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
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
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
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
says: “Before you understand the functions of various organs, let's
ask one question: Is there a vital force behind all this?”
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
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
BK: So how does this Vital Force manifest itself?
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
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
essential not to interpret holism as something
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
BK: And so that was already
happening at the time you were in medical school?
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
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
EL : Yes, he was
a was a prophet.
BK: So what now? Seventy
years later you realise
he was right?
he was utterly wrong, a proper doctor
ought to understand
the principles which underlie medicine.
understanding is not taught to
Okay, so what happened? This happened soon after
you medical school, Which
BK: So then, how
did you get
on with the scientific medical approach
mechanistic and not holistic ?
EL: I just repeated
expected of me.
BK: But you
there was another
EL: But I
knew it was
I told my medical friends. They wouldn't
we have lots
to learn in medicine, we have no time for your holism."
So you learnt
to shut up about
BK: So you
but did you feel
treating your own
the Idea of holism
guide you ?
this all along?
a holistic approach was already
Germany and I had heard about it before
went to Edinburgh in 1933.
too far ahead… So you finished medical school
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 ?
doctor in the
first job as a
Dermatology. I was
a job in
Department of Dermatology and Venereology, they
they were prostitutes
months the chief
the hospital said, "Dr. Ledermann, we have
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.
I want you to resign, because I’ve promised this job to somebody
else." I said, "Sir, I haven't got anything else
would like to be an assistant at the children's hospital." "I
Secretary, please write a letter, this Dr. Ledermann is an
hospital for sick children." I
was a marvelous job, until Hitler came. Do you know what happened
then? I've told you this before.
lodge and the
were there. And on
night I had
a great friend who had invited me for
In this tense situation I couldn't remember his telephone
There was a telephone directory. I picked it
pushed away a small book that was
on the telephone directory ,and made the call: "Fritz, I'm late,
understand." The Nazi officer immediately grasped my arm. "You’re
arrest, you touched my book. And the chief, non-Jewish, doctor said, "Leave
alone, he hasn't done anything, let him go." He saved my life.
Nazi had the power to arrest people, you could go to prison for whatever
reason. You couldn't go to court and be accused
having touched a man's book.
father, "I've had enough." And a friend of mine,
doctor, had already been in England looking for opportunities
he wrote and said, "Eric, if you come now, if you re-register
in Edinburgh, in one year you can be registered a medical
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
going", and I'm still getting a pension from Germany
which is equivalent to that of a consultant.
on a boat
or did you go by train
or what did you do?
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
is that what happened?
register as a
medical jurisprudence and
the final subjects at
the end of the year
and gynaecology, I managed
them all. and I was
registered as a medical
Interview Part 2...