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Friedrich Dessauer

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Born in Aschaffenburg, Germany, Friedrich Dessauer studied at the Goethe university in Frankfurt am Main where his design of high-energy X-ray power supplies earned him a doctorate in 1917. Dessauer was also famous for his work on the philosophy of technology, defending it and describing it as "a new way for human beings to exist in the world". As an inventor and entrepreneur Dessauer developed techniques for deep-penetration X-ray therapy in which weak rays are aimed from different angles to intersect at a point inside the body where their combined energy can be lethal to a tumor while having less of an effect on the surrounding tissues. He dedicated most of his life to the study of radioactivity.

Interested in politics, Dessauer registered as a member of the Catholic Central Party in the year 1918. As an intellectual businessman arguing catholic and social policies, he gained prestige in a party to which everyone was welcome. In 1923 he started the Rhain-Main Public Gazette, in which he published articles on economy under the umbrella of the Carolus Publishing House. He was elected a deputy to Reichstag in 1924 and served there as the representative of the left wing. Due to various accusations by the National Socialists, he was under political arrest for 104 days. He was articulate in defending himself in court and was released. Because of the decree establishing restrictions upon civil servants implemented on April 7, 1933 he was suspended from his office. Late one February 1934 night, he was assaulted in his home; the door and windows of his house were broken. He was informed that an investigation on him would be carried out because, although he was a practicing Catholic, his roots went back to Judaism.He was banned from issuing publications and declared persona non-grata by the Union of Nazi Professors. It is supposed that while Dessauer was under arrest, he applied to the Notgemeinschaft in Switzerland for a position in Istanbul.

As a leading member of the Catholic Central Party, he had taken part in negotiations between the Weimar Republic and the fledgling NS Party (Hitler, Göring, Strasser, Frick and Goebbels). He thought that a coalition might be established with the Nazis, thus holding them in bounds (in retrospect a very naïve assessment of the situation). The only result of the negotiations was Dessauer’s arrest. It appears that his imprisonment was terminated because of his appointment and invitation by the government of Turkey.

On December 3, 1933, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to David L. Edsall, Dean of the Harvard Medical School.

I take the liberty to write to you, because I feel strongly a need to do what I possibly can to relieve the misery of those in Germany who are suffering despite being innocent . I am referring to Prof. Dr. Friedrich Dessauer, University of Frankfurt who has made a name for himself in the field of experimental physics applied to Medicine. The man is in prison on a trumped up charge, in reality because of his activity in the Center Party. I consider it our human responsibility to do the utmost to save this esteemed individual. I think it would help the man’s fate if the Hitler regime would learn that people abroad were interested in this man. Of course there is no hope that he would be released soon or permitted to leave the country but it would be a loud and human gesture on his behalf, if one could send some letter of interest from an American university.

Einstein concluded his letter to Dean Edsall by asking him to write such a declaration for Dessauer. By design or happenstance, Edsall misinterpreted the plea and responded by pointing out that there were no positions open at Harvard at that time. Undaunted, Einstein replied “It seems that I have not properly expressed my intentions. I was not talking about a real invitation for Professor Dessauer, just a pretended one. The idea is to show that there is an interest abroad for this person. The aim is to stop the legal proceedings against him which were initiated on spurious grounds. It is known that these things often occur for political reasons.

Departure form Turkey

For reasons not fully known Dessauer left Turkey in 1937 having been appointed professor of experimental physics at Fribourg, Switzerland. According to fellow emigre eminent surgeon Rudolf Nissen (1896-1981): “Dessauer was an X-Ray pioneer during the period when no protection was applied against rays in the field of radiography. All of these persons were exposed to more or less heavy burns. There were burns on Dessauer’s hands, face and feet. These men lost their lives because of cancers caused by the rays, as the victims of their occupations, almost without exception. I don’t know whether this was the reason for the death of Dessauer, who died in 1963. But I suppose it was” Friedrich

Dessauer died in Frankfurt am Main. Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics on Dessauer, Friedrich

The Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums or the Reestablishment of the Civil Service Law.

C. Kleinholz-Boerner, Friedrich Dessauer 1881-1963. Bibliographie eines nichtärztlichen Röntgenpioniers. Inaugural Dissertation aus dem Institut für Geschichte der Medizin der Freien Universität Berlin. 1968, pp. 7-21

There are other examples. In 1933 the Nazis had taken Public Health Dentist Alfred Kantorowicz “into ‘Protective Custody’ and had kept him for four months in the prison at Bonn. He was then transferred to the Gestapo, S.A., and S.S. run Boergermoor hard labor concentration camp near Papenburg. There he spent another four months after which he was transferred to the concentration camp for prominent socialists, Jews, and intellectuals in Lichtenburg.” A. Reisman, TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision. New Academia Publishers, Washington, DC. (2006). p 167.

Courtesy Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Document 49 476-1 and 2.

At the time Harvard University had very strong ties with Nazified Germasn universities under the leadership of its president James Bryant Conant. Reisman, TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision. p. 515, 516. Also, A. Reisman, “Harvard University’s Tercentenary celebrations and Albert Einstein: 1936.” Education History Researcher, History of Education Society, (UK) (2007).

Courtesy Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Document 49 477.

R. Nissen, Helle Blätter-Dunkle Blätter. Stuttgart 1969, pp. 215-216.

This article is based on Namal, A. and Reisman, A. “Friedrich Dessauer Transferred Leading-Edge Western Radiology Knowhow to the Young Turkish Republic While A Refugee from Nazism” EASST Review, (European Association for the Study of Science and Technology) Volume 26(2) October 2007. http://www.easst.net/review/sept2007/namal


For additional reading on Friedrich Dessauer’s Turkish exile see Arnold Reisman TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision http://www.newacademia.com/turkeys_modernization/


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