Ludwig Frankenthal (1885 - 1944)

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Birthplace: Schwanfeld, Bayern, Deutschland
Death: Died in Oswiecim, Oświęcim County, Malopolskie, Poland
Cause of death: Perished in Shoah
Occupation: Surgeon, Leipzig, Germany
Managed by: Judith יהודית Ann Berlowitz
Last Updated:

About Ludwig Frankenthal

Ludwig was born on 27 November 1885 in Schwanfeld, Bavaria, the first son of Josef Frankenthal and Clothilde (Mathilde) Veilchenblau. He entered the Medical Faculty of the Maximilian University, Munich. He then studied in Berlin before returning to Munich, where he qualified in 1911 with a thesis on tumours of the kidney recorded in the university hospital from 1902. He was employed for a short time in Hamburg, but his first experience of surgery was at the hospital in Berlin-Friedrichsheim where he worked until 1914.

Immediately upon the outbreak of the First World War, he volunteered as an army surgeon and worked in several military hospitals. Of particular importance was his experience of crush injuries. He was the first doctor to describe the serious injury to muscles and kidneys that he named the crush-syndrome, thus securing himself a place in medical history. In 1916, Dr Frankenthal published in a medical journal his findings about soldiers crushed in action and their subsequent treatment. On reading his scientific papers, it is immediately apparent that he wanted to make his conclusions available to those affected by similar injuries in peace time. He was among those who, in difficult times, loyally performed their military duties but never forgot their responsibilities as doctors.

In 1919 he received an offer from Leipzig to work as a surgeon at the University Hospital, where he remained until 1924. In addition to his clinical work, he carried out research and submitted an excellent final paper to secure accreditation – which was refused. In the highly antisemitic medical faculty, the fact of his Jewish origins counted against him.

In 1928, he married Ilse, the daughter of Henri Hinrichsen, the owner of the world-famous music publishing company C. F. Peters. She was a great help and support to him and bore him two sons. 1928 was also a significant year professionally. Together with the physician Dr Pascal Deul, he was nominated as one of the Medical Directors of the Israelelitsichen Krankhaus Leipzig, the funds for which had been donated by a fur merchant called Chaim Eitingon. Both doctors had an international reputation, as scientific researchers and as practitioners. Dr Frankenthal was also well-known for the demands he made on his medical staff, particularly as the restrictions imposed by the racial laws of 1933 and 1935 began to bite, although he was always equally demanding on himself.

By the end of the 1920s he had already published 20 highly regarded medical papers; by 1937 the number had risen to 50, testifying to his continuous research carried out alongside his surgical work. These reflect his on-going observations of kidney diseases as well as the increasing range of his surgical activities.

Though the Jewish Hospital was not among the largest, it could deliver treatment and care at the highest medical level. Dr Frankenthal gained particular recognition in the field of tumours, where he was regarded as a specialist.

Despite increasing restrictions on Jewish medical professionals, until 9 November 1938 Dr Frankenthal was among the few doctors permitted to give limited care to members of the Jewish community as ‘treaters of the sick’. Following the events of Kristallnacht, however, medical care for the remaining Jewish citizens all but collapsed. On 10 November 1938, Dr Frankenthal arrived very early at the hospital – but it was not to be a working day. From the register of the police prison in Leipzig for the month of November, it is apparent that, as part of the ‘special action’, he was arrested and then a few hours later ‘released into Prison I’. For him and some 200 other men this was a euphemism for transportation to Buchenwald, where he spent 17 terrible days. The Gestapo made his release conditional on his wife arranging for the family’s departure from Germany within 14 days.

All attempts to obtain visas for the USA failed. There was more hope of getting to Holland. The four Frankenthals were able to obtain visas relatively quickly because three of Ludwig’s brothers, Eugen, Max and Moritz, had already been permitted to emigrate there. They first went to Den Haag. According to Dutch law, Dr Frankenthal was not allowed to work for money so he had rely on help from relatives. Yet he offered his services at the surgical departments of specialist hospitals to maintain contact with people.

On 10 January 1941 the Frankenthals, like all Jews in Holland, had to be registered – and thus, as immigrants, lost any hope of protection. In September, Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend public schools.

Notwithstanding their extremely reduced circumstances, the family tried everything in a bid to leave the country, making constant attempts to obtain visas for the USA. Following the occupation of Holland by the German army, the Frankenthals were well aware that their place of exile no longer offered any security. Finally, the family believed their efforts had been successful. By May 1941 they had all the necessary papers and planned to leave for the USA at the first available opportunity.

But then America entered the war and the Frankenthals’ last hope of leaving Holland collapsed. They were forced to give up their second home, in the Dutch town of Bennekom. On 8 April 1943, Dr Frankenthal, his wife Ilse and their two sons (aged 14 and 11) were ‘requested’ to enter the Westerbork camp. In her memoir, eventually published as Ludwig, ich lebe! in 1998, she explained that this was falsely presented as a desirable option to former soldiers who had served in the First World War – although it actually meant transport to Theresienstadt.

Carrying large rucksacks and blankets, the family arrived at the Westerbork concentration camp in 1943. Westerbork had a hospital with 1,800 beds, 120 doctors and other personnel. Dr Frankenthal was employed as a doctor and surgeon and used every possible opportunity to save patients from transportation to the East. He hoped – in vain, as it turned out – that he and his family could remain in Westerbork.

From July to the end of September 1942 there were mass transports of Jews already held in Holland. From then until the end of September 1943, police carried out large-scale raids especially for further deportations.

One day 13 women arrived in Westerbork. Although they were healthy, Dr Frankenthal received instructions to sterilize them. His reply was a categorical ‘No’ – for religious reasons and also because of the Hippocratic Oath that he had sworn, giving absolute priority to the well-being of his patients.

In her memoirs, which were used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials, Ilse Frankenthal wrote:

The 13 women were sent away, but my husband was told by Slesinger [the Jewish head of the camp] that Kommandant Gemmicke had said: ‘This refusal means gas for him, his wife and children.’ But my husband refused nevertheless, quite unable to do what was asked of him.

Quite some time elapsed, but suddenly on mid-day Sunday, 3 September, Kommandant Gemmicke announced that on the following morning at 5 a.m. 3,000 people – especially families with children – were to get on to the cattle trucks. The four of us were included among them. We were only allowed to take one rucksack, with less than we had brought to Westerbork . . .

The moving devotion Ludwig Frankenthal maintained to the Hippocratic Oath is testimony to his personal uprightness, the moral greatness that had always marked him, even in a situation where the lives of his whole family were at stake. He was not to be shaken in his determination. His steadfast adherence to his personal credo and medical ethics was nothing less than heroic. As we know from the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi doctors thought nothing of breaking their Hippocratic Oaths for the most shameful reasons. Ludwig Frankenthal upheld his values – and paid for this stance with his life.

The Frankenthals were among the 3,000 Jews moved from Westerbork to ‘an unknown destination’ on 4 September 1944. After two days and two nights on the train, they arrived at Theresienstadt. This proved not to be the ‘family camp’ they had expected but a place where very harsh conditions required the utmost will to survive, putting particular demands on the children. Ilse and Ludwig were forced to do heavy manual work, for which Ludwig, by virtue of his profession, was totally unprepared. After six weeks, she wrote,

Thousands upon thousands were called up to go to their place of work [a working camp that was constantly talked about]. No one talked any longer about First World War soldiers. The selection was by age group. On 12 October 1944 we received our call, packed our rucksacks and the Lager Commandant said to my husband, ‘Surgeons are needed everywhere.’

The Frankenthals, together with 3,000 other men, women and children, were transported eastwards. This journey ended on Saturday 14 October 1944. Their destination was – Auschwitz. As stated in the camp records for 12 October 1944: Transported 1,400 people, 74 survivors.

As Ilse further wrote in her memoirs,

My husband immediately understood our fate and said goodbye to me forever. The order was: nothing was to be taken from the train, no rucksack nor food. Men and women were separated. It was the last time I saw the two boys and my husband. A ‘doctor’ was standing there and selected the people. The boys had to go with their fathers, the girls with their mothers. Then old and young were selected. There were approximately 200 survivors from the transport of 3,000. Those of us who were left were driven into showers where we had to stand naked for hours. Everything was taken from us and we were not allowed to take anything with us. I had to hand over my wedding ring and glasses and all my possessions. All our hair was shaved off. Then we had to stand to attention for 24 hours without any food and in the cold whilst the chimney was smoking.

As I never heard from my husband and children again and several people from Auschwitz said that the three of them went into the gas chamber, I assumed that my husband Ludwig Frankenthal and my two sons Wolfgang and Günter were gassed on 14 October 1944.

On 28 October the transports to Auschwitz stopped; on 2 November 1944 the gassing ceased; and on 26 November the SS ordered the destruction of the gas chambers.

Until 1948 Ilse was unable to find out anything definitive about the fate of her family. Only then was it confirmed that her husband, not yet 59, together with their two sons, 15 and 12 years old, had been gassed on 14 October – the very day of their arrival in Auschwitz. In the Memorial Book (Gedenkbuch) for the victims of the persecution of the Jews under Nazi rule, in Germany 1933-1945 (Koblenz, 1986), one can read the following entry:

Frankenthal, Ludwig – Schwanfeld, 27.11.1885 – declared dead – Auschwitz.

The three brothers Eugen, Max and Moritz, who had helped their brother Ludwig and his family to come to the Netherlands, as well as two other brothers and a sister of Dr Ludwig Frankenthal, were also deported to concentration camps. All were murdered in the gas chambers. Of the nine Frankenthal siblings only two survived.

Ilse Frankenthal, who had survived five concentration camps, dedicated her life to the memory of her husband and children. She documented their lives and described her ‘second life’ which began in 1945.

Weiterleben!

Ludwig, ich lebe!

Ludwig, ich schaffe das!

Ludwig, es ist schoen zu leben!

Living on!

Ludwig, I live!

Ludwig, I manage it!

Ludwig, living is beautiful!

Some information from http://www.jewishquarterly.org/issuearchive/article70c9.html?articleid=186

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Ludwig Frankenthal's Timeline

1885
November 27, 1885
Schwanfeld, Bayern, Deutschland
1929
September 18, 1929
Age 43
Leipzig, Sachsen, Deutschland
1931
October 6, 1931
Age 45
Leipzig, Sachsen, Deutschland
1944
October 14, 1944
Age 58
Oswiecim, Oświęcim County, Malopolskie, Poland
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