Denied by Nazis, she gets doctorate at 102

Berlin - Dr Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport had a little help from her friends when she earned her doctorate earlier this month, 80 years after she was barred from taking the final exam by the Nazis.

Probably the oldest person in the world to receive a doctorate, Dr Syllm-Rapoport, 102, had to brush up on new developments in the field of diphtheria research, the subject of her doctoral thesis in 1938, before she took the oral exam.

To prepare for the belated exam, friends researched the developments in diphtheria over the last eight decades on Google for her.

Dr Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport was barred from her final PhD exam in 1938 because of her Jewish heritage.
Dr Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport was barred from her final PhD exam in 1938 because of her Jewish heritage. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Dr Syllm-Rapoport finally successfully sat her oral test last month, Hamburg's UKE University Medical Centre said in a statement, adding she was probably the oldest person in the world to receive a doctorate.

UKE University Medical Centre presented her with her PhD on June 9.

The Berlin resident said the university had shown "great patience" for which she was grateful. Her professor in 1938 had issued a certificate stating he would have passed her thesis at the time if it had been legally possible to do so, she said.

The hospital said the dean of its medical faculty Uwe Koch-Gromus had found out about Dr Syllm-Rapoport's case on her 100th birthday and started looking into it.

Professor Koch-Gromus described her after her exam as "simply brilliant".

"We were impressed by her intellectual alertness and speechless over her expert knowledge, even in the area of modern medicine," he said.

Prof Burkhard Goeke, the university medical centre's medical director and chairman, said they were gratified at being able to restore "a piece of justice".

"We can't make the injustice that occurred undone, but our insights into the past shape our perspectives for the future," he said in a statement.

Dr Syllm-Rapoport emigrated to the United States in 1938, where she met her husband and continued her career in paediatrics, the UKE said.

Without her official PhD, she had to undertake a further two years of study in Philadelphia.

The couple, who had four children, moved back to Germany in the early 1950s, settling in then communist East Berlin, it said.

In 1969, Dr Syllm-Rapoport assumed the first neonatology professorship in Germany based at Berlin's now prestigious Charite University Hospital.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Denied by Nazis, she gets doctorate at 102'. Subscribe