Series: Pioneers of Homeopathy in Britain 3:
The Homeopath who fled the Nazis – Eric Ledermann
Dr. Ledermann is interviewed by Dr. Brian Kaplan:
BK: Hello. My name’s Dr. Brian Kaplan and I’m now going to interview my teacher and mentor, Dr. Eric Ledermann.
Dr. Ledermann, can you just tell me when you were born?
EL: 16 May 1908.
BK: Dr. Ledermann tell me, when did you first decided to become a doctor?
EL: My father was a general practitioner and he gave me an example of an excellent doctor, and when I left school my mother said, “Don’t think of being a teacher!” But I said:” My teacher thinks I would be a good teacher as I was a good pupil”. But my mother said: “You look at your daddy.” And I said, “You’re right.” I went to Freiburg, it was my first university. You have to write down your main subject. I wrote “Medicine”. Second subject, I wrote “Philosophy”. Now that was quite difficult. I did read philosophy but there was plenty to do with medicine of course.
BK: Was your time at school a classical education? You were studying Latin, Greek…
EL: Well, our school had Latin and Greek as main subjects, English was optional. Science was done very badly.
BK: And so was there a philosophical enquiry? I mean, in the Berlin of that era, was philosophical enquiry something fairly cultural at that time or was it quite unusual?
EL: Well, we all had to read a certain book on physiology which was written by Professor Hoeber and I was asked to report on the first chapter. The first chapter says: “Before you understand the functions of various organs, let’s ask one question: Is there a vital force behind all this?”
BK: A vital force?
EL: What lies behind all these manifestations of the functions of the heart, lungs, kidneys, etc? The answer is a Vital Force. So I went to the library and said: “May I borrow a book please on the vital force?” The librarian said, “Here it is. It’s a book by Hans Driesch, ‘The Philosophy of Organic Life‘.
BK: When he says vital force, that sounds to me like a homeopathic term, is it ‘Vitalism? Is that what is meant ?
EL: Yes, Hahnemann was also convinced that there is a vital force which accounts for the efficacy of homeopathic treatment
BK: So how does this Vital Force manifest itself?
EL: In a holistic way… Jan Smuts coined the term Holism
BK: That was in 1926 in his book ”Holism and Evolution”
EL: Smuts saw holism as a feature in the world, in the universe, in the crystal, in the organised cell, in the multi-cellular organism. However I differ with Smuts here. I concur with Kant who saw wholeness not in the universe but in the mind. It’s your mind that looks upon some phenomena as wholes. And it’s absolutely essential not to interpret holism as something in the universe because it’s in the mind. This is the way we understand living organisms.
BK: But this is saying almost that a holistic philosophy is subjective and not objective.
EL: But what does ‘subjective’ mean? Kant said that the mind’s judgement is objective. You cannot build a philosophy of holism without including the influence of the mind. You cannot understand human beings without the Idea of wholeness.
BK: And so that was already happening at the time you were in medical school?
EL: Yes, holism was of great interest to philosophers and scientists at that time.
BK: So this whole philosophy of vitalism and holism was still around, and very much on the way when you picked up this book?
EL: Well I still have a copy .. A friend of my father said to him, “Your son should not read these books, he won’t be a proper doctor.”
BK: What, the books on vitalism?
EL : Yes, he was a was a prophet.
BK: So what now? Seventy years later you realise he was right?
EL: No, he was utterly wrong, a proper doctor ought to understand the principles which underlie medicine. Unfortunately such understanding is not taught to medical students.
BK: Okay, so what happened? This happened soon after having entered you medical school, Which year ?
BK: So then, how did you get on with the scientific medical approach which is mechanistic and not holistic ?
EL: I just repeated what was expected of me.
BK: But you knew that there was another agenda for you?
EL: But I knew it was wrong and I told my medical friends. They wouldn’t listen. “Ledermann, we have lots of things to learn in medicine, we have no time for your holism.”
BK: So you learnt to shut up about holism?
BK: So you tolerated this but did you feel that treating your own patients the Idea of holism will guide you ?
BK: You thought this all along?
EL: Yes, and in those days a holistic approach was already practiced as natural therapy in Germany and I had heard about it before I went to Edinburgh in 1933.
BK: But let’s not jump too far ahead… So you finished medical school basically. Then tell us the story that you told me some time ago. Was it in your internship when the Nazis came to visit the hospital ?
EL: I was a doctor in the children’s hospital.
BK: And this was early, what in your first job as a doctor?
EL: No, the first job was in Dermatology. I was offered a job in the Department of Dermatology and Venereology, they went together.
BK: They were combined?
EL: Yes. It wasn’t a very happy job because they were prostitutes there, and after two months the chief of the hospital said, “Dr. Ledermann, we have to transfer you to the Medical Department because the professor there has got another vacancy that must be filled.” I met the professor and he said, “Dr. Ledermann, I want you to resign, because I’ve promised this job to somebody else.” I said, “Sir, I haven’t got anything else ,but I would like to be an assistant at the children’s hospital.” “I have influence. Secretary, please write a letter, this Dr. Ledermann is an excellent candidate for Professor Finkelstein’s hospital for sick children.” I got the job. It was a marvelous job, until Hitler came. Do you know what happened then? I’ve told you this before.
BK: Tell me though, it’s good to have this on record.
EL: All the doctors had to go to the porter’s lodge and the Nazis were there. And on that night I had accepted an invitation from a great friend who had invited me for supper. In this tense situation I couldn’t remember his telephone number. There was a telephone directory. I picked it up pushed away a small book that was lying on the telephone directory ,and made the call: “Fritz, I’m late, please understand.” The Nazi officer immediately grasped my arm. “You’re under arrest, you touched my book. And the chief, non-Jewish, doctor said, “Leave him alone, he hasn’t done anything, let him go.” He saved my life. This Nazi had the power to arrest people, you could go to prison for whatever reason. You couldn’t go to court and be accused of having touched a man’s book.
BK: So at that moment what happened? You went home and?
EL: I said to my father, “I’ve had enough.” And a friend of mine, another doctor, had already been in England looking for opportunities and he wrote and said, “Eric, if you come now, if you re-register in Edinburgh, in one year you can be registered a medical practitioner.” I did that.
BK: So when you left, what did you say to your parents? Did they encourage you to do this?
EL: “You’ve got a very wonderful job in the children’s hospital here. Are you going to give that up? Hitler won’t last much longer.” I said, “I’m going”, and I’m still getting a pension from Germany which is equivalent to that of a consultant.
BK: So that was the start? Okay, so what did you do, get on a boat or did you go by train or what did you do?
EL: I got on a train and a boat.
BK: Soon after that? Weeks?
EL: A few weeks. And there was a gentleman on on the boat, I thought he was English, and I said, “Tomorrow I shall have to find a place for breakfast” and he said, “Do you know the ABC?” : “Of course I know the ABC. I went to a very good school in Germany.” ABC was a chain of cheap restaurants all over London. So this man thought I was crazy. He was talking about restaurants and I was talking about the ABC alphabet.
BK: So where did you go? Where was this happening?
EL: On a boat, crossing the Channel.
BK: So you crossed the Channel and you were heading for Scotland now, is that what happened?
EL: I made my way to Edinburgh where my friend helped me to register as a medical student.
BK: And what did you do, another year of study ?
EL: The examination was after three months in pathology, followed by pharmacology then medical jurisprudence and the final subjects at the end of the year medicine surgery and gynaecology, I managed them all. and I was registered as a medical practitioner
BK: With the General Medical Council.