Billroth, Theodor°

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BILLROTH, THEODOR° (1829–1894), Viennese surgeon and distinguished representative of the Vienna Medical School. His remarks in a work on the study of medicine in German universities, Ueber das Lernen der medizinischen Wissenschaften an den Universitaeten der deutscher Nation (1876; the Eng. translation (1924) tones down the vehemence of the original) gave considerable impetus to antisemitism in the Vienna Medical School. Billroth claimed that Jewish students from Eastern Europe threatened to lower the high standards of the school and recommended the imposition of a numerus clausus against them. Stating that Jews could never be Germans and never make competent physicians he introduced a racial component into early modern feelings against Jewish doctors. The book caused rioting among German nationalist students at Vienna University and a fierce controversy ensued, in which Berthold *Auerbach participated. Billroth's allegations were answered by the German naturalist Matthias Jakob Schleiden in his essay Die Bedeutung der Juden fuer Erhaltung und Wiederbelebung der Wissenschaften im Mittelalter (1877; The Importance of the Jews for the Preservation of Learning in the Middle Ages, 1911). Although Billroth later acknowledged that he had been wrong, supported the cause of his disadvantaged Jewish colleagues, and became a member of the Verein zur Abwehr des Anti Semitismus, his former agitation had succeeded in unleashing antisemitism at Vienna University.


J.M. Efron, Medicine and the German Jews (2001), 240–43.

[Mirjam Triendl (2nd ed.)]