A 102 year-old woman received her doctorate from a German university Tuesday – nearly 80 years after the Nazis prevented her sitting the final exam to officially obtain it.
Pediatric expert Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport was presented with her Ph.D. title by Hamburg's UKE University Medical Center despite having completed her thesis on diphtheria by 1938.
She had studied medicine in the northern port city and worked at its Israelite Hospital from 1937 to 1938 when she wrote her doctoral dissertation, the UKE said.
By then Hitler's regime had imposed racially motivated legal restrictions which barred her from being allowed to sit her oral exam and obtain her title because of her Jewish descent.
Her mother, Maria Syllm, a pianist, was Jewish. That made her Jewish under Jewish law (halakha) – although the Nazis persecuted and murdered anyone with even a single Jewish grandparent.
It was about the principle, not about me," Syllm-Rapoport said in an interview published online with Germany's Tagesspiegel daily last month.
The Berlin resident said the university had shown "great patience," for which she was grateful.
To prepare for the belated exam, friends googled developments in diphtheria over the last eight decades for her, she added.
Her professor in 1938 had issued a certificate stating he would have passed her thesis at the time if it had been legally possible to do so, she said.
Syllm-Rapoport finally successfully sat her oral test in May, the Hamburg university said in a statement, adding she was probably the oldest person in the world to receive a doctorate.
Burkhard Goeke, the UKE's medical director and chairman, said they were gratified at being able to restore "a piece of justice."
"We can't make the injustice that occurred undone, but our insights into the past shape our perspectives for the future," he said in a statement.
The hospital said the dean of its medical faculty, Uwe Koch-Gromus, had found out about Syllm-Rapoport's case on her 100th birthday and started looking into it.
He described her after her exam as "simply brilliant."
"We were impressed by her intellectual alertness and speechless over her expert knowledge, even in the area of modern medicine," he said in the statement.
Syllm-Rapoport emigrated to the United States in 1938 where she met her husband and continued her career in pediatrics, the UKE said.
Without her official Ph.D, she faced a further two years of studying in Philadelphia.
The couple, who had four children, moved back to Germany in the early 1950s, settling in then communist East Berlin, it said.
In 1969, Syllm-Rapoport assumed the first neonatology professorship in Germany based at Berlin's now prestigious Charite university hospital.