Joseph Igersheimer was a German born ophthalmologist. He completed his elementary and secondary education in Frankfurt and his medical education in Heidelberg, Berlin, Strasbourg and Tubingen, and he received his degree in 1904. Between 1905 and 1909 he worked his way up from assistant to an Assistant Professor in Heidelberg. He became full Professor in 1914 and ‘Extraordinary Professor’ in 1920. Concurrently he was the ‘Head Physician’ in Göttingen between 1915 and 1925, before his assignment at the University of Frankfurt in 1925 where he worked until 1933.
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Igersheimer was attracted to a career in medicine after contracting tuberculosis as a teenager. While recuperating at a Swiss sanatorium in the early 1900s he noticed many fellow TB patients had something unusual, a white area in their eyes, which led to a lifetime fascination with how other diseases affect the eye. In 1915 he was first to use arsphenamine for the treatment of syphilis of the eye. He was among the first to write articles and books addressing the impact of syphilis and tuberculosis on eyesight and in 1919 Springer Verlag in Berlin published his seminal text Syphilis und Auge. He was first to operate for retinal detachment by closing the holes. He did all this before 1926, at which time he became full professor in Frankfurt–am-Maine. It looked like he had a brilliant future as a major contributor to Germany’s highly advanced medicine.
However, on 30 January 1933 Hitler came to power. Joseph Igersheimer was Jewish as was his wife, Alice. Realizing the worst was yet to come, Igersheimer like many others looked for ways of leaving his beloved heimat. He was looking for a place that would offer not only refuge but also an opportunity to practise his love of ophthalmology. Given the fairly restrictive immigration laws in place at the time, he had no option of going to the States or the UK with a job waiting. He was keenly aware of the lack of university job opportunities due to America’s emergence from an economic depression. Jewish intellectuals were saved from extermination by Turkey’s need to modernize its society.
Joseph Igersheimer was in the first party of scientists to arrive in Turkey. On 15 October 1933 he took charge of Istanbul University’s Institute of Ophthalmology in the Faculty of Medicine. During the second week Igersheimer gave his first Istanbul lecture on ‘Blindness and its Causes’. Igersheimer’s first contract with the Turkish government covered the period 15 November 1933 to 15 November 1938. He was allowed to lecture in German until the end of the third year. However, from the fourth year he was obliged to lecture in Turkish. Article 4 of his contract, obliged Igersheimer to write a Turkish textbook in his field within three years of arrival. With time to spare in March of 1936 he published his 228 page Eye Diseases. Insert picture of Igersheimer’s Istanbul eye clinic here
In his new and very foreign environment he maintained his practice from a zero base, built a modern eye clinic, trained medical residents without a common language, wrote papers and books, gave seminars to dental students and faculty on the relation between tooth and eye diseases, and introduced interesting cases at meetings of the Turkish Medical and the Turkish Ophthalmology Associations; by 1936 Ingersheimer was expected to give his lectures in Turkish.
Blindness was common in Turkey due to loss of transparency of the cornea, hence keratoplasty was important. Despite poor clinical conditions, “Keratoplasty was applied for the first time [in Turkey] by Igersheimer via the v. Hippel trepan in the form of autokeratoplasty at the University Eye Clinic in the last months of the year 1935”.
Recognizing that staying in Europe was not safe. The German authorities’ worsening attitudes and worries about Turkish authorities not renewing contracts started to discomfort the émigrés. Many started to search for jobs in the United States. Igersheimer was lucky enough to have obtained a job albeit at the Assistant Professor level. This appointment assured a visa for the family. In 1939 he joined Tufts University’s Medical School and became a major contrıbutor to America’s ophtalmology. "By the time of his retirement, over 2000 American Ophthalmologists had listened to his lectures."
See Terzioðlu A. Joseph Igersheimer in kýsa biyografisi [A Short biography of Joseph Igersheimer]. In: Terzioðlu, Arslan (ed.): Türk-Alman Týbbi Ýliþkileri Simpozyum Bildirileri [Turkish-German Medical Relations Symposium Announcements],Ýstanbul 18-19 Ekim 1976. 1981 Istanbul: 175-176
Igersheimer’s son Walter, Personal communication, 21 August 2005
Igersheimer, J. Syphilis und Auge, (Berlin: Verlag Springer, 1919)
Akar N, Oral A, Reisman A. Modernizer of Turkey’s Pediatrics: Albert Eckstein in exile. Journal of Medical Biography, The Royal Society of Medicine Press. Volume 15 November (2007)pgs 227-234Reisman A. TURKEY'S MODERNIZATION: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's vision. Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers, 2006
Since trachoma was very common in countries east of Turkey, Turkey was also affected. In 1923 after its founding, the Republic of Turkey started to fight this illness. A trachoma hospital was established in the eastern Anatolian city of Malatya where trachoma was most prevalent.
See Fight against Trachoma Association President Dr Nuri Fehmi’s radio conference text. İstanbul Seririyatı 1935;XVII,3:15-17. 1281 (28.4%) of the 4508 blindness cases diagnosed in 110,995 patients that had been referred to the University Eye Clinic between the years of 1934 and 1943 were due to cornea thickening. See Bengisu N (op.cit. ref. 17):94
Eugen von Hippel (1841-1916) was professor of ophthalmology in Königsberg and a pioneer in the field of corneal grafting. His son Arthur von Hippel was one of the émigré professors in Turkey. He re-emigrated to the USA, joined the MIT faculty, and is considered Father of Nanotechnology
Bengisu N. Keratoplastide endikasyon.Türk Tıp Cemiyeti Mecmuası 1947; XIII: 3 90, 94. Pazarlı H Oftalmoloji. In: E Kadri Unat (Ed.), Tıp Dallarında İlerlemelerin Tarihi, İstanbul: 1988:330-331
Sloane AE Biographical Sketch of Josef Igersheimer. Survey of Ophthalmology 1969;14:174-75
This article is based on Namal, A. and Reisman, A. "Joseph Igersheimer (1879-1965) A visionary ophthalmologist and his contributions before and after exile" Journal of Medical Biography, The Royal Society of Medicine Press. Volume 15 November (2007) pgs 227-234 and on Reisman, A. (2006) Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers. 2006.) http://www.newacademia.com/turkeys_modernization/