Edmund Robert Forster
Edmund Forster was born in Munich on Sept 4 1878 in the family’s spacious fourth floor apartment at 73 Lindwurm Strasse, München a broad, tree lined cobbled avenue in which the silence was disturbed only by the occasional rattle of passing trams and the hoof beats of horse drawn carts. (Note: The name of this had been changed from SendLingerLand Strasse, a few months before Edmund was born).
Edmund’s father, 34-year-old Franz Josef Forster, a Catholic, was at that time a University Professor at Strassburg University. Edmund’s mother 25-year-old Wilhelmina Emilie Louise von Hösslin (Born July 16, 1853 at Bamberg) was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. The couple had married in Munich on October 3 1876.
Edmund was the second child in the family, having a one year old sister, Margarethe Francisca Augusta (Born July 28 1877 also in München).
When Edmund was a year old the family moved to Amsterdam after his father had been appointed to head the newly opened Hygiene Institute there. From September 1884 (aged 6) to July 1890 (aged 12) he attended the Dutch-German (Niederländisch-Deutsche) School in Amsterdam. From July 1890 to June 1896 (aged 18) he was at the Gymnasium school.*
Within a year of the family moving to Amsterdam a second daughter, christened Geertruida Hermine Emma, was born (March 12 1880) only to die some four months later (June 21 1880).
A year later (March 6 1881) a second son, Arne Waldemar Hermann was born to the Forsters, followed on April 5 1884 by a third son christened Eduard Dirck Conrad Walther. Like Edmund all their children were raised in the Dutch Reform religion.
(Source: Gemeente Archief Amsterdam: Particulier Archief 378 (Amsterdamse Archieven van der Nederlands. Hervormde Gemeenten. Register 659. male members: Edmund’s entry ( page 137) shows he was registered in March 1894 aged 16.Arne ( page 139) was registered on June 11 1896 aged 15) When the family moved from Munich to Amsterdam they initially lived at Nicholaas Witsenkade 8. But in May 1891 they moved to Nicolaaas Witsenkade 46*. (Source: Bevolkingsregistar, Deel 720, Blad 191.)
* Indicates locations that are still standing.
Edmund Leaves the Netherlands
In November 1896 at the age of 18 Edmund went to the University of Strassburg. On 30 September 1899 he volunteered for the Field Artillery Regiment No 15 stationed in Strassburg. On 16 June 1901, aged 22, he passed his medical state examination.
From Sunday the 1 October 1905 to Tuesday the 31 March 1925 he was employed as a junior doctor at the Charité hospital. In 1906, aged 27, he moved to an apartment close to and owned by the Charité Hospital at 20-22 Schumannstrasse* where he remained until 1917. (Today this building houses a rheumatism clinic).
The move to Berlin’s Charité enabled Edmund to develop his scientific interests, especially those concerned with brain tumours and the effects of syphilis on the central nervous system. In 1913 he was promoted from senior physician to außerordentlicher (associate) professor.
Edmund Forster’s Academic and Military Career
As soon as the First World War broke out Edmund was called up for Military service. Besides his military duties he lectured and served as an expert at Courts Martial. By December 1914 he had been appointed an auxiliary doctor at the fortress military hospital Kiel Wik and the officer school Kiel. From Friday 1 January 1915 to Tuesday 3 September 1918 he worked at least 60 days of each year at the military hospital at Köpenik.
On September 3, 1918, Heinrich Schmidt, his senior consultant at Köpenik wrote the following character profile: “Forster was posted from 1st January 1915 to 3rd September 1918 as a senior physician at the neurological department of the Mar. military hospital, second command. In peace time he is a university professor at the neurological clinic of the Royal Charité hospital in Berlin. Due to his vast scientific knowledge he was able to use his time most successfully within the department as well as during consultations and as an expert in court martial matters. Possessing an energetic and lively temperament he was particularly interested in the treatment and restoration “of the so called war neurotics”
Although he sometimes handled certain situations a little too harshly by applying the measure of his own strong will to other people. Amongst his comrades he was popular because of his animated lively and likeable character. (“Persönlich energisch und lebhaft veranlagt, ließ er sich die Behandlung der sogen [annten Kriegsneurotiker bes[onders] angelegen sein, wobei er allerdings in manchen Fällen etwas schroff vorging, indem er den Maßstab eigener Willensstärke auch bei anderen anlegte.”) In the past few months he lectured at Geneva University as a side line, his subject being tissue or the signs of tissue. During the course of the war he was promoted and honoured with the Iron Cross one and two, he is also completely capable or completely able to perform marine duties.”
On Friday 5 November 1918 Edmund Forster was discharged from the military. He had been awarded the Iron Crosses 1st and 2nd class, the Hanseatic Cross and the Bavarian Military medal fourth class with swords.
After 1918 Dr. Forster worked at the Charité mental hospital in Berlin.
Edmund Forster’s Approach to the Treatment of
“Kriegsneurotiker” were, from 1916 onward, considered “hysterical cases” a diagnosis which opened the way for brutal therapies designed to make them fit for fighting or working again.
References to Forster’s methods as “harsh” in reality described the “normal treatment” then being applied to soldiers who had broken down mentally. Such techniques included verbal abuse, electrical shocks (which Forster occasionally used) forced drill, isolation (sometimes in the dark) and with soldiers who were hysterically dumb “Angstschrei” (cries of fear) therapy. In this a steel ball was pressed tightly against the patient’s larynx until he was on the point of suffocation and which, in his terror, he often let out a wild shriek and so regained his power of speech.
Edmund’s Marriage to Mila
On September 12, 1918, he married 33-year-old Marie Pauline Bretschneider (born 24. 12.1885) known to everyone in the family as Mila. She was at that time secretary and personal assistant to the Prussian politician Matthias Erzberger (see note). Mila died 27. 1. 1970 in Göttingen, aged 84.
Edmund’s Post War Career
One of Edmund’s medical duties at the Charité was to stand in for his chief, Bonhoeffer, and to continue with the researches that he had started before the war. He wrote articles for medical text books in his field of syphilis of the central nervous systems and brain tumours. In 1921 he moved to Bozener Strasse 8 III * following the birth of his first child Balduin in February 1920. In 1926 Edmund was appointed director of the university clinic for neurology and psychiatry at Greifswald University.*
Greifswald is some 133 miles to the north of Berlin in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania Land (state), north eastern Germany. It lies 20 miles (30 km) southeast of Stralsund near the mouth of the Ryck River, which empties into Greifswalder Bay on the Baltic Sea.
Forster’s immediate predecessor at the University clinic was Paul Schröder, a popular and effective director who headed the clinic from 1912 to 1926. On 13 April 1925 Edmund Forster was notified that he had been awarded the chair for psychiatry to represent this subject or field in theoretical and clinical lectures. At the same time he was made head of the psychiatric clinic, the nerve clinic, and the polyclinic at the university with effect of 1 April 1925.
Edmund Forster’s Scientific Work
Under Forster’s leadership the working atmosphere in the clinic was very open to a wide range of experiments. The main emphasis of his work was still syphilis of the central nervous system, and especially the progressive paralyses that occur in later forms of the disease. Scientifically he was engaged in research into cell structure and function, especially in relation to tumours, and he developed new diagnostic laboratory techniques. He conducted animal experiments to investigate the virulence of syphilitic spirochete and with his students conducted research into the effects of mescaline. By taking the drug himself he was able to confirm his belief that the drug induced hallucinations caused by disturbances of the ability to differentiate between perceptions and images. Forster’s assistants – Julius Zádor and Konrad Zucker – worked within the same experimental field concerning themselves with the effects of mescaline and, in Zádor’s case investigating ways of identifying different forms of brain damage through their effects on the balance mechanisms. This led to the creation of the Kipptischversuche. (Wobbly Table Experiments) that were to contribute to the charges subsequently laid against Edmund. The Kipptischversuche research had always been controversial and led to Forster being accused of torturing his patients.
Konrad Zucker left Greifswald sometime during 1932 and is said to have studied at the Institute of Psychiatry in South London, England.
I have been unable to find any further trace of him once he left Greifswald and any further information would be gratefully received.
* Indicates locations that are still standing.
Julius Zádor was dismissed from his job at Greifswald on 1 July because he was a Jew. Forster, however, fought to protect him and kept him on the payroll for as long as he could, when he went to Paris for the fateful meeting with the German émigré writers later that month he took Julius with him and later drove him home to Hungary. Julius was last heard of as a concentration camp doctor (and presumably inmate) and I have to presume, in the absence of any further evidence as to his whereabouts that he was murdered there by the Nazis. Here again any further information as to his fate would be much appreciated.
Edmund Forster’s Disgrace, Downfall and Death
On May,11,1933 Edmund headed a routine faculty meeting that was to prove his last. A letter to the University’s curator, from Bernhard Rust, the Prussian Minister for Science, Art and Education of the People (Preußisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Kunst und Volksbildung) dated 31 August 1933 informed him that: ‘Based on the law of the re establishment of professional civil servants of the 7th April 1933 (RGBL.S.175ff.) I deem it necessary to remove from office the orderly Professor at the medical faculty of the university Dr. Edmund Forster until a final decision has been made, this is with immediate effect. This removal from office also applies to those activities which Dr Forster carries out in connection with his position at university. His salary should until further notice be paid in the usual way. I request that Prof. Dr. Forster is informed of this immediately.”
This command was based on a letter sent to Bernhard Rust by a Berlin student and Nazi Party member named Eugen Oklitz.
On August 28 the Greifswald University authorities began interviewing Edmund’s colleague and subordinates in an attempt to substantiate these, and the many other wild accusations (they included fraud and sexual misconduct with female staff) made by Oklitz. First to give evidence against Forster was Edith Braun, a nurse, who confirmed that he had openly expressed his anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler views, an accusation that she also levelled against his assistant Zádor.
But she had to retract some of her accusations because they were based only on hearsay and those witnesses she had named as being able to support her allegations, Max Thürk and Martha Bolz, declined to do so and finally her accusations more or less collapsed.
Krisch, Forster’s senior physician, assured the enquiry that Edmund was utterly disinterested in politics and believed he “lacked any real understanding of the National Socialist movement or its ideal and was unaware of it’s goals…”, however “… his quick tempered and often intemperate nature caused him to express himself unwisely on occasions….” (“Forster Verständnis für die nationalsozialistische Bewegung und ihre Ideal nicht hatte, …, er … die Ziele des Nationalsozialismus überhaupt nicht kannte”, sich jedoch ”…in seiner besonders temperamentvollen und oft unbeherrschten Art…” dazu äußerte.”)
On September 4, the curator, an early and enthusiastic Nazi supporter, discussed Forster’s case with five professors all of whom found against their colleague, despite the fact that the only charge that could be proved against him was a two year old love affair with one of his female assistants. This they declined to investigate any more deeply since it reflected badly on the university’s reputation. The curator was asked to persuade Forster to resign of his own accord and sweeten the pill by promising him a generous pension. This he did the following day.
After initially protesting, Forster eventually accepted the proposal because the pension would safeguard his family. However only a few days later he changed his mind and rejected what he had recognised was a dishonourable compromise.
At 8 o’clock in the morning of Monday September 11, Mila found her husband lying dead in the bathroom. He had been shot at close range and a pistol, which no one in the family knew he even possessed, lay beside him.
Was Forster’s Death Murder or Suicide?
During his July meeting with the German émigré writers in Paris he had said in a resigned tone of voice that it would soon be his turn and that none of them should be surprised – not should they believe it – if, one day, they heard he had committed suicide. He expressly referred to the fates of Hanussens and Bells who also died because they knew too much. If they heard such that Professor Forster had committed suicide they should interpret it in the same way as news about someone hanging himself in a cell or accidentally falling out of a window.
Professor Nissen, a colleague who met him only a few months before his death, reported that he was as always a very sociable and talkative individual who was “feared (by some) because of his mixture of irony and earnestness where one could never be quite sure whether it was meant in earnestness or ironically.
He obviously had got it into his head to make as many derogatory remarks about the regime he hated and the people around him were often surprised because they were afraid that at the slightest sign of them being in agreement they would become suspect themselves.”
An announcement of Forster’s death appeared in the local newspaper the following day and his funeral took place just three days later on Thursday the 14th. A local priest named Schwedendiek conducted the mass and funeral in the clinic’s chapel.* (This was transformed into a gymnasium during the Communists era.)
Edmund’s body was interred in Neuer Friedhof cemetery where it can be found today in a corner of the graveyard cemetery, neglected and overgrown with weeds.
Edmund Forster’s Obituaries
The Times, 16 IX 33, 9d
Suicide of Dismissed Officials.
From our own Correspondent.
Berlin, Sept. 15
“…..Professor Edmund Forster, who was recently retired from his post as director of the clinic for nervous disorders at Greifswald University, has committed suicide, as has…”
Frankfurter Zeitung 13/9/33
“Selbstmord eines Universitätsprofessors. Der 55 Jahre Direktor der Nervenklinik, Professor Dr. Edmung (sic) Forster, derv or einigen Tagen auf Grund einer eingeleiteten am Montag (=11) in seiner Wohnung erschossen.
Le Temps 13, 9, 33
Le professure israélite (sic) Forster, spécialiste des maladies nerveuses, suspendu récemment de ses functions à l’université Greifswald, s’est suicide.
NY Times September 12th 1933
Reich Educator a Suicide
Professor “on leave” Pending an Investigation Shoots Himself
Special cable of the New York Times
Greifswald, Germany, Sept. 11. – Professor Edmund Forster, head of the University clinic for Nervous Diseases, shot himself dead at his home here today.
He had been put “on leave” by the Nazi Minister of Education pending an investigation into “offences” charged against him. No hint was ever published by the authorities as to what these alleged offences might be.