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Dr. Ernst Delbanco * 1869

Martinistraße 52 / UKE, vor dem neuen Hauptgebäude (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)

JG. 1869

further stumbling stones in Martinistraße 52 / UKE, vor dem neuen Hauptgebäude:
Dr. Walter Griesbach, Dr. Arthur Haim, Dr. Erwin Jacobsthal, Dr. Hermann Josephy, Dr. Victor Kafka, Dr. Otto Kestner, Dr. Paul Kimmelstiel, Dr. Walter Kirschbaum, Dr. Rahel Liebeschütz-Plaut, Dr. Martin Mayer, Dr. Ernst-Friedrich Müller, Dr. Heinrich Poll, Dr. Ernst Sieburg, Dr. Hans Türkheim, Dr. Friedrich Wohlwill

Ernst Delbanco, born on 21 Feb. 1869 in Hamburg, suicide on 31 Mar. 1935

Ernst Delbanco was born on 21 Feb. 1869 in Hamburg’s old city center and grew up as the son of the wholesale merchant and Hamburg citizen Gustav Delbanco (1832–1893) and his wife Gitel Delbanco, née Delbanco (1837–1904) in an educated middle-class milieu. The family was regarded as artistically and philosophically minded on a variety of levels. Their ancestors had come to Hamburg from Italy via Vienna; even in the Hamburg directory of 1794, the family name is listed four times already. Like their father and the grandfathers David Gerson Delbanco (on the father’s side) and Elias Israel Delbanco (on the mother’s side), Ernst’s brothers, Ludwig Delbanco (1870–1935) and Walter Delbanco (1875–1907), took up the merchant’s profession; sister Adele Eichholz, née Delbanco (1872–1927), was married to a merchant.

In the Hanseatic city, Ernst Delbanco had the opportunity to attend the Academic School of the Johanneum high school (Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums) – a privilege given only to select students. After obtaining his high school diploma (Abitur) in 1887, he devoted himself to the study of medicine, which he completed in Freiburg (Breisgau), Strasbourg (Alsace), and Berlin. On 25 Mar. 1891, he received his doctorate from the University of Berlin with a dissertation on the topic of "Contributions on the symptomatology and diagnostics of growths of the pons Varolii” ("Beiträge zur Symptomatologie und Diagnostik der Geschwülste des pons varolii”). In June 1892, Delbanco’s licensing to practice medicine followed in Strasbourg.

Still in the fall of that year, Delbanco began his work as a doctor: During the cholera epidemic in Hamburg, he helped out at the St. Georg General Hospital. Afterward, he went as a physician in training to the internal medicine ward of Eppendorf General Hospital. In 1893, he interrupted his work in Hamburg to embark on a six-month voyage as a ship’s doctor to the west coast of South America. After his return in November, he initially became a trainee at the Institute of Hygiene. From 16 May 1894 until 1 May 1895, he also worked as an assistant of the port medical officer at the time, Bernhard Nocht. That same month, he left his hometown for three years until 1897 to become an assistant of Ernst Neumann at the Pathology Institute of Königsberg University.

What became a formative influence on Delbanco was in particular his subsequent work in the private clinic of the Hamburg dermatologist Paul Gerson Unna (1850–1929), where he got a post as an assistant. By then, Unna’s "Sanatorium for Skin Disease Patients” ("Heilanstalt für Hautkranke”), founded in Eimsbüttel in 1881, had already gained worldwide renown as the "Dermatologicum.” Together with Albert Neisser and Edmund Lesser, Unna was considered the leading scientist of the still fledgling discipline of dermatology. A pioneer of histopathology, he exerted far-reaching influence on the development of dermatology as a whole. Working for Unna, Delbanco completed his training as a specialist, before starting a two-year posting as a resident in the "special ward for male skin disease patients” at the Israelite Hospital. On 3 June 1898, he set himself up as a "specialist for skin and sexual diseases” at Ferdinandstrasse 71 (Hamburg-Altstadt). Together with Wilhelm Haas (1878–1944), he operated a joint practice in the recently opened Kaisergalerie office building at Grosse Bleichen 27 (Hamburg-Neustadt) from 1909 onward. The doctor’s practice there was located on the third floor and had three reception rooms, three operating rooms, one laboratory, and an x-ray room. In 1928, the practice was relocated to the Fuggerhaus at Neuer Wall 69.

During this time, Ernst Delbanco lived with his mother at Grindelallee 109 (1892–1895) and at Hansastrasse 50 (1895–1902?). In 1904, she died and was buried next to her husband in the Jewish Cemetery in Ohlsdorf. The brother, Walther Delbanco, owner of the Walther Delbanco & Co importing and exporting company established in 1903, shot himself in 1907 after the company went bankrupt due to withdrawals of credit. Until 1909, Ernst Delbanco indicated only the practice in the Hamburg directory, but from 1910 until 1917 also a private address at Hochallee 120 (Harvestehude).

As a close friend and "favorite student” of Unna, Ernst Delbanco continued to be in close contact with his teacher. On Delbanco’s sixtieth birthday, Paul Gerson Unna personally wrote a congratulatory article. After Unna’s death, it was left to Delbanco to publish an obituary together with Unna’s son. In 1901, Delbanco became co-editor of the Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie ("monthly journal for practical dermatology”) founded by Unna, from which developed the Dermatologische Wochenschrift ("dermatological weekly”) in 1912. In the course of this, Unna appointed him editor. Increasingly, he participated in the scientific community with contributions of his own. Particularly in the field of histopathology but also concerning research into and therapy of skin cancer, Delbanco gained international recognition in this period. He wrote special articles for several leading medical handbooks, for instance for the Handbuch der Haut- und Geschlechtskrankheiten ("handbook on skin and sexually transmitted diseases”) by Josef Jadassohn (1929).

He also developed an active involvement in questions of health policy. Since 1903, Delbanco was a member of the Hamburg local branch of the "German Society for Combating Venereal Diseases” (Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Bekämpfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten – DGBG), which he headed for several years. In the context of the increasing spread of sexually transmitted diseases after the turn of the century, especially of syphilis, a public debate was sparked off about state control of prostitution. As a member of the Hamburg branch association of the International Federation (Association for Combating Immorality) (Internationale Föderation [Verein zur Bekämpfung der Unsittlichkeit]), Delbanco advocated the abolition of police-controlled brothels in the city. He interpreted them as the promotion of immorality by the state and viewed the one-sided control of prostitutes as unjust discrimination of women. From 1909 onward, Delbanco belonged to the committee of experts on legislative issues of the DGBG and became the spokesperson of the Hamburg Abolitionists (international movement for abolishing slavery).

With the abolition of brothels by the Hamburg Senate in 1921, Delbanco had achieved his main political goal. However, in the subsequent debate concerning regulation on the level of national legislation, which became known as the "Hamburg brothel dispute” ("Hamburger Bordellstreit”), he continued to participate in a prominent position. In 1925, he joined the Hamburg pastor Helmuth Schreiner in publishing a much-noticed polemic entitled "Before the decision” ("Vor der Entscheidung") against a possible reintroduction of brothels. Eventually, in 1927, the "Reich Law on Combating Venereal Diseases” ("Reichsgesetz zur Bekämpfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten") meant a compromise solution was found that maintained the ban on brothels.

During the First World War, Ernst Delbanco volunteered as a combat physician in Bulgaria, where he was deployed from 1914 to 1916 in hospital trains for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Afterward, he became active as a senior physician at the Alexander Hospital in Sofia, working toward care for and education of the population in terms of sexually transmitted diseases. For his commitment, he received various Austrian, Bulgarian, and Turkish decorations.

Delbanco also became involved in the field of tuberculosis healthcare. From 1915 to 1918 as well as from 1921 to 1927, he belonged to the task force of the German Central Committee for Combating Tuberculosis (Deutsches Zentralkomitee zur Bekämpfung der Tuberkulose) and was a paying member of the "Association for Lupus Care” ("Verein für Lupusfürsorge”). At the same time, he was a member of the Hamburg Physicians’ Association (Ärztlicher Verein Hamburg), the German Pathology Society (Deutsche Pathologische Gesellschaft), as well as the Deputation for the Prison System (Deputation für das Gefängniswesen), a body for which he addressed issues of the penal system in an honorary capacity from 1918 to 1928. In terms of healthcare policy, he also participated as a member of the association for introducing free choice of physician in Hamburg (Verein für die Einführung der freien Arztwahl in Hamburg).

A member of the liberal German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei – DDP) (from 1930 onward, German State Party – Deutsche Staatspartei), Delbanco represented an exception within the Hamburg medical profession, which tended to be national-conservative. To be sure, his arguments concerning health policy largely followed the nationalistically, in part even eugenically oriented zeitgeist. However, his rather conservative moral views were juxtaposed with liberal, social reform ideas. Together with the Social Democrat Andreas Knack, he particularly advocated increased sex education and improvement of the housing situation in the Hamburg working-class neighborhoods.

Delbanco’s appointment on 20 July 1921 to honorary professor for dermatology at the University of Hamburg, founded two years before, marked the height of his academic career. After a meeting with the dean at the time, Bernhard Nocht, he had voluntarily turned down the offer to take a full professorship at the university’s Dermatological Clinic in order to support the appointment of an external personality. Ernst Delbanco reached the zenith of his medical career in 1929: As of 1 Aug. that year, acting as a senior physician, he took on the management of the department of skin and sexually transmitted diseases at Barmbek General Hospital, which at that time was the largest state-run hospital, featuring 580 beds. On 20 and 21 Feb. 1929, nearly all of Hamburg’s daily newspapers had already published appreciative articles on the occasion of Ernst Delbanco’s sixtieth birthday.

There is no indication of any membership of Ernst Delbanco in the Hamburg German-Israelitic Community. In the elections held by the Jewish Community, his brother, Ludwig Delbanco, who since 1893 was the owner of the S.R. Levy & Co. importing and exporting firm previously operated by their father, was active as a supporter of election announcements in favor of the unified list (Einheitsliste) in 1920 and of the religious-liberal list (Religiös-Liberale Liste) in 1930. Ludwig Delbanco had obtained Hamburg civic rights, was the proprietor of the house at Grasweg 38 (Winterhude), and temporarily served in an honorary capacity as a commercial court judge dealing with commercial disputes. He died in July 1935, and his company was "Aryanized” in 1938.

Ernst Delbanco – whom Unna had described in an early testimonial as "the most eminent of the younger dermatologists in Hamburg from a scientific perspective” – earned international recognition on account of his achievements in medical research. In 1905, he was already honored by becoming a corresponding member of the Viennese Dermatological Society. In 1923 and 1924, this honor was bestowed upon him by the Danish and the Berlin Dermatological Societies, in 1928 by the Venerological-Dermatological Society in Moscow. In the same year, he became an honorary member of the Italian Society for Dermatology. In 1926, he had already been admitted to the Swedish Physicians’ Society.

Delbanco found appreciation at conferences in Germany and abroad as a "spirited speaker.” At the same time, he was considered a "charming, sophisticated human being,” as the Bonn-based dermatologist Erich Hoffmann formulated it in the obituary printed in the Dermatologische Zeitschrift as late as the year 1935. Despite the political pressure, Hoffmann praised in the piece Delbanco’s "excellent achievements” in dermatology, venerology, and urology. Ernst Delbanco maintained friendships with, among others, the physicians Bernhard Nocht and Paul Gerson Unna as well as with the Hamburg District Court (Amtsgericht) judge Felix Gorden (1863–1939), for whose daughter he wrote a serious admonition for life in her autograph book (see biography on Elisabeth Gorden). In Peter Vorwinkel’s biographical encyclopedia one can read, "The unmarried Delbanco was well known for his Hamburg house parties during which he, as a friend of modern literature and music, gathered around him personalities from academia, the theater, and the fine arts.”

Ernst Delbanco’s medical and social career was stopped abruptly by the National Socialists’ assumption of power. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums) dated 7 Apr. 1933 laid the foundations for removing Jewish and politically undesirable doctors from the civil service: On 22 July 1933, Ernst Delbanco was dismissed as a "non-Aryan” from his post as the managing senior physician of Barmbek General Hospital; as of 31 July, he was also stripped of his teaching qualification at the Faculty of Medicine because of his "non-Aryan descent.” Still in 1933, he was pushed out from his role as co-editor of the Dermatologische Wochenschrift as well. The German State Party (until 1930 German Democratic Party), Ernst Delbanco’s political home, had participated in the coalition senate with the Nazi Party in Hamburg on 8 Mar. 1933, receiving in return the senator’s posts for economic affairs (Burchard-Motz) and finances (Matthaei). On 26 June 1933, the Hamburg state association of the German State Party dissolved itself. Delbanco’s family doctor, Walter Griesbach (1888–1968), too, had his teaching qualification revoked in Mar. 1934.

On 31 Mar. 1935, at the age of 66, Ernst Delbanco took his own life using potassium cyanide. The death certificate was issued by a physician named Zipperling. Despite not being a member of the Hamburg German-Israelitic Community, Ernst Delbanco was buried in the Ohlsdorf Jewish Cemetery. A brief obituary in the Hamburger Nachrichten on 5 Apr. 1935 mentioned neither the Jewish family background nor the cause of death; in spite of the brevity, the choice of words can be regarded as benevolent. The circumstances surrounding his death remained shrouded in silence for a long time even in the medical public.

In front of his residential house at Alte Rabenstrasse 12 (Rotherbaum), where Ernst Delbanco lived from 1918 to 1935, a Stolperstein commemorates him as does one located on account of his university work in front of the main building of the University of Hamburg at Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1.

For his sister-in-law, Elsa Delbanco, née Löwinberg (1879–1941), who evaded her deportation by committing suicide, a Stolperstein was laid at Grasweg 38 (Winterhude).

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Henrik Eßler, Björn Eggert

Quellen: Staatsarchiv Hamburg (StaH) 332-3 (Zivilstandsaufsicht, 1866-1875), B Nr. 3 (826/1866, Heirat Gustav Delbanco u. Gitel Delbanco); StaH 332-3 (Zivilstandsaufsicht), A Nr. 64 (1087/1869, Geburt Ernst Delbanco); StaH 332-5 (Standesämter) 2961 u. 877/1901 (Heiratsregister 1901, Ludwig Delbanco); StaH 332-5 (Standesämter) 8132 u. 34/1935 (Sterberegister 1935, Ernst Delbanco); StaH 332-7 (Staatsangehörigkeitsaufsicht), Bürger-Register, 1845-1875, A-F (Gustav Delbanco); StaH 332-8 (Alte Einwohnermeldekartei 1892-1925), Gitel Delbanco, Gustav Delbanco, Walther Delbanco; StaH 352-10 (Gesundheitsverwaltung – Personalakten), 118 (Dr. med. Ernst Delbanco); StaH 361-6 (Hochschulbehörde – Personalakten), I 152 und IV 168; StaH 731-8 (Zeitungsausschnittsammlung), A 754, Delbanco, Ernst; StaH 731-8, A 754, Delbanco, Walther; Jüdischer Friedhof Ohlsdorf, Gräberkartei im Internet (Grab-Nr. B11-162 Gustav Delbanco, B11-161 Gitel Delbanco, M3-29 Ernst Delbanco); Adressbuch Hamburg 1904, 1907-1911, 1916-1918, 1923, 1927, 1929, 1933; Percy E. Schramm, Verzeichnis gedruckter Quellen zur Geschichte Hamburgischer Familien, 1921, S. 5 (Delbanco); Anna von Villiez, Mit aller Kraft verdrängt. Entrechtung und Verdrängung "nicht arischer" Ärzte in Hamburg 1933 bis 1945. München 2009, S.250-252 (Ernst Delbanco), S. 282-283 (Walter Griesbach), S. 285 (Wilhelm Haas); Christine Pieper, Die Sozialstruktur der Chefärzte des Allgemeinen Krankenhauses Hamburg-Barmbek 1913 bis 1945. Ein Beitrag zur kollektivbiographischen Forschung. Münster 2003, S.187-189; Hendrik van den Bussche (Hg.), Medizinische Wissenschaft im "Dritten Reich". Kontinuität, Anpassung und Opposition an der Hamburger Medizinischen Fakultät, Berlin 1989, S. 48; Peter Voswinkel (Hg.), Biografisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte der letzten fünfzig Jahre, Band 3 Nachträge und Ergänzungen, Hildesheim/ Zürich/ New York 2002, S. 308; Hamburger Personenlexikon, Band 2, S.101-102 (Ernst Delbanco); Ina Lorenz, Die Juden in Hamburg zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik, Band 1, Seite 176, 181, 182, 236 (Kaufmann Ludwig Delbanco); Frank Bajohr, ‚Arisierung‘ in Hamburg, Die Verdrängung der jüdischen Unternehmer 1933-1945, 2.Auflage, Hamburg 1998, S. 299-301, S. 364 (Firma S.R. Levy & Co.); Handelskammer Hamburg, Firmenregister (S.R. Levy & Co., Handelsregister Nr. A 10084).

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