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Correspondence |

Dr Friedrich Wegener and the American College of Chest Physicians Award FREE TO VIEW

Richard A. DeRemee, MD
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From the Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo College of Medicine.

Correspondence to: Richard A. DeRemee, MD, 200 1st St SW, Rochester, MN 55905; e-mail: radrst@aol.com


Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians (http://www.chestpubs.org/site/misc/reprints.xhtml).


© 2010 American College of Chest Physicians


Chest. 2010;138(3):753. doi:10.1378/chest.10-0928
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I was involved with Dr E. C. Rosenow III, then president of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), in creating the honor of Master Clinician, which was bestowed on Dr Friedrich Wegener in Boston, Massachusetts, in October 1989. I believe it is understandable I would be concerned over the withdrawal of the honor1 on the basis of unfounded and egregious charges made against Wegener in various articles appearing in Lancet2 and Rheumatology (Oxford).3

Only organizations or entities bestowing an honor have the proprietary right to revoke it. In that sense, the ACCP was within its prerogatives. However, I strongly contest the reasons for doing so. Because the use of the name Wegener granulomatosis evolved from repetitive use in the broad medical literature, it seems inappropriate for a few organizations to arrogate to themselves such powers of revisionism. Your organization may have the right to revoke an honor it bestowed, but it does not have the right to erase Wegener’s name from medical history.

Second, if the name Wegener granulomatosis is somehow eliminated from the medical lexicon, how will future generations of medical scientists access the vast and valuable literature already instantiated in that appellation? You might suggest footnotes or asterisks, but that would entail citing the name, a self-defeating process.

I am acutely aware of the sensitivity of the Jewish community over this issue. However, I do not believe that all Germans who joined the Nazi Party were criminals. Consider Nobel Prize-winner Günter Grass, composer Richard Strauss, conductor Herbert Von Karajan, and former German President Richard Weizsäcker. There were many mitigating reasons of which we who stand smugly on the sidelines of the controversy have no visceral understanding. You have even alluded in your editorial (September 2007)4 to such reasons that might have confronted the young Wegener as he tried to find his way in the post-World War I Weimar chaos.

Wegener was a prominent German athlete, being the 1933 Schleuderball Champion. (This is a weight-throwing event that might be compared with the hammer throw or shot put.) The Sturmabteilung was a strong sponsor of athletic teams and athletes such as Wegener. This could have served as a motivation for joining the organization; a minor point to be sure, but such mundane considerations could have been operative, and not ideology, per se.

It is facile to suggest, “Wegener should not have taken a commission in the army and should have declined or resigned from his appointment in Lodz.” Anyone who has served in the military, especially in time of war, will view these remarks with astonishment as being naive. Had Wegener done so we would not be discussing this issue because it would have been resolved by a gunshot long ago.

It is within possibility Wegener could have mitigated the condition of many under his influence or control in a way reminiscent of Oskar Schindler (also a Nazi Party member). Given the character I perceived in my friend, Wegener, this is certainly a possibility, although I have no proof of such. Similarly, we have no proof he engaged in nefarious activity.

Financial/nonfinancial disclosures: The author has reported to CHEST that no potential conflicts of interest exist with any companies/organizations whose products or services may be discussed in this article.

Rosen MJ. Dr Friedrich Wegener and the ACCP, revisited. Chest. 2007;1326:1723-1724. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Woywodt A, Haubitz M, Haller H, Matteson EL. Wegener’s granulomatosis. Lancet. 2006;3679519:1362-1366. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Woywodt A, Matteson EL. Wegener’s granulomatosis—probing the untold past of the man behind the eponym. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2006;4510:1303-1306. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Rosen MJ. Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP, and history. Chest. 2007;1323:739-741. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 

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References

Rosen MJ. Dr Friedrich Wegener and the ACCP, revisited. Chest. 2007;1326:1723-1724. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Woywodt A, Haubitz M, Haller H, Matteson EL. Wegener’s granulomatosis. Lancet. 2006;3679519:1362-1366. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Woywodt A, Matteson EL. Wegener’s granulomatosis—probing the untold past of the man behind the eponym. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2006;4510:1303-1306. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Rosen MJ. Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP, and history. Chest. 2007;1323:739-741. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
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