Woman Earns Her Doctorate Almost 80 Years After Nazis Forbid It

Indrani Sengupta
Earn doctorate, cures babies, make history: all in a day's work for this remarkable old woman.

Goal #1: Earn a doctorate.

Goal #2: Live till 102.

Goal #3: Put those two together and pray you can hold a candle to this formidable woman.

In 1938, Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport was gearing up to defend her doctoral thesis on diphtheria, in an era where higher education for women already raised a few eyebrows (to say the least).

But early 20th century sexism was the least of her worries. She was also a Jewish resident of Nazi Germany.

Suffice to say, Sylmm-Rapoport was not permitted to receive her hard-earned degree.

Undeterred, she emigrated to the US that same year, degree be damned. She worked as a pediatrician for years before moving back to Germany, where she became the first head of the neonatology (newborn care) department at Berlin’s Charite hospital.

Now, nearly eight decades later, Syllm-Sapoport has finally cleared the last hurdle toward her degree by passing an oral exam. She received her doctorate in a special ceremony held at the University of Hamburg.

The medical director of the university’s hospital, Burkhard Geoke, gave a speech to mark the momentous occasion:

"After almost 80 years, it was possible to restore some extent of justice. We cannot undo injustices that have been committed, but our insights into the past shape our perspective for the future."

In her acceptance speech, Syllm-Rapoport insisted that she completed her degree at this advanced age, not for herself, but as a gesture toward all those who suffered 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 is now the oldest recipient of a doctorate in Germany's history. 

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