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Correspondence |

Time Does Not Heal All Wounds : Medical Luminaries, National Socialism, and the American College of Chest Physicians FREE TO VIEW

Richard H. Savel, MD; Evan B. Goldstein, DO; Isabel Savel; Herbert Savel, MD
Author and Funding Information

Affiliations: Brooklyn, NY,  Elizabethtown, NY

Correspondence to: Richard H. Savel, MD, 4802 Tenth Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11219; e-mail: rhsavel@yahoo.com



Chest. 2007;132(6):2064-2065. doi:10.1378/chest.07-2351
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It was with great interest that we read Dr. Rosen’s recent article1 (September 2007) on the wartime activities of Dr. Friedrich Wegener. Dr. Rosen is to be praised for his delicate and articulate handling of a complex and difficult situation. We were, however, surprised, disappointed, and confused with the ultimate conclusions and actions—or lack thereof—by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP). Our letter has two major points: (1) to describe why the ACCP Master Clinician Award should in fact be posthumously taken away; and (2) to enunciate why the eponymous use of the term Wegener granulomatosis should be terminated.

Dr. Wegener’s voluntary enlistment and rapid rise to leadership in the Nazi storm troopers (SA) is not synonymous with stating that he was merely a member of the Nazi party: it has significant implications, both ideological and practical. The fact that Dr. Wegener apparently joined the SA prior to Adolph Hitler’s official rise to power indicates that this was more than likely an ideologically motivated, personal choice rather than a “career move.” In addition, being a leader in the SA was not just a political statement; the SA was Hitler’s private, paramilitary, terrorist, militia organization that perpetrated numerous acts of violence throughout Europe, primarily targeting Jews and political opponents. One of the most horrific examples includes the now infamous Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) in 1938 in which > 30,000 Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps in a single night. The slogans of the SA included “terror must be broken by terror” and “all opposition must be stamped into the ground.”2At that time, Dr. Wegener was a Lt. Colonel in this organization.3

The arguments used to not take away the award are somewhat specious; this decision should not have been controversial. Up until Dr. Rosen’s article in September 2007, the ACCP had made no mistakes regarding Dr. Wegener; the information was lacking, and no apologies are necessary. However, with the current information (gained at great personal effort by Dr. Woywodt34), the ACCP must withdraw the award. In this present era of terrorism—specifically with recent acts of terrorism being perpetrated by physicians in London—national medical societies must remain as far removed as possible from any potential acts of war or terror: past, present, or future. Dr. Rosen’s arguments for Dr. Wegener keeping his award make little sense. Whether or not he has been legally convicted of “war crimes” is irrelevant; his being a high-ranking officer in the brownshirts is more than reason enough to rescind his award. Finally, the statements regarding the date that the Master Clinician Award was presented (1989) and date of Dr. Wegener’s involvement in the Nazi party (from 1932 to 1945) as factors in determining whether or not the award should be retracted demean awards from national medical societies, the leadership of national medical societies, and specifically the ACCP.

Having a disease named after someone is a tremendous and rare honor in the field of medicine. If such a person is found to have taken part in criminal activities, physician leaders are honor bound to do all they can to rectify the mistake and remove the accolade.5It is inappropriate and irrelevant to state that subsequent “good” actions and statements may absolve one from having been involved in such organized criminal activities. If this disease were known as Himmler’s granulomatosis, there would not be national debate as to the continued use of this eponym. The Vasculitis Foundation of North America has stated that “as patients and family members, we would prefer a different name for our disease.”6

The ACCP and Dr. Rosen have been given an opportunity to bring historical accuracy to the memory of a man who participated in the evil Nazi regime, which visited death and destruction to so much of the world from 1933 to 1945. This opportunity cannot, should not, and must not be missed.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Rosen, MJ (2007) Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP, and history.Chest132,739-741. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Mitcham, S. Why Hitler? 1996; Praeger Publishing. Westport, CT:.
 
Woywodt, A, Haubitz, M, Haller, H, et al Wegener’s granulomatosis.Lancet2006;367,1362-1366. [PubMed]
 
Woywodt, A, Matteson, EL Wegener’s granulomatosis: probing the untold past of the man behind the eponym.Rheumatology (Oxford)2006;45,1303-1306. [PubMed]
 
Strous, RD, Edelman, MC Eponyms and the Nazi era: time to remember and time for change.Isr Med Assoc J2007;9,207-214. [PubMed]
 
Woywodt, A, Matteson, E Should eponyms be abandoned? Yes.BMJ2007;335,424. [PubMed]
 

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References

Rosen, MJ (2007) Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP, and history.Chest132,739-741. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Mitcham, S. Why Hitler? 1996; Praeger Publishing. Westport, CT:.
 
Woywodt, A, Haubitz, M, Haller, H, et al Wegener’s granulomatosis.Lancet2006;367,1362-1366. [PubMed]
 
Woywodt, A, Matteson, EL Wegener’s granulomatosis: probing the untold past of the man behind the eponym.Rheumatology (Oxford)2006;45,1303-1306. [PubMed]
 
Strous, RD, Edelman, MC Eponyms and the Nazi era: time to remember and time for change.Isr Med Assoc J2007;9,207-214. [PubMed]
 
Woywodt, A, Matteson, E Should eponyms be abandoned? Yes.BMJ2007;335,424. [PubMed]
 
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