We present dual photographs of the Jewish Hospital: from the beginning of its functioning in the years 1903–1904, and modern documentation made after more than a century. The contemporary photographs resemble police files documenting a peculiar vivisection of the destruction of a building due to the merciless passage of time, but is it all? Careful examination of what is left after one of the most modern hospitals in Germany at the time reveals an image of emptiness and abandonment. The remains are nowhere near the former splendour. In the old photographs, we see shiny nickelplated steel of specialist medical equipment used at a time when the Jewish Hospital in Breslau offered a wide range of treatments. The clash of images of these two worlds triggers more than just a reflection on evanescence. The juxtaposed photographs tell a story about the lack of continuity of medical procedures and therapies, and consequently – about the decomposition and death of this place, the cessation of vital functions of the hospital, which nobody wanted to resuscitate for years.
The SURVIVAL team & Tomasz Domański
Baroness Hirsch responds to the request
In 1897, a decision was made to build a new Jewish hospital in Wrocław. All that had to be done was “just” to collect funds for this purpose. Among those who responded to the request of the Jewish community in Wrocław was Parisian baroness Clara Hirsch von Gereuth (1833–1899), who donated a huge amount of 300,000 marks. It was the largest single donation from an individual person, which accounted for almost 15% of the total amount collected for the construction of the hospital. The founder – an extraordinary woman, educated, experienced in running profitable businesses and fluent in several languages – was also a great philanthropist. She generously supported initiatives helping Jews to settle down in the Americas and founded an association that aimed to relieve the overpopulated districts of New York. Although baroness Hirsch probably never visited Wrocław, it did not prevent her from generously supporting the establishment of this important hospital.
On 16 December 1938, the famous Wrocław artist and designer Heinrich Tischler (b. 1892) – a graduate of the Royal School of Arts and Crafts in Wrocław and member of the German Creative Association (Deutscher Werkbund), who had a significant influence on the development of the idea of modernist architecture – died in the Jewish Hospital. After the Nazis came to power, Tischler was banned from creating art and exhibiting; his works were removed from state collections, and his name was entered on the list of Entartete Kunst (degenerated art). Shortly after the Kristallnacht in November 1938, he was arrested and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Thanks to the efforts of his family, he was released a month later, but an illness he acquired in the camp turned out to be fatal. Heinrich Tischler, a painter, graphic artist and designer of numerous commercial and residential interiors in Wrocław, was one of the first artists who fell victim to Nazi policies directed against culture and art, and one of thousands of artists – victims of the Holocaust. #artmustbefree
A hospital for everyone
On 27 April 1903, the new Jewish Hospital was officially opened after just two years of construction, which was financed exclusively by public contributions obtained by the Wrocław association Chewra Kadisza. Until 1939 , the hospital was maintained solely by private donors of Jewish origin. Most funds were raised through the so-called bed foundation (Bettstiftungen). This meant that individual people volunteered to cover the cost of treatment of patients occupying a specific number of beds. Some chose to finance just one bed, but the wealthiest residents of Wrocław provided funds for up to 100 beds for many years. The hospital also introduced a three-grade class of patients and meals. Patients of the first and second class had to pay for their hospitalisation whereas third-class patients were admitted free of charge and provided with the same level of treatment as people who financed their treatment by themselves. Although all doctors and personnel were Jewish, food was kosher and Jewish holidays were celebrated, the hospital admitted all the needy, also free of charge, regardless of their background, religion or material status. In the opening year, the number of patients was 708, and this number rose to over 4,500 in the late 1920s and early 1930s, with almost 70% non-Jews. During the first world war, the hospital rescued several thousand wounded soldiers. One of the annual reports on the functioning of the hospital concluded: The functioning of our hospital can be an example of an effective measure to combat anti-Semitism and religious hatred.
Collector from Wroclaw
The cabinets and walls in collectors’ houses are full of the most beautiful masterpieces […]. There are works rarely found even in the richest collections.
Karl Scheffler, 1923
Leo Lewin (1881–1965), who came from a family of well-known textile producers, was one of a large group of Wrocław entrepreneurs who enthusiastically collected artworks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His main source of income and greatest passion was horse breeding, but he also devoted a lot of time and considerable funds to collecting art and rare books. He adapted some of the rooms in his villa for displaying paintings and graphics, which quickly began to fill the walls of the house in today’s al. Akacjowa. Among Lewin’s favourite artists were the German impressionists Max Slevogt and Max Liebermann – he owned several dozen of their works and over the years developed close friendship with both of them. Leo Lewin’s collection also contained paintings by Trübner, Corinth, Munch, Picasso, Corot, Daumier, Courbet, Manet, Monet and at least two paintings by van Gogh. Lewin also collected works on paper, including prominently among them original drawings by Rembrandt, Delacroix, Menzel and Cézanne. His villa was adorned with numerous sculptures, many by his favourite sculptor August Gaul. In just over a dozen years, Lewin managed to assemble a unique collection of artworks that could well match those of museums. The crisis in the 1920s followed by the Nazis’ rise to power put an end to his activity as a collector. Most of the works were sold at auctions, and the Lewin family emigrated to Great Britain. Today, works of art that once belonged to this Wrocław collection can be seen in famous museums around the world.
For several dozen years after its opening, the Jewish Hospital was one of the largest hospitals in Wrocław, commonly considered to be the most modern medical facility in the city. It introduced many solutions that are taken for granted today, but seemed revolutionary at the beginning of the 20th century. When in the mid-19th century it was finally noticed that badly sanitised tools or unwashed hands could expose patients to danger, especially during surgical procedures, rules of conduct were introduced to preserve the sterility of rooms, tools and drugs; surgeons were ordered to wash their hands, which some of them still considered a whim. Among the forerunners of these principles was Jan Mikulicz-Radecki. He provided instructions on how to equip the aseptic operating theatre at the Jewish Hospital and trained the staff to maintain proper hygiene at work. Separate rooms for sterilising surgical instruments were created in the hospital, alongside bathrooms with showers, including ones adapted to the needs of people with disabilities, and modern laboratories that constituted the hospital’s research and education centre. In 1928, the first radiological laboratory in Wrocław opened here.
Doctor of the Jewish Hospital, initiator of the Paralympic Games
I think Sir Ludwig just changed the world for us; it was a complete step change . . . He came in, he had a vision . . . As far as disability and disabled sport was concerned, he did change the world.
The famous neurosurgeon Ludwig Guttmann (1899–1980) dedicated his life to the treatment of patients with spinal cord injuries, bringing this field of medicine to a new level. However, before that happened, he was associated with Wrocław for many years. He studied medicine here and then worked at the local city hospital. In the years 1933–1938, he was the head of the neurology department at the Jewish Hospital in Wrocław. It was while working here that during the Kristallnacht in November 1938 he saved 60 people from deportation to the camps by admitting them as patients to his hospital. After emigrating to England, as director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he organised daily activities for his patients, including sports competitions. They grew more popular each year and eventually evolved into the Paralympic movement. During the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, four hundred athletes from 21 countries competed with each other; currently, this number has reached several thousand! In 1966, Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his merits in the field of medicine and his contribution to the development of sport for people with disabilities.
If I ever did one good thing in my medical career, it was to introduce sport into the treatment and rehabilitation of people paralysed by injury to the spinal cord.
Sir Ludwig Guttmann
The District Railway Hospital
In 1939, the Nazi authorities seized the Jewish Hospital and intended it for military purposes. During the siege of Wrocław in 1945, the complex of hospital buildings suffered serious damage, which remained visible for several dozen years. It was only after the entire area was acquired by the Polish State Railways that reconstruction began. Renovated and equipped with new facilities, the complex officially opened in 1970 under the name District Railway Hospital. Over the following years, it was one of the largest hospitals in the city, even though it never reached its pre-war size. In later years, the hospital became famous for its Plastic Surgery Ward. Several precursory operations were performed here, including the first abdominal flap-based breast reconstruction and the first sex reassignment surgery in Poland. In 2015, the hospital was definitely closed. Throughout the decades of its functioning, first as the Jewish Hospital and then as the District Railway Hospital, the impressive complex of buildings in the Krzyki district of Wrocław became ingrained in the memory of the former and present inhabitants of Wrocław. It remains an important example of hospital architecture that adds character to the southern part of the city.