Ludwig Guttmann, Father of the Paralympics: A Pioneer like Robert Koch, a Visionary like Coubertin

Just a few weeks ago in Stoke Mandeville, England, a large bronze statue was unveiled in honor of a Jewish physician from Breslau, who – despite his moving story, his pioneering efforts, and the international significance of his work in Germany – is virtually unknown here:

athlete racing in a wheelchair

Marc Schuh, wheelchair racer (medium distance), member of the German team at the London Paralympics, 2012 © Behinderten-Sportverband Berlin e.V.

Ludwig Guttmann, the father of the Paralympic Games that were opened in London on 29 August. More than two and a half million spectators will cheer on the over 4,000 athletes there. Guttmann is well-known in Britain, where he was awarded the Order of the British Empire and where the BBC made a film about him entitled “The Best of Men.”

Ludwig Guttmann was born to an orthodox Jewish family in Tost, Upper Silesia in 1899. He grew up in Chorzów, where he worked at the hospital for the first time with paraplegics. Following his medical training in Breslau and Freiburg, he specialized in the young field of neurosurgery from 1924 and was soon considered one of its leading doctors. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Guttmann was no longer permitted to practice in a public hospital. Despite several offers from America, he stayed in Germany and took up a specialist post at the Jewish Hospital in Breslau where he later became director. When he learned of the violent excesses during the November Pogrom in 1938, he instructed his staff to admit all refugees to the hospital without examination. In spite of a Gestapo investigation at the hospital, he was able to save 60 Jewish citizens from arrest and deportation to a concentration camp.  continue reading

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Cooking and Keeping Silent

On the occasion of Julia Child’s 100th birthday I watched the film “Oma & Bella.”

Oma and Bella shopping for groceries

Oma and Bella © Salzgeber & Co. Medien GmbH

Oma and Bella share with Julia Child a love of cooking. They are not yet 100, but not far off: they are 84 and 88 and live in Berlin. Fifty years ago they went dancing at the “Las Vegas”; today they go to the “Chalet Suisse” and drink Berliner lager. Oma’s granddaughter made a film about them: having their hair done, out on a boat trip, watching television, and again and again, cooking in Oma’s kitchen.  continue reading

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Doing Something Wrong

In a video interview, architect MJ Long, like Kitaj an American in London, remembers remodelling Kitaj’s house in Chelsea, and posing for his pictures:

“I found sitting for [Kitaj] actually much more disconcerting than being his architect. You just feel as though you’ve done something wrong, somehow, especially if it isn’t going well, which he makes very clear. […] Before and after it was delightful, because he would always want to sit and talk, but while he was actually working I found it quite intimidating.”

For more on R.B. Kitaj, see: