Jüdische Pflege- geschichte

Jewish Nursing History

Biographien und Institutionen in Frankfurt am Main

The history of the Jewish nursing association of Frankfurt on Main

1893 to 1940

Background for the founding of the association

Brooch of the Association of Jewish nurses in Frankfurt am Main. Association of Jewish Nurses in Frankfurt am Main
XVI. Annual report of the Association of Jewish nurses in Frankfurt am Main 1909, Frankfurt am Main 1909, Title page

The profession of nursing developed in the second half of the 19th century in extra-familial nursing care. Important factors / conditions for this development were the professionalisation of medicine and the increasing number of hospitals which were opened. For the Jewish community of Frankfurt this was revealed in the establishment of the Hospital of the Israeli Community (Hospitals der Israelitischen Gemeinde), also known as the “Koenigswarter Hospital.” It provided places for 80 sick persons and was open for all members of the community and their employees. At a time when the necessity for professional nursing was still being discussed, only July 1, 1881 the presumably first nurse trained in a Jewish hospital was employed: Rosalie Jüttner.

The founding of the association and its goals
The doctors Simon Kirchheim and Alfred Guenzburg, and especially the banker Meier Schwarschild, planned the founding of an Association for the Promotion of Nursing. In addition, the trained nurses Minna Hirsch, Frieda Brüll, Klara Gordon, Lisette Hess and Thekla Mandel began to organize the Association of Jewish Nurses between 1889 and 1893. Both organizations were joined on October 23, 1893 under the name of the Association for Jewish Nurses of Frankfurt on Main („Verein für jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen zu Frankfurt am Main„). Minna Hirsch had already been elected as the matron of the Association. The head of the board of directors, made up of nine men, was Dr. Simon Kirchheim. The goals of the association were to train Jewish girls to be nurses and, in addition, to offer free care for the poor of all denominations. One of the financial supports of the association was to be paid private nursing care. Everyone who paid a membership fee became a member.

The first 10 years
The nursing students and the nurses were given accommodation in a rented apartment, referred to as the “little house” located just next to the hospital. After a few years they relocated to a house at Unteren Atzemer 16. In 1902 a new nurses’ residence was built on property next to the Israeli Hospital on Koenigswarter Street. A total of 43 nursing students were accepted for training in the first 10 years of the association’s existence. In that not all students who began their training completed it and not all remained in the association, there were 24 active nurses at the end of the 10 years. Thirteen of these nurses were involved in direct nursing care, one of them in care for the poor. Five of the nurses of the association worked in the Frankfurt hospital and three in Hamburg. Thekla Mandel had become matron of the Gumpertz’schen Siechenhauses (Gumpertz‘s Asylum for the Sick), another nurse was on leave at this time. Six nurses were awarded the golden brooch for continuous service in the association. After the first 10 years Jewish nursing in Frankfurt had been firmly established. The need for further trained nurses remained great.

Developments at the beginning of the 20th century
In the following years the influence of women in the association increased; a nurses‘ council was formed. The reputation of the training course for nursing was more highly valued after it became possible to sit for state-recognized nursing exams. The training was extended to one and a half years and more attention was given to continuing education for nurses. Through cooperative activities or being deployed in service nurses were also active in other locations such as Hannover and Basel. New areas of work were developed such as the milk kitchen for infants in the mother house. In 1914, in the meantime there were 40 active nurses; the hospital was moved into a larger and more modern building located at Gagernstrasse 36. Next to the hospital was a new nurses’ residence (Schwesternhaus) located at Bornheimer Landwehr 85. This house provided space for 60 nursing students and nurses as well as domestic staff in single and double rooms. There were common rooms, activity rooms and offices. The night watch had its own sleeping cubicle and nurses who were caring for patients with contagious diseases had a separate apartment.

First world war and the Weimarer Republic
During First World War the nursing association showed its patriotism: all nurses were at the disposal of the war medical service. The nurses‘ residence was converted into a military hospital, 850 soldiers were treated there throughout the war. A crash programm and brief nursing training were establishes, former nurses reported back for duty. Nurses were developed during war in different hospitals, i.e. the Jewish hospital, the Gumpertz’s asylum for the sick or the Israelite hospitals in Hanover and Strasbourg. Some served near the front or in a German Red Cross hospital train.

Due to societal changes during and after the war, private nursing lost in significance. Nursing was provided primarily at the Israeli Community Hospital, in the milk kitchen which provided infant care and in the children’s home run by the Women’s Relief. New places of service were added in Pforzheim and Davos. In addition, the rights of the nurses increased after the war; they were, for example, given greater participation in the administrative council. In the following years, pension conditions for nurses improved, holidays were introduced, the age for admission was lowered to 19 years, and training extended to two years. In 1933 the number of nurses (47) and the number of students (13) reached the highest levels in the history of the association.

From 1933 to forced dissolution
When the National Socialists came into power in 1933 there were immediate consequences for work of the members of the association. The number of patients in the Jewish institutions rose because they were less often admitted to other houses. Nurse training with state recognition continued in 1933, but in 1938 the title conferred was “Jewish nurse.” In 1939 the city began the expropriation of properties belonging to the Jewish community. In 1949 the association was forcibly disbanded. The Mother House was seized by the Gestapo at the end of 1940 and the University Hospital was given as alternative quarters. In the housing of the association members the number of nurses and students moving in and out increased markedly. Close study of the house records in the time from 1933 to 1942 show that the whereabouts of many of the residents is unclear; the fate of “99 (persons) can be clearly be attributed to the persecution and destruction of the National Socialists (Steppe, 1997). Many of them were killed in the extermination camps.
In October 1943 the nurse’s residence located at Bornheimer Landwehr 85 was completely destroyed by bombing; it had by that time been fully cleansed of Jews and was completely “Aryan” Many children and 14 nurses working at the University Hospital lost their lives.

Edgar Bönisch, 2009

(Translated by Yvonne Ford)


Steppe, Hilde 1997: “ … den Kranken zum Troste und dem Judenthum zur Ehre …“. Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Krankenpflege in Deutschland. Frankfurt/M.

Diphtheria and its treatment in the 20th century

Diphtheria and its treatment in the 20th century
Spread of diphtheria in Germany and Frankfurt am Main before 1945
In the 19th century diphtheria, which is passed on by airborne infection, was one of the “major killers” of children (Süß 2003: 215). Emil von Behring developed a vaccine against the epidemic disease which, however, was initially expensive and unreliable. In the 1920s, the last big wave of the disease came in bouts and appeared in regional epidemic centers from Scandinavia to Germany. About 30,000 people were afflicted in 1926, about 150,000 in 1938 and about 300,000 in 1943. The Second World War favored the spread, since the defenses of the population were weak and many people were often crowded in small rooms, such as air raid shelters.
In Frankfurt am Main the numbers of 783 diphtheria patients in 1930 and 1,703 in 1940 represented the peak of the disease. According to statistics, 50 diseased died in 1930 and at least 64 in 1940. In 1948 the Hanau physician Friedrich Blendin described different factors which influenced diphtheria in Frankfurt am Main. He found no great difference in disease incidence determined by gender. From the seasonal point of view, Blendin could register a considerable increase of cases in late autumn and winter which could be due to gathering because of the low temperatures or an increased virulence of the pathogenic agents. Regarding the statistical distribution in age groups, Blendin determined that in the years 1925 to 1927 infants aged between 0 and 5 years made up about one third of the cases and, consequently, represented the largest proportion of the diseased. After that, the largest group affected by the disease was the 5- to 10-year olds.

Isolation to combat diphtheria
There were various actions to combat epidemics of which the most important was isolation. In 1899 the Straßburg scientists Ernst Levy and Sidney Wolf pointed out that, even in the Hebrew Bible, the Mosaic Law called for the isolation of persons with infectious diseases. Robert Koch described the isolation of diseased and family members who were suspected of being ill or hospital patients as “the best and most effective weapon in the fight against infectious diseases” (Süß 2003: 217). The Law on Infectious Diseases of the German Reich of 30th June 1900 legally required the confinement to isolation which signified an infringement of personal freedom.
The need for isolation was taken into account when erecting new buildings within the Jewish hospital system. In 1914 the hospital of the Jewish Frankfurt am Main community on Königswarter Strasse had become too small so that a bigger hospital complex was built on Gagernstrasse. The new hospital had its own infection building for its patients. It formed a semi-circle, had a bed hall on the ground floor situated in front and “verandas like day rooms” (Hanauer 1914: 65) on the upper floor of the bed hall. Separate lock systems were set up as entrances for physicians and patients. Each of the four departments of the infection building had a nurses´ station with a special bathroom and further side rooms, such as a small kitchen, toilet, children´s toilet and sink. The doors had flaps through which it was possible to observe the patients without having to enter the rooms. The walls were painted with oil paint or limed to make cleaning as easy as possible. Dirty laundry could slide through a tube system into disinfectant solution. There was also a small laboratory (cp. Hanauer 1914).

Also in 1914 the Frankfurt association for Jewish nurses erected a new nurses´ home on Bornheimer Landwehr next to the hospital where two separate rooms had been set up to meet the requirements of isolation of the nursing staff. Each of the rooms was provided with its own gas stove, bathroom, toilet and house phone. This was how the risk of infection for the other nurses was controlled, and the nurses who were carng for the isolation department remained undisturbed in their working patterns.

Care situation
In 1932 F. O. Höring, the tropical disease specialist and later senior consultant of infectiology at the Charité in Berlin, described particular difficulties to which the nursing staff was exposed on isolation wards. Since the patients with infectious diseases were often very sick, but recovered quickly and yet had to continue to live in isolation, they felt cramped. The only contact person was the nurse, who gave both closeness and distance, as she could fulfill wishes and make contact to relatives, but also paid attention to the compliance with the instructions, such as visiting bans and disinfection measures for excreta, utensils and clothes. Distance was intensified by the avoidance of physical contact. “The nurse is permanently sending both signals of affection and rejection.” (Höring 1952:10). Another problem Höring saw was that caring persons who had worked on the ward for a long time, “often turn out to be rough on the outside” (Höring 1952: 10). However, especially due to the periods of time working on the ward, they gained vast experience and were able to recognize typical symptoms and complications of certain diseases at an early stage. The endangerment to the nursing staff resulting from diphtheria was that they could get infected repeatedly without getting sick, which was why they needed to be constantly tested for new bacteria. In summary, Höring stated “that the care of toxic diphtheria cases probably requires the highest commitment from the nurse while permanently and attentively observing especially the [patient´s] circulation and also demanding their own ability to undertake rapid therapeutic intervention.” (Höring 1952: 11)

Edgar Sarton-Saretzki: A patient refers to the year 1933
Edgar Sarton-Saretzki, born on 10th of May, 1922, in Limburg on the Lahn, was diagnosed with diphtheria when he was 11 years old. ; he also experienced the care situation described above and had to stay in the infection building of the hospital of the Jewish community on Gagernstrasse for a long time. He intensively remembers the constraints of the ward which he as a child felt particularly strongly after the disease had subsided: “When I was 11 or 12 years old, I was diagnosed with diphtheria, and I was in the isolation hospital, on the isolation ward. With diphtheria you had to have three swabs taken; I used to have two swabs (which were negative) taken, and the third one was always positive, which meant that we had to start over from the beginning, even though I was in perfect health.” Edgar Sarton-Saretzki felt completely healthy and was, therefore, “hard to control”, as he says. He remembers trying to kill time: “There was a wall I climbed up. – I can´t remember how I managed to do that because everything was protected, and people could not come near directly. When my parents were visiting me, they had to stay, for example, behind a barbed wire. Once I climbed up the wall, and behind the wall – what was there? There were coffins. It was where the people who had died were dumped in coffins. And the ward doctor, a Dr. Reiter, he caught me. He was incredibly furious, and I had to go to bed for a week, I was not allowed to get up. He was very, very upset that I had seen that. It was completely hidden, in the back of the corner, and I was severely punished. That was just the problem with diphtheria – you had to have these three swabs taken.” However, despite of punishments and isolation, Edgar Sarton-Saretzki couldn’t be completely stopped: “I remember being completely isolated for weeks, totally isolated. There was a girl next to me, Marion David, with whom I later went to the stadium pool for swimming;: I talked with her which wasn´t allowed either. There was a barrier, but you could support yourself and look around, but you had to watch out that you were not caught.”

Hospital of the Jewish Community. Building for patients with infectious diseases, found in the publication commemorating the dedication of the hospital of the Jewish community in Frankfurt am Main, 1914

Mr Sarton-Saretzki recognizes the isolation ward on the above photo and points out specific aspects of the picture: “Yes, yes, that´s where you stayed in. There was a separate veranda, and then there was a passage here, which was also separated; my parents visited me, they had to shout so that I could hear them. The wall I climbed up – I can´t remember where it was. I can´t recall how long I had been there either, but it was quite a long time.” Another moment that retained in his memory was when he got an injection. “That was not an easy thing, diphtheria, at that time. I got such an injection [shows about 25 cm] – such an injection – that was quite a lot of trouble, because diphtheria used to be a severe disease with high fever at that time. And today I remember that it was a horse serum, it was from a horse.”
Today you still realize his outrage about the hopeless situation when he says: “What a kind of psychology, where they´ve thought, you’ve to be completely paralyzed, you may not do anything at all. You weren´t allowed to speak to anybody at all. That´s completely impossible for a child, but that was what they´ve practiced. So they were just interested in you having no contact to anybody, they were afraid of diphtheria spreading.” Asked about everyday life, for example, the distribution of meals, he states: “I can´t remember how I got my meals, the meals were delivered to me, but I can´t remember how, whether they´ve pushed them to me or something like that, but there were just a few people who were allowed to have contact. I think, they were only people who had been specially designated for that. ” Mr Sarton-Saretzki added summing up: “They´ve treated all equally, I think, no matter if child or adult.”

Edgar Bönisch, 2011
(Translated by Yvonne Ford)

1Still today the immunoglobulins, which are necessary for the treatment of diphtheria, are extracted from horse serum as source material.

Thea Wolf on her way to becoming a Jewish nurse

…and they were really proud of their nurse-daughter.“

Nurse training in a Jewish institution

Sister Thea, 1932
Thea Levinsohn-Wolf, Stations of a Jewish Nurse. Germany – Egypt – Israel, Frankfurt am Main 1996, page 26

The first Jewish nursing association was founded in the 1890s. They dedicated themselves to the training of nurses and helped establish nursing as a career. This was also confirmed by Nurse Selma Mayer, who was trained in Hamburg and went to Palestine in 1916. She reported that she herself and a colleague were the first Jewish nurses who received a German national diploma: “The first time that Jewish nurses sat for examinations by the German authorities and received a German State Diploma was in 1913”.1

In 1921 one still assumed that for a career in nursing “girls and women from good stock would be preferentially considered” 2. However in practice, the daughters from wealthy families to whom this was addressed were often interested in studying medicine. As nursing offered a good level of social security, it was attractive for girls and young women who were dependent on a regular income. So training became available to the “lower circles” meaning cooks, servant girls, shop women, governesses, Kindergarten teachers and primary school teachers”3. The desired age for entry into training was between 20 and 30 years of age, so that it was required that a certain level of maturity gained through work experience in different fields could be assumed and that willingness to learn was present4.

However, as a result of the First World War. there was a disruption to this development. Gustav Feldmann, a Jewish doctor practising in Stuttgart who campaigned time and time again for the “establishment and nurturing organisation of professional Jewish nursing in Germany,”5 wrote in 1924 that “during the War the influx of pupils in all the associations almost completely ran dry; in the first few post-war years he had actually completely stopped working because all the young girls mostly moved into trade and industry”6. In the impoverishment of the middle classes during the economic crisis of the 1920s he, however, also saw the chance that nursing “in a short time would become fully appealing once again”7. In total, by the end of the 20s, the Jewish associations had trained more than 1,000 nurses, whereby the organisation of training by different associations resulted in “overall a very colourful and inconsistent picture” 8.

Thea Wolf conformed to the description of requirements mentioned above when she joined the Verein für jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen zu Frankfurt am Main (Jewish Nurses Association in Frankfurt on the Main) in 1927 for training. She was 20 years old, had had previous work experience as an accountant and Kindergarten teacher and was looking for a way to earn a living. She was born in 1907 and lived in the middle-class household of her parents, the butcher Moritz Wolf and his wife Jeanette, on the edge of the so-called “working-class neighbourhood” in Essen. In her youth Thea was already a member of the Jewish youth movement and attended to the Jewish emigrants from Poland who came to the Ruhr area after the First World War. Thea Wolf went to commercial college and became an accountant. This part of her life she assessed later in the following way: “My two-year period of employment ended with the company’s declaration of bankruptcy and I was overjoyed,” as she did not want to waste her time on a “lifeless occupation”9

The motivation to become a nurse
One fundamental goal specific to Jewish nursing was to prove that Jewish nurses were just as selfless, sacrificing and as obedient as their Christian colleagues and that the leadership of the Jewish nursing associations was on a par with those of the other motherhouses; this was, for instance, documented in 1928 and 1929 in articles in the monthly booklet of the Jewish Grand Lodge B’nai B’rith10. In order to achieve this goal, they relied predominantly on female nurses and it was argued that the profession “is like no other in corresponding to the natural abilities and disposition of women, conferring so much inner satisfaction and guaranteeing the bearer of the title a generally respected position.”11

From the accounts of the nurses themselves, it becomes clear how important wanting to help was for them. Nurse Selma formulates it this way: “Because I lost my mother very early […] a strong need grew in me to give people that which I had missed so much: mother-love and love of human beings. Therefore I chose the profession of nursing.”12 Also Thea Wolf and her sisters who often wanted to move away from the poor quarters of the city, heard from their mother time again: “Children, if we were to move away from here we would forget the poor and one must not do that.”13 Thea was also used to taking along with her own mid-morning snack some sandwiches for her fellow pupils who were needy; when she received new clothes on a religious or public holiday she passed on an older piece of clothing to the poor in return.
A great desire was fulfilled as Thea Wolf joined the Frankfurt nursing staff and she expressed this as follows: “Everything seemed to me sensible, necessary and the doctors and nurses blessed with holy earnestness and solicitousness for human welfare.” She felt „she had become a little cog in an important community. I could do something to ease suffering and ease their last few moments in this world as they passed over into another world.”14

Familial resistance
In order to achieve their aims of becoming a nurse meant that it was necessary for many young women to break with tradition. As Thea Wolf in her youth attended to the Polish refugees, she heard her mother say everyday: “Prepare rather your dowry for your future household.” To escape from this kind of motherly admonition, Thea Wolf, in 1926 aged 19, secretly committed herself as “unpaid help”15 in the “Waisenhaus des Frauenvereins von 1883” (orphanage of the women’s association of 1883)” in Berlin. Thea Wolf commented on the reaction of her relatives to this with the words. “They were all persistently furious over my choice of career. They were of the opinion that I would have to give up a >normal life< that I would lead something like the life of a nun instead of going to a finishing school, to be taught how to be a good woman – and also learn to dance, in order then to get married. I wanted, however, something else, to go my way, help the poor and sick, as around me there was so much misery that I had experienced close at hand during the First World War.”16 During her time in the Berlin orphanage Thea Wolf came to know the loveless world in which the apathetic children lived. But neither this depressing experience nor the hostile stance of her family could dissuade her from her choice of career and she registered for nursing training. It was the rabbi who was later able to calm her parents down so that, in time, they became „really proud of their >nurse-daughter<„.
The aforementioned Gustav Feldmann had already said in 1901: „As a general rule applicants should be single.“17 It was assumed that the professional life of a nurse and marriage were not compatible, in most cases nurses on getting married left the nursing association. In order to keep the job attractive regardless of this, it was described as being excellent preparation for marriage.

Arrival as a nurse trainee in the Frankfurter Verein für Krankenpflegerinnen (Frankfurt Association for Nurses)

Nurses‘ home of the charity of Jewish Nurses in Frankfurt am Main. Dining room of the Nurses‘ Home located in Bornheimer Landwehr 85, Frankfurt am Main
Charity of Jewish Nurses in Frankfurt am Main Report for 1913 to 1919, Frankfurt am Main 1920, page 48f

In 1927 Thea Wolf began her nurse training at Number 85, Bornheimer Landwehr, the
belonging to the
(Association for Jewish Nurses in Frankfurt am Main) .
Looking back she remembers her first day: I sat there with a sinking feeling for a few minutes but then
entered the room, greeted me in a friendly fashion and said: “I am the matron and I’ll take you to Nurse Dora. She is responsible for the nursing hostel and she’ll accompany you to your room.”
The room was on the third floor of the nursing hostel. I shared it with two other nursing trainees for the next two years, the length of time required to become a registered state nurse. We received our practical training in the (Jewish community hospital) in Number 36, Gagernstraße. […] A gong sounded at lunchtime and we ate on the ground floor in a spacious dining room. Frau Oberin Minna was introduced to us here for the first time. She had already retired and was no longer working. […] I was introduced to all the older nurses. They all wore gold brooches as a sign of more than twenty-five years of service. […] Nurse Dora introduced me to all the remaining nurses: >This is Nurse Thea, our newest addition.< I belonged therewith to a community, […] I went back to my room and […] wrote[…] to my parents and told them that everything was going wonderfully well, I had arrived safely and that I felt very comfortable.”18

Edgar Bönisch, 2009
(Translated by Yvonne Ford)


Feldmann, Gustav 1901: Jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen. Kassel

Feldmann, Gustav 1924a: Krankenschwestern und Mittelstand. In: Central-Verein-Zeitung. Blätter für Deutschtum und Judentum; C.V.-Zeitung; Organ des Central-Vereins Deutscher Staatsbürger Jüdischen Glaubens, Nr. 39, S. 592

Feldmann, Gustav 1924b: Krankenschwestern und Mittelstand. In: Central-Verein-Zeitung. Blätter für Deutschtum und Judentum; C.V.-Zeitung; Organ des Central-Vereins Deutscher Staatsbürger Jüdischen Glaubens, Nr. 40, S. 613

Levinsohn-Wolf, Thea 1996: Stationen einer jüdischen Krankenschwester. Deutschland – Ägypten – Israel. Frankfurt am Main

Schwester Selma 2001: My Life and Experiences at „Shaare Zedek“. In: www.szmc.org.il/Eng/_Uploads/18selmaeng.pdf, Aufruf 02.06.2009

Steppe, Hilde 1997: „… den Kranken zum Troste und dem Judenthum zur Ehre …“ Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Krankenpflege in Deutschland. Frankfurt am Main

Unabhängiger Orden B’nai B’rith 1921: Monatsschrift der Berliner Logen UOBB. Mitteilungen und Materialien der Großloge für Deutschland, Nr. 1, zitiert nach Steppe 1997, S. 262

Horst-Peter Wolff (Hrsg.) 2001: Biographisches Lexikon zur Pflegegeschichte. „Who was who in nursing history“ Band 2. München


1Schwester Selma 2001, S. 5 (Übers.: „1913 legten das erste Mal jüdische Schwestern eine Prüfung vor deutschen Behörden ab und erhielten ein deutsches staatliches Diplom.“)
2Unabhängiger Orden B’nai B’rith 1921
3DVJK Deutscher Verband Jüdischer Krankenpflegerinnenvereine, Nr. 1, S. 21, zitiert nach Steppe 1997, S. 266
4Steppe 1997, S. 262, Steppe zitiert eine Debatte, die in DVJK, Nr. 2, S. 92ff geführt wurde.
5Horst-Peter Wolff 2001, S. 65
6Feldmann 1924b, S. 613
8Steppe 1997, S. 114
9Levinsohn-Wolf 1996, S. 13
10Steppe 1997, S. 275
11Feldmann 1901, S. 5
12Schwester Selma 2001, S. 38 (Übers.: „Da ich sehr früh meine Mutter verlor […] entstand in mir ein starkes Bedürfnis Menschen das zu geben, was ich so sehr vermisste: Mutterliebe und Liebe für Menschen. Deshalb wählte ich den Beruf der Krankenschwester.“)
13Levinsohn-Wolf 1996, S. 13
14ebd., S. 23
15ebd., S. 15
16ebd., S. 22
17Feldmann 1901, S. 8
18Levinsohn-Wolf 1996, S. 21