As almost all Doctor Refugees from Nazi oppression are of Jewish origin they are in the same position as myself regarding legal rights to practise in Germany.

‘The Order ‘Temporary Registration’ would be ineffective if the administrative form of the inhuman persecution of the Nazi regime would be made the basis for temporary registration of German Doctors now residing in this country.’

Keen to contribute to what he believed to be ‘the Common Cause’ during the war, Dr Handler worked at the War Memorial Hospital in Wrexham and was subsequently granted full registration on 30 April 1948.

After moving to Herne Hill in London he became a Member (1952) and Fellow (1982) of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He remained in England until he died aged 80 in Stanmore, Middlesex.

Dr Ewald Katz

Dr Katz was born in 1913 in Berlin and escaped the Nazi regime by coming to the UK in the 1930s. He was initially exempted from internment in 1939, although he was later briefly interned in 1940. Once released, he was granted temporary registration on 25 June 1941 and worked at the Princess Alice Memorial Hospital in Eastbourne for the duration of the war.

After the war, he emigrated to the United States to be reunited at last with members of his family who had fled there in 1939. He changed his name to Ernest Katz Kent and died in New York at the age of 85.

Unlike most Jewish medical students, Dr Katz was permitted to finish his studies and to complete his ‘practical year’ but, solely on the grounds of his ethnicity, he was barred from receiving his diploma and being recognised as a doctor.

Like Dr Handler he had to find alternative ways of proving his medical qualification, writing to the GMC in 1941 to explain:

‘After the completion of his practical year every German candidate of medicine is automatically entitled to practise medicine, surgery and midwifery in Germany, and gets a proper diploma. Jewish candidates, however, are denied a diploma according to the anti-Jewish laws. All I could get as a Jewish candidate was […] this certificate, which I enclose again in the original and in the English translation, that certifies I have fulfilled the assumptions regarding the practice of the medical professional within the German Reich apart from the proof of Aryan origin.

‘No Jewish candidate of medicine did get any document proving his ‘deed of approbation’; in fact this was annulled to those Jewish practitioners in possession of it, as it happened to my father, who had been a rather well-known children’s specialist in Berlin for over 30 years.’

Dr Selma Grünmandel

We don’t know much about Dr Grünmandel’s career prior to her arrival in England, but we do know that she was born in what is now Poland in 1896 and came to England to escape the Nazi regime in 1939.

Dr Grünmandel was a surgeon, but on arriving in England as a refugee had to spend three years working as a domestic servant in London before she was given temporary registration on 8 June 1942.

Once registered, Dr Grünmandel moved to Nottingham and was finally able to put her surgical expertise into practice at the Basford Emergency Hospital in Nottingham. She settled in Nottingham after the war, and remained there until her death in 1981, aged 85.

Remembering with thanks

The GMC is proud to take a moment to remember with gratitude the doctors who, after suffering appalling persecution and loss under the Third Reich, lent their medical expertise to the UK at a time of exceptional need.