Glasgow’s “Department of Psycho-Semitics”, 1940—60: the Jewish thought of Joseph Schorstein and Karl Abenheimer

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The subject of medicine and the Holocaust is an important topic for scholars and the place of refugee physicians in their new countries is becoming an increasingly significant part of these studies. One of the key topics at the special Congress of the Israel Medical Association, marking the centenary of the organization and held in December 2012, was related to medicine and the Holocaust, with the session held at Yad Vashem. The programme focused on the contribution of refugee physicians and on the difficulty many faced in obtaining registration in their new countries, as well as on the care of Holocaust survivors, especially of those who settled in Israel. It was acknowl edged there that, in the literature of Holocaust medicine the story of medical refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe has received, quite understandably, less attention than the tragic events which engulfed their medical colleagues as they faced the full onslaught of the Nazi's "Final Solution". This paper focuses attention on just two refugee practitioners, Joseph Schorstein and Karl Abenheimer, who practised in Glasgow between the 1930s and 1960s, and whose careers and Jewish writings touch on important topics in contem porary Jewish thought.

Karl Abenheimer (1898-1973) was born in Mannheim, Germany, and though a qualified lawyer also trained in psychoanalysis before arriving in Glasgow in 1936. He had a considerable influence on the developing special ity in Glasgow and many of his psychology-based studies of literature have been published. Joseph Schorstein (1909-1976) was born in Moravia, now Czech Republic, and graduated in medicine in Vienna. He specialized in neurosurgery in Manchester, eventually settling in Glasgow following wartime army service. Schorstein was acknowledged as the "spiritual mentor and rabbi" of the famous, but iconoclastic, Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing (1929-1988) who at one time held a commanding position in twentieth century psychiatry.

While Abenheimer and Schorstein were widely different in their personalities, there was an intellectual rapport and they became firm friends. In the early 1950s they established a study group of philosophers, theologians and psychiatrists which brought their world view and especially Jewish thought from Central Europe, to a new generation of Scottish thinkers. Jack Rillie, the head of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, considered Schorstein to be a "driven" personality - "well read, very intelligent, often obsessively serious, but somewhat unpredictable and undisciplined in his contributions."1 Indeed, Laing described him as a tormented genius. Abenheimer was said to be "charismatic and clever but also very wise with an appalling English accent."2

The influx of mainly Jewish medical refugees from Central Europe during the 1930s was to have a profound influence on Scottish medicine, especially in psychiatry and psychoanalysis. With the encouragement of local psychiatrists, such as Angus McNiven in Glasgow and Peter McCowan in Dumfries, leading figures in Continental psychiatry, such as Willi Meyer-Gross, Erwin Stengel, Herbert Rosenfeld and Felix Post, were attracted to Scotland to study and prac tise, developing new techniques in psychotherapy and neuropathology before moving south as their British careers developed. McNiven had taken up the

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