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A portrait of two significant Jewish doctors: Erich Langer and Ludwig Levy-Lenz

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Erich Langer and Ludwig Levy-Lenz were two outstanding personalities of their time. Levy-Lenz was active in various related medical fields of venereology, gynecology, surgery, cosmetic medicine and sexual science. He wrote a number of popular publications, such as the brochure "How to protect myself from venereal diseases? His rejuvenation surgeries and his sex reassignments of both sexes already in the 1920s made him world famous. In 1952 he was the founder of this journal. Erich Langer belongs to the physicians who have made a great contribution to dermatology, but today, younger dermatologists are hardly aware of him. His energetic work and his writings after the Second World War paved the way for German dermatology to be recognized abroad again relatively quickly. Both were friends of my grandfather and played an important role in our publishing house. On the occasion of our jubilee I would like to bring both personalities closer with this contribution not only to our readers.



Erich Langer and Ludwig Levy-Lenz were outstanding doctors who, despite National Socialism and its terror, never turned their backs on Germany. Their contribution to the reconstruction of German dermatology and aesthetic surgery is invaluable.


In 1933, about 16% of the physicians in Germany were Jewish – with a population share of only 0.8%. In Berlin alone, more than half of all physicians were Jews. A quarter of all dermatologists in the German Reich were Jewish. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, the predominance of Jewish doctors in dermatology was a tradition. Young doctors often followed in the footsteps of their fathers or relatives. The history of dermatology is full of Jewish fathers and sons, such as Joseph and Werner Jadasohn, Samuel and Max Jessner, as well as Felix and Hermann Pinkus.


Within a short time after Hitler seized power, most of the leading dermatologists were fired and forced to emigrate. Of the 2078 dermatologists in 1933, 566 were Jewish. 248 emigrated, mostly to the USA. 58 died in Germany, of which at least 10 committed suicide. At least 60 dermatologists died in the concentration camps.


Erich Langer

Erich Langer was one of the few Jews who had stayed in Berlin. In contrast to the greats of dermatology such as Abraham Buschke(1868 – 1943) and Karl Herxheimer (1861 – 1942) who died in concentration camps or took their own lives, such as Fritz Juliusberg (1872 – 1939; pityraisis lichenoides chronica) and Ernst Kromayer (1862 – 1933; Kromayer Lamp), little is known of the Jews who remained in Berlin [1].


In 1927, Langer became a conducting physician at the new Clinic for Dermatology and director of the Clinic for Venereology in Berlin-Britz, a large clinic in Neukölln, then a poor district of Berlin. With his wife Margarete he moved into a large apartment in Knesebeckstraße 67, near the elegant Kurfürstendamm, where he also opened a private practice that attracted a wealthy clientele. He became a respected member of the Berlin and German dermatology scene. The situation also looked promising for other Jewish dermatologists. Some were even promoted to professorship, which would have been impossible a generation before [1].


In April 1933 he was forced to leave Berlin-Britz (Neukölln) and was released in October of the same year. Originally he also lost his health insurance license, but here his military career and the Iron Cross he was awarded during the First World War helped him. He got his health insurance license back and treated patients in his home practice until well into 1938 [1].


The situation for the Jews became more and more difficult. Actually Erich Langer planned to leave Germany. But his greatest concern was his parents, who were no longer young and whom he had been supporting financially since 1930. After the Reichskristallnacht on 9 November 1938, he took his parents in. His brother and sister-in-law went to Sao Paolo, Brazil in 1939 and returned in 1950. The attempt to emigrate to Sweden with his wife and parents failed. Later he decided to emigrate to the USA. In early 1941 he was issued passports, opened the necessary bank account, bought tickets for the 10,000 Reichsmark crossing and commissioned a moving company. But then his request was rejected by the German authorities [1].


Erich Langer remained in Berlin throughout the war. His greatest help, although little documented, was certainly his Christian wife Margarete. The Langers were able to stay in their Charlottenburg apartment until the house was bombed in November 1943. They later lived illegally in the suburb of Zehlendorf with the Heiligental family on Eggepfad 18, a street of row houses adjacent to houses built for SS members [1].


A unique trick to avoid persecution was to declare oneself illegitimate. Langer went through this procedure in 1942. His mother had to testify that she had an affair with Friedrich Klingsporn, an Aryan, and had no sexual intercourse with her husband Theodor, before Langer was born. She claimed that Klingsporn was Langer’s biological father and that Langer was only half Jewish. This was accepted by a Berlin court; the blood test results could not rule out that Theodor Langer was Erich’s father, but the medical examination by a specialist in hereditary biology determined that Erich had too many Aryan characteristics to be a full Jew. Ironically, some prominent Nazis used the same trick to make themselves Aryans; Erhard Milch (1892 – 1972), Air Force Field Marshal, had a Jewish father, but his mother also testified that he was illegitimate. Shortly thereafter, Langer’s parents were deported to Theresienstadt near Prague, where they died [1].

Fig. 1: Erich Langer (1930).

Langer was able to avoid the authorities until December 1944. Then his arrest was ordered after several illegal Jews he had treated were arrested and denounced him. The person collecting him was a former patient of his, who let him escape. In Langer’s own words: “I managed to avoid all other attempts to pick me up”. Towards the end of 1944, Langer’s wife suffered from an intestinal obstruction and needed an operation, which was most likely performed at the Jewish Hospital. After her release, she was ordered to work in a leather factory, which she did until the end of the war. From then on he went underground. According to his own statement, he spent 6 months in a garden house on an island in Lake Tegel, one of many lakes in Berlin [1].


Fig. 2: Erich Langer’s passport of 1941 with the stamp “J” and the middle name “Israel”. (With permission of the Landesamt für Bürger und Ordnungsangelegenheiten Berlin).


After the surrender of the 3rd Reich on 8 May 1945, Langer returned to Berlin-Britz in July and again took over the direction of dermatovenerology. A picture from this period shows the effects of his underground existence and starvation (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Fig. 3: Erich Langer 1945 after the end of the war (Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin, Centrum Judaicum, Archiv [CJA 4.1. Nr. 996]).

Most Jewish survivors were happy to emigrate to the United States, the United Kingdom or Palestine. Not, however, Erich Langer. In 1955, Heinrich Löhe (1877 – 1961) and Langer published a list of all dermatologists of the German language. This book is unique because it was published simultaneously by our publishing house in West Berlin and the East German Barth Verlag. In his own entry Langer does not go into his adventures in the Third Reich, but simply writes “Director, Berlin-Britz 1927 – 1951” [1].


From May 1945 the Langers lived in an old villa in Kronprinzenallee 321 (renamed Clayallee in 1949 after the American General Lucius D. Clay, the mastermind of the Berlin Airlift). In 1952 they moved back to Charlottenburg to Mommsenstraße 7, where he also had a private practice.


In addition to his work as editor of the Zeitschrift für Haut- und Geschlechtskrankheiten (Journal of Skin- and Venereal Diseases), Langer also published other books in our publishing house, such as Sexually transmitted diseases in children and adolescents (together with Wilhelm Brandt) and the Atlas of Syphilis, which became a classic for all practicing doctors.


Langer also helped to revive the German Society for the Fight against Sexually Transmitted Diseasesand the Berlin Dermatological Society.


His wife Margarete died in the summer of 1957. He followed her a few months later and died unexpectedly in an inappropriate environment. After attending a conference in Vienna in autumn, he made a stopover in Feldafing on Lake Starnberg to play in one of the first and most renowned golf clubs. He suffered a heart attack on the golf course. After a few weeks he died in a local clinic on 21 October 1957.


Ludwig Levy Lenz

Ludwig Levy-Lenz was born on December 1, 1892 in Posen into a wealthy middle-class family. In 1909, together with his younger brother Siegbert, he went to Heidelberg to study medicine. He then worked in Munich and Breslau (now Wroclaw). At the beginning of the First World War, he was stationed as a soldier in Posen (Poznan) in a special hospital for reconstructive surgery and orthopedics that he had set up himself. On behalf of his military superiors, he even set up a war brothel and was responsible for the health care of the women working there.


Shortly after the war, he opened a medical practice in Berlin at Rosenthaler Platz, very close to the Jewish Scheunenviertel. Around 1926, after his divorce from his first wife Denise, he moved to Berlin’s bourgeois Westend. His second marriage to Elma Wilhelm lasted only until 1932 and in early 1933 he married Marya Goldwasser, twenty years his junior, in a third marriage. Shortly after his marriage, he went with her into French exile in Paris. In the run-up to the Olympic Games he believed in a relaxation of German anti-Semitic politics and returned to Germany before finally emigrating to Egypt in 1937. There he was able to open a cosmetic surgery practice. In 1939 he was expatriated from the Greater German Reich.


Works by Levy-Lenz were also translated into other languages, in France a translation was even printed during the German occupation in 1943. After the war, Lenz worked seasonally in Baden-Baden and Cairo and finally returned to Berlin in 1965.


Rejuvenation operations

The physiologist and sex researcher Eugen Steinach (1861 – 1944) had been working since the 1890s on the analysis and use of sex hormones and on experiments on sex change, which he published from 1912 onwards and thus aroused public interest worldwide. Above all he caused a stir with his “rejuvenation operations” but also with his theses on the “treatment” of homosexuality after the First World War, which brought him massive hostility.


In 1921 Levy-Lenz and his colleague Peter Schmidtwent to Vienna to learn about Eugen Steinach’s rejuvenation methods. Just one year later, the two of them started to carry out the “rejuvenation operations” (vasoligatura – the elimination of the vas deferens or testicular transplants) together in Berlin. The cultural department of Ufa Film Studios filmed these operations. The material is used in the versions of “Steinach’s Forschungen” and “Der Steinach Film” completed in 1922/23. Later, Ufa filmed Lenz performing the first Voronoff operation, in which the testicles of a rhesus monkey were implanted in a man with the same aim. In contrast to Schmidt, Lenz later turned away from these operations.


Ludwig L.-Lenz and Sexual Science

Through the “soldier brothel” established by him in World War I, it became clear to him that there was not only a military front, but also a psychological and physical one, outside obedience. To unfold freely and to surrender to his feelings and inclinations, to experience pleasure. There was not only the enemy at the front, but also the enemy of the venereal diseases and for the forced prostituted women also still the unwanted pregnancy. After the war he therefore wanted to pacify the remaining fronts of venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancy. As early as 1919 he published the brochure „Wie schütze ich mich vor Geschlechtskrankheiten?“ (How do I protect myself against venereal diseases), which was distributed to public toilets and certain establishments. The brothel, run by him on the orders of his superiors, led him to concern himself with the social position of women and gender roles in general. The titles of his books speak for themselves: “When women are not allowed to give birth: Significance and Method of Contraception presented in a way that can be understood by all” (1928), “The Enlightened Woman” (1928) and “The Witch’s Cauldron of Love” (1931).


His approach to gender role research was similar to that of Magnus Hirschfeld. From 1925 Lenz worked at the Hirschfeld Institute for Sexual Science. There he was head of the women’s department and was actively involved in the women’s counselling centre. He outlined his duties at the Institute as follows: “I was head of the women’s department and the counselling centre, but I also had to work on the court opinions and hold question evenings for a time”. His actual activity, however, was surgery with a focus on genital surgery. He performed castrations of sex offenders, vasoligatura and testicular transplantation for those who wanted to rejuvenate.


In June 1931, Lenz performed a penectomy on a well-known transvestite named Dorchen Richter. The surgeon Erwin Gohrbandt (1890-1965) created an artificial vagina. It was the first known sex reassignment in the world, just a few months before the reknown artist Lili Elbe’s sex reassignment operation.

Fig. 4: Ludwig Levi-Lenz (1920’s).

In the aftermath of National Socialism, the proportion of sexual science contributions declined. In this respect, he failed to reconnect with the sexual sciences. In Germany, sexual science is re-forming within psychiatry – a direction that was far removed from him. In addition, he was very close to Magnus Hirschfeld, which, unlike other members of the institute, he never concealed. Hirschfeld’s sexual-scientific, but above all openly sexual-political orientation was highly suspect for a number of psychiatrically oriented sexual researchers, not only because of Nazi propaganda [3].


Levy-Lenz can take up the thread again in journalism. In 1951 he published his memoirs, begun ten years earlier in Cairo, under the significant title Discreetes and Indiscreetes. In 1952 he had The Enlightened Womanreissued in an updated version (as the 1st edition) and Janine, diary of a rejuvenated womanalso experienced a post-war edition. In 1952 the journal Journal Ästhetische Medizin und Sexologie– today’s Cosmetic Medicine – was founded.


The last widely acclaimed scientific work is the first post-war Guide to Cosmetic Surgery (1954). An obituary shows that Ludwig-Lenz was a gifted teacher in the field of cosmetic surgery who succeeded in establishing a circle of students [4].


Tab. 1: Overview of the most important publications of Ludwig Levy-Lenz.

– Peter Schmidt & Ludwig Levy-Lenz. The successes of Steinach treatment in humans, Berlin: G. Ziemsen, 1921.

– Magnus Hirschfeld & Ludwig Levy-Lenz. Sexual catastrophes: Pictures from modern sex and married life. Leipzig: Payne, 1926.

– Maria Winter & Ludwig Levy-Lenz. Abortion or Prevention of Pregnancy? Berlin-Hessenwinkel: Publishing House of the New Society, 1928.

– Ludwig Levy-Lenz. The enlightened woman: a book for all women. Berlin: Man-Verl, 1928.

– Ludwig Levy-Lenz. Janine: Diary of a rejuvenated woman, Berlin: Man Verlag, 1928.

– Ludwig Levy-Lenz. When women are not allowed to give birth: Meaning and method of contraception commonst. dargest. Berlin-Hessenwinkel: Publishing House of the New Society, 1928.

– Arthur Koestler, A. Willy, Norman Haire & Ludwig Levy-Lenz. The Encyclopeadia of Sexual Knowledge. London: F. Aldor, 1934.

– Ludwig Levy-Lenz. La femme initiée, Paris: Le Caire, R. Schindler, 1943.

– Ludwig Levy-Lenz. Discreet and indiscreet: (Memoirs of a sex doctor). Dischingen/Wurttemberg: Wadi-Verlagsbuchhandlung, 317 pp 1951. English translation as Discretion and indiscretion: memoirs of a sexologist. New York: Cadillac Pub. Co., 512 pp 1951.

– Ludwig Levy-Lenz. Practice of cosmetic surgery. Progress and Dangers, 1954

Address of Correspondence

Douglas Grosse
GMC Gesundheitsmedien und Congress GmbH
Mommsenstr. 30
D-10629 Berlin

Conflict of Interests



1. Burgdorf WHC, Hoenig LJ, Plewig G, Kohl PK (2014) Erich Langer: The last Jewish dermatologist in Nazi Berlin. Clin Dermatol 32: 532 – 541.
2. Albrecht Scholz, Karl Holubar, Günter Burg (Hg.): Geschichte der deutschsprachigen Dermatologie, Deutsche Dermatologische Gesellschaft 2009, S. 103.
3. Sigusch V, Grau G (2009) Personenlexikon der Sexualwissenschaften. Campus Verlag S.: 421 – 423.
4. Harnisch H et al (1966) Nachruf Ludwig Levy-Lenz. Ästh Med 15: 389-390.


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