102-year-old woman becomes Germany’s oldest student 80 years after the Nazis blocked her doctorate
Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport wasn’t allowed to defend her doctoral thesis in 1938 under the Nazis because she was part-Jewish. Nearly eight decades later, she became Germany’s oldest recipient of a doctorate at age 102 on Tuesday.
The neonatologist, a specialist in caring for newborns, cleared the final hurdle last month by passing an oral exam. She received her doctorate in a celebratory ceremony at the University of Hamburg.
“After almost 80 years, it was possible to restore some extent of justice,” Burkhard Goeke, the medical director of the university’s hospital, said in his speech. “We cannot undo injustices that have been committed, but our insights into the past shape our perspective for the future.”
Syllm-Rapoport stressed in her acceptance speech that she went through all the efforts of getting the degree at her advanced age not for herself, but for all the others who suffered from injustice during the Third Reich.
“For me personally, the degree didn’t mean anything, but to support the great goal of coming to terms with history — I wanted to be part of that,” Syllm-Rapoport told German public television station NDR.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they gradually disenfranchised Jews, expelling them from universities, schools and many professions, before eventually deporting and killing them in death camps across Europe.
The Nazis embarked on a vicious campaign against the Jewish population soon after coming to power in Germany in 1933. Under Hitler, Jews were expelled from universities and schools, forced to close their businesses, and eventually murdered at concentration camps across Europe.
After learning of Syllm-Rapoport’s unfinished degree, the Hamburg medical school last month convened a board of examiners to give her the chance to defend her thesis. According to the faculty dean, Uwe Koch-Gromus, she was “brilliant,” leaving the examiners “speechless at her expertise.”
In her acceptance speech on Tuesday, Syllm-Rapoport said she had completed the degree on behalf of all those who had suffered under Hitler and the Third Reich.
“For me personally, the degree didn’t mean anything, but to support the great goal of coming to terms with history – I wanted to be part of that,” the 102-year-old told regional public broadcaster NDR.
In 1938, Syllm-Rapoport migrated to the United States where she met her future husband, Samuel Mitja Rapoport (1912-2004). After the war they returned to Germany, to East Berlin, where Syllm-Rapoport became a renowned professor of neonatology at the Charité hospital.