In the 1930s, none of this seemed possible. But here we are.
Ingeborg Rapoport escaped two oppressive government regimes (one was McCarthy-era USA … oops), got a ton of education, reduced the infant mortality rate in a huge western country (Germany), became Europe’s first neonatal professor, and raised a Harvard professor (and three other kids!).
But she wasn’t done.
It was time to stick it to the Nazis.
By finishing the degree from the University of Hamburg that the Nazi regime denied her when she was 25.
At the age of 102.
And not an honorary one. NO! It’s the actual doctorate she was denied in 1937 because her mom was of Jewish descent.
She’d done everything she needed to do to get a medical doctorate. She just had to defend her thesis on diphtheria (a leading cause of infant death in Germany in 1937, when she was originally set to graduate).
But according to the Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935, she wasn’t allowed to do her oral exam.
Fast forward 77 butt-kicking years later, and Ingeborg was going to defend her doctoral thesis.
We’re talking a thesis on diphtheria. And not 1937 diphtheria … modern diphtheria. Yes. She would have to be completely adept and she would be graded on the normal University of Hamburg scale for defending a doctoral thesis in 2015. Very serious. And very hard.
ONE EXTRA PROBLEM:
Ingeborg can’t see very well anymore.
She can no longer read normal text, and she cannot use a computer.
But she didn’t worry.
Because she had friends. She had been living in Berlin after leaving McCarthy-era America in the ’50s. She’d had an amazing medical career. But it was time to form a study group! Her study group studied up
for her (they researched, read, and studied modern diphtheria) and called her up to recite all their new diphtheria knowledge!
Her study group of friends gave her all the details she needed. After all, she did have a head start (big-time) as one of the top neonatal doctors in Germany. But at 102 when you have a doctoral thesis to defend, ya gotta have friends.
She told the
“It was about the principle … I didn’t want to defend my thesis for my own sake. After all, at the age of 102 all of this wasn’t exactly easy for me. I did it for the victims [of the Nazis].”