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Correspondence |

On Wegener and the ACCP FREE TO VIEW

Michael Emmett, MD
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Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas, TX

Correspondence to: Michael Emmett, MD, Chairman of Internal Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center, 3500 Gaston Ave, Room H-102, Dallas, TX 75246-2096; e-mail: m.emmett@baylorhealth.edu



Chest. 2007;132(6):2066. doi:10.1378/chest.07-2720
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To The Editor:

I read your editorial “Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP, and History”1with great interest. In addition to the specific issues and concerns you addressed—namely the special recognition given by the American College of Chest Physicians to Dr. Wegener—the eponymous association of Wegener with the syndrome he described has also been called into question. Should we continue to call this disease Wegener granulomatosis? Several other, rather notorious, Nazis have eponymous disease associations. They include Hans Reiter, who was directly and personally implicated in multiple war crimes, including typhus experiments carried out on concentration camp victims.2 In 2003, an international group of rheumatology journal editors decided to eliminate usage of the term Reiter syndrome, and this eponym no longer appears in many journals nor in recent editions of several internal medicine textbooks (largely replaced with the term reactive arthritis).3 An analogous decision was made regarding Hallervorden-Spatz disease when it became clear that Julius Hallervorden’s wartime reputation was remarkably enhanced by his dissections of “wonderful material”: 500 brains obtained from euthanized “feeble-minded individuals.”4 Dr. Wegener was never convicted of any war crime. His war-time records have largely “disappeared.” He also never apologized for, or even publically acknowledged, his very early membership in the Sturm Abteilung (SA) Brownshirts and then the Nazi party. I have chosen not to use the term Wegener granulomatosis in my professional and educational activities and instead use the term granulomatous vasculitis. When my lack of eponymous usage is questioned, it provides an opportunity for historical education.

I also would like to point out a most interesting coincidence. The term Wegener’s granulomatous was introduced into the English medical literature and promoted by the pathologists Jacob Churg and Gabriel Godman in 1954.5 Dr. Churg was born in 1910 in the eastern European Jewish Shtetl of Dolhinow. Following graduation from the medical school in Wilno in 1936, he immigrated to New York City and joined his uncle, Louis Chargin, Chief of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai. He later became a renal pathologist of great renown and has a disease named after him: Churg-Strauss syndrome. Is it not ironic that Dr. Wegener’s fame is largely attributable to an eastern European Jew, who, had he not escaped to the United States, would certainly have been incarcerated in a ghetto, perhaps even the notorious Lodz Ghetto, where Dr. Wegener was dissecting victims just 3 years later in 1939!

Dr. Emmett is Chairman of Internal Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center.

I have no conflict of interest to declare except that I am the child of Holocaust survivors, was born in a displaced persons’ camp in Austria, and my oldest sister together with many uncles, aunts, and cousins were murdered by the Nazis.

Rosen, M (2007) Dr. Friedrich Wegener: the ACCP and history.Chest132,739-741. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Panush, RS, Paraschiv, D, Dorff, RE The tainted legacy of Hans Reiter.Semin Arthritis Rheum2003;32,231-236. [PubMed]
 
Lu, DW, Katz, KA Declining use of the eponym “Reiter’s syndrome” in the medical literature, from 1998 to 2003.J Am Acad Dermatol2005;53,720-723. [PubMed]
 
Shevell, M Hallervorden and history.N Engl J Med2003;348,3-4. [PubMed]
 
Godman, GC, Churg, J Wegener’s granulomatosis.Arch Pathol1954;58,533-553
 

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References

Rosen, M (2007) Dr. Friedrich Wegener: the ACCP and history.Chest132,739-741. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Panush, RS, Paraschiv, D, Dorff, RE The tainted legacy of Hans Reiter.Semin Arthritis Rheum2003;32,231-236. [PubMed]
 
Lu, DW, Katz, KA Declining use of the eponym “Reiter’s syndrome” in the medical literature, from 1998 to 2003.J Am Acad Dermatol2005;53,720-723. [PubMed]
 
Shevell, M Hallervorden and history.N Engl J Med2003;348,3-4. [PubMed]
 
Godman, GC, Churg, J Wegener’s granulomatosis.Arch Pathol1954;58,533-553
 
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