In the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, our thinking goes to three our pioneers: Anna Meyer Berliner and Lina Solomonova Stern (Shtern), both Jewish, and Cécile Mugnier Vogt, although she was not Jewish, the rise to power of the Nazi party had repercussions on her work.
Anna Meyer Berliner was the first and only woman to be admitted to Wundt’s laboratory. Berliner published the results of her research in three different languages – German, Japanese and English -, making distinguished contributions to experimental psychology and to a new branch of psychology known as psychology of advertising. She started working in Germany and then moved to Japan with her hausband. In 1925, after the advent of the Weimar Republic, the Berliners from Japan returned to Germany, Anna was authorized to teach at the Leipzig Institute of Psychology and Sigfrid in addition to teaching, established an office that covered the interests of the OAG (Asian Society East German, independent academic association based in Tokyo, run by Germans according to Japanese laws). In 1929 Anna Berliner became co-responsible for it. Their home was an example of intercultural exchange: many Japanese students were hosted by Berliners. Anna and Sigfrid Berliner organized various events, transforming Leipzig into an important cultural exchange center between Germany and Japan.
The rise to power of the Nazi party made the Berliners position precarious. As Jews, Sigfrid lost his college professorship. In 1938 following the racial laws, with the excuse of studying the American people, the couple fled Nazi Germany.
Lina Stern conducted innovative research in biochemistry and neurophysiology. She made important contributions to the early history of the blood-brain barrier and was the first scientist to introduce the term “barrier” to the exchange mechanism in brain.
In 1942, Lina Stern joined the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee organized at the initiative of the Soviet Union in order to mobilize world Jewish support for the USSR’s war effort against Nazi Germany. At the end of World War II, Stalin changed his view and promoted antisemitism: this was the beginning of a series of actions against the members of the Committee. A moral and professional discrediting was directed to Stern. In 1948 she was expelled from all medicine and science positions and was also accused of “pseudo-teaching” and of “anti-Pavlovian” ideas. The main members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were arrested. Lina Stern was arrested on January 1949, at the age of 70, and remained in prison for almost four years, experiencing humiliation and physical strain. In 1952, the members of the Committee were tried in secret and, except for Stern, were executed. She was exiled in Dzhambul, Kazakhstan. In 1953, three months after Stalin’s death, Stern returned to Moscow. She regained her scientific status: she was still a member of the Academy of Sciences. She was allowed to establish a laboratory, at 76 years old, and headed it until her death.
Cécile Mugnier-Vogt spent most of her life as a scientist in Germany, where she developed a very productive career that spanned 60 years, despite going through two world wars and a very tough social and economical situation in Germany. Together with her husband Oskar, she made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of neuroanatomy and neuropathology. Cécile and Oskar Vogt’s work focused largely on the fields of clinical and comparative neuroanatomy as well as the Reizphysiologie (stimulus physiology) of the mammalian brain, and genetic research based on evolutionary biology.
Nevertheless, after massive assaults from the National Socialists in the years after 1933, during which they were receiving threatening inspections and accusations, they were forced to leave the KWI für Hirnforschung (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research, KWI) in Berlin, and from 1937 continued their work at the privately financed Institut für Hirnforschung und Allgemeine Biologie (Institute for Brain Research and General Biology) at Neustadt near Freiburg in the Black Forest. To better understand the gravity of the National Socialists mobbing, it is worth to explain that the couple was very liberal, pacifists and truly believing that science has to be cosmopolitan. They always hired their collaborators based on their capability rather than their nationality or religion, and there were Jewish scientists in their institution for most of the duration of the National Socialist dictatorship despite the continuous threats by the Nazi and false accusations by other scientists close to the Establishment that wanted to take over the Vogts’ positions at the KWI.