UIC Department of Neurology Publication Spotlight


Neurology Cover PicFor four years Dr. Zeidman has been researching the ethical and historical dimensions of neurology and neuroscience during World War II and the reign of National Socialism in Europe. In this newest article of many he has written on the topic, he collaborated with Dr. Michael Shevell and Dr. Matthias Ziller at McGill University in Montreal. Through detailed research in Austria, New York, and Ohio, Dr. Zeidman and his collaborators discovered that famous neurologists Josef Gerstmann, Ernst Sträussler, and Ilya Mark Scheinker, who originally described the prion disorder now known as Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease in 1936, were all victims of “racial” persecution after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938.


The three neurologists were subsequently dismissed from their positions and forced to flee for their lives, although Sträussler was able to remain in Vienna, protected by his wife. Sträussler, who was director of the neuropathology lab at the famed Vienna University Neurology and Psychiatry Clinic, had no work and could not publish during the war. After the war, he received a compensatory position as a forensic court expert and finally had his chapter published in a German pathology book. Gerstmann and Scheinker became refugees to the USA, settling respectively in New York and Ohio.


Gerstmann, who was a director of a neurological hospital in Vienna before his exile and also described Gerstmann syndrome, mainly practiced privately in New York, despite some teaching positions, and he never regained lost career momentum. Gerstmann had had his M.D. and citizenship stripped by the Nazis, and had to fight to reclaim stolen property and even life insurance money, as well as compensation for flight taxes he was unjustly forced to pay before fleeing Europe.


Scheinker on the other hand was modestly successful in Cincinnati, having found the position with the help of neurologist Tracy Putnam of the national physician refugee resettlement committee. Scheinker published 3 textbooks and numerous articles, but never had a guaranteed academic position and was not accepted in the Midwest because of his mannerisms and controversial treatments. Although they survived, all three neurologists suffered tremendous career setbacks and only minimally picked up the pieces of their fractured careers.