The Nazi regime held power for well over a decade in Germany and were steadfast in their anti-Semitic agenda. Among the massive cohort of immigrants to America were approximately 5056 Jewish physicians, including several highly esteemed neurologists and neuroscientists of the time. Emigrating to a new world proved difficult and provided new challenges by way of language barriers, roadblocks in medical careers, and problems integrating into an alien system of medical training and clinical practice. In this article, the authors examine the tumultuous and accomplished lives of three Jewish German and Austrian neurologists and neuroscientists during the time of the Third Reich who shaped the foundations of neuroanatomy and neuropsychology: Josef Gerstmann, Adolf Wallenberg, and Franz Josef Kallmann. The authors first examine the successful careers of these individuals in Germany and Austria prior to the Third Reich, followed by their journeys to and lives in the United States, to demonstrate the challenges an émigré physician faces for career opportunities and a chance at a new life. This account culminates in a description of these scientists’ eponymous syndromes.
Although their stories are a testimony to the struggles in Nazi Germany, there are intriguing and notable differences in their ages, ideologies, and religious beliefs, which highlight a spectrum of unique circumstances that impacted their success in the United States. Furthermore, in this account the authors bring to light the original syndromic descriptions: Gerstmann discovered contralateral agraphia and acalculia, right-left confusion, and finger agnosia in patients with dominant angular gyrus damage; Wallenberg described a constellation of symptoms in a patient with stenosis of the posterior inferior cerebellar artery; and Kallmann identified an association between hypogonadotropic hypogonadism and anosmia based on family studies. The article also highlights the unresolved confusions and international controversies about these syndromic descriptions. Still, these unique cerebral syndromes continue to fascinate neurologists and neurosurgeons across the world, from residents in training to practicing clinicians and neuroscientists alike.