The Extension Building (1928-1931) of the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg

Harro Jenss

Source Description

The model design (fig.) for the extension of the Israelite Hospital (IK) in Hamburg in 1928 reflected the results and apex of a highly successful development since the hospital’s opening in 1843. In the founding and planning phase that had begun in 1839, Salomon Heine, in addition to the hospital commission, had consulted doctors who had gathered experience in hospitals in Paris and London in order to be able to take the latest findings in medicine into account for its construction and the hospital concept. The result was a hospital that was progressive by the standards of its time. 88 years after its inauguration, the design for the large extension of the hospital still illustrates the willingness to innovate among the decision-makers at the time, in particular the crucial hospital board of trustees. In addition to the chairman, Dr. Fritz Warburg, members of the Jewish community of Hamburg, the leading physicians of the surgical and medical clinic, and the hospital matron were all represented in this board. In the 1920s, the quality of medical and nursing care at the Israelite Hospital led to a steady increase in the number of patients, so that its capacity was fully utilized. In addition, rapidly progressing medical developments and necessary updates demanded a modernization and restructuring within the hospital. The photographs of the model design for the extension building were discovered by chance during research on the 175-year history of this Jewish hospital in the files of the Hamburg Medical College in the Hamburg State Archives.
  • Harro Jenss

Plans for a new building

It was above all the activities and organizational talent of surgeon Professor Dr. Richard Levy (1882-1933) that accelerated the plans for the construction of a large new hospital building in the former garden of the Israelite Hospital. Levy had been trained at the Wrocław Surgical University Hospital and had worked at the Israelite Hospital since 1924. Thinking progressively and oriented towards modern development, he tirelessly promoted the project to the Hamburg Senate and the medical officials and, on behalf of the Israelite Hospital, applied to the responsible authorities for a building permit. The hospital board of trustees commissioned Hamburg architects Hermann Distel and August Grubitz with the planning of the new building, which was to house the surgical clinic including new operating theaters (111 beds) and additional staff rooms for 38 employees. Whether there had been a call for tenders for this new building has not yet been documented. In 1905, Hermann Distel – who had studied at the Technical University in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe – together with August Grubitz founded an architectural office in Hamburg that quickly became famous. In 1908 their office won the competition to build the auditorium for Hamburg University. The team of architects designed numerous other buildings in Hamburg, including the Montanhof office building. Meanwhile Distel had specialized in hospital construction. As early as May 1928, the ground-breaking ceremony for the new building took place in the rear of the hospital on what is now Hein-Hoyer-Strasse. Following the designs, a highly modern multi-story building with spacious patient rooms and corridors as well as operating theaters conforming to the latest standards was built. A separate ambulance entrance for emergency patients in the basement of the new building made it easy to admit patients. At the same time, the old main building was converted for the medical clinic. In addition, Distel and Grubitz designed a new futuristic main entrance with a semicircular awning; the entrance was no longer in the middle of the building, but in the area of the east wing of the old building, and its design differed significantly from the older architecture. The new building was inaugurated on March 4, 1931. The Israelite Hospital now had a total of 225 beds, the patients’ rooms in the new building were facing the quiet southern garden side of the hospital grounds, and the new staff quarters mentioned above had also been added.

A small part of the costs for the new building, the conversions and the inventory was covered by the hospital's assets and by donations, above all from the Warburg family of bankers in Hamburg. To cover the remaining amount, the hospital foundation received a loan of 1.25 million Reichsmark from the Hamburg Senate, whose members were interested in seeing this Jewish hospital located in St. Pauli developed further. The hospital, including the affiliated polyclinic, made a significant contribution to the care of outpatients and inpatients in the St. Pauli district and enjoyed an excellent reputation throughout Hamburg and beyond due to the high level of medical and nursing care. The hospital foundation undertook to make annual interest and loan payments, and a security deed for the hospital property with the state as lender was entered in the land register. With the opening of the new building, the number of patients increased significantly, and in 1931 the number of days on which patients were provided meals reached a peak. The expectations that the hospital board of trustees had tied to the extension and modernization were thus fully met.

Looking back – the beginnings

We can only understand the full significance and scope of the progress symbolized by the 1928 extension in historical context by looking at the remarkable development the hospital underwent since its beginnings. In 1839 Salomon Heine made generous earmarked funds available to the German-Israelite community in Hamburg: this donation made it possible for the community to build its own hospital. The building, which was modern for its time – opened in 1843 and designed for 80 to 100 beds – was open to all patients regardless of their denomination. This principle was expressly formulated in the fundamental provisions; they prefaced the statutes of the hospital, which contained a specific set of rules. The year 1865 marked a first significant turning point, because the donation of a large amount of money for the hospital by Salomon Heine's son, Beer Carl Heine, was tied to an administrative separation between the Jewish community and the Israelite Hospital. As a result, an independent hospital foundation was established, which was managed by a hospital board of trustees. While the hospital initially focused on nursing measures, the work of surgeon Heinrich Leisrink (1879-1885) prompted a paradigm shift as new findings in medicine led to a new direction in the hospital's mission. Now its primary goal no longer was to care for the sick and needy, instead differential medical diagnosis and treatment became increasingly important. The range of surgical procedures was expanded, and a new polyclinic opened in 1880 offered consultation hours with specialists in various fields. The Israelite Hospital thus anticipated a development at a very early stage that was only just beginning in Germany at that time. Due to the treatment options offered by the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg, the number of outpatients and inpatients continued to grow. During the same period a first reorganization of the processes within the hospital became necessary; as of 1880 a resident doctor guaranteed a permanent medical presence in the hospital for the first time, but he was responsible for the surgical and internal medicine departments at the same time. It was Heinrich Leisrink who worked in a specifically clinical-scientific manner, introduced new surgical procedures, documented the results of his surgical therapy, evaluated them statistically and published them. In doing so, he created a tradition that has been continued and cultivated in the Israelite Hospital to this day and which is unusual for a hospital of this size: to enable scientific research in addition to clinical work. When the first professionally trained nurse, Klara Gordon, was hired in 1898, this initiated a fundamental change in nursing. To ensure professionally qualified nursing care, an Israelitisches Schwesternheim foundation nursing school was established in 1902, and in 1908 the nursing school received state recognition. This laid the foundation for a relatively high proportion of specialist nurses – an element that enables a high level of nursing quality and, in addition to medical care at a high level, contributes to the excellent reputation that the hospital still enjoys today. The Israelitisches Schwesterheim foundation, the construction of a new nurses' home (1905), and the structural changes and extensions to the hospital, such as the construction of a pavilion for patients with infectious diseases in 1901 or the polyclinic, would have been inconceivable without the generous donations of a large number of supporters: the brothers Lewinsohn, James Loeb and Paul and Felix Warburg in New York, to name just a few. The cooperation of the hospital foundation, the considerable donations from supporters and above all the high commitment and motivation of all employees have made the hospital into a special institution, in which the leitmotif “love of mankind is the highest of all virtues” remains unchanged as lodestar through all political, economic and technological changes.

1933 as caesura in the hospital’s (success) story

A deep caesura and a fundamental reversal of the Israelite Hospital’s previously highly successful development set in with the transfer of power to the National Socialists in January 1933. It quickly became apparent that the absence of “Aryan” patients caused the number of patients to decrease drastically as the hospital was now only allowed to treat Jewish patients. As early as April 1933, bed occupancy was just under 50 percent (the proportion of Christian patients in the preceding months had been about 75 percent and that of Jewish patients 25 percent). It also became clear that the annual interest and redemption payments for the loan taken out in connection with the extension could not be made. The Hamburg Senate, which was dominated by National Socialists, took advantage of this fact to increase the pressure on the hospital. Since the Senate insisted on the payments, an insoluble dilemma arose for the hospital board of trustees and the continued existence of the Israelite Hospital was increasingly under threat. The polyclinic, which provided specialized outpatient care, had to be closed by order of the Nazi authorities. The drastic reduction of hospital operations was part of the National Socialists’ political agenda. In addition, the hospital faced a staff shortage: due to the increasing disfranchisement and persecution of the Jews and especially after the November pogrom in 1938, numerous employees of the hospital had fled abroad. In September 1939, the Senate ordered the hospital to leave its St. Pauli facility and move to the former Calmannsche Frauenklinik Calmann’s Women’s Clinic at Johnsallee 68, where a maximum of 50 beds were available for the inpatient care of Jewish patients. In 1942, the Nazi authorities forced the Israelite Hospital to move again, now to Schäferkampsallee 29, with a further reduction in the number of beds to 25 with a maximum of 30. Until the end of National Socialism, only nursing and medical “residual care” was possible here. Since 1943, the hospital was run as a “Jewish hospital ward” according to Nazi terminology. In addition to three “health care workers,” as the Jewish doctors had to call themselves since 1 October 1938, two female and three male nurses were employed until May 1945. Nevertheless, in contrast to many other Jewish hospitals in Germany, the Jewish hospital was able to “survive” the National Socialist dictatorship as an institution and was “revived” after 1945 as a foundation and hospital.


The inauguration of the large new extension for the surgical clinic in 1931 was a milestone in the successful history of the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg. The decision to expand the hospital was marked by a willingness to innovate and by hopes for further positive development, especially as the hospital – open to patients of all denominations – enjoyed an excellent reputation in Hamburg due to the quality of medical and nursing care for its patients. For the Jewish community of Hamburg, the hospital was an important element of its self-organized independent activities.

Select Bibliography

Harro Jenss, Erinnerung an die Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter des Israelitischen Krankenhauses in Hamburg, die während der NS-Diktatur 1933-1945 vertrieben, deportiert oder ermordet wurden. Biographische Skizzen, Hamburg 2017 (2. ed. 2018).
Harro Jenss et al. (ed), Israelitisches Krankenhaus in Hamburg - 175 Jahre, Berlin 2016.
Mary Lindemann, 140 Jahre Israelitisches Krankenhaus in Hamburg, Hamburg 1981.
Peter R. Pawlik, Von Bergedorf nach Germania. Hermann Distel 1875-1945. Ein Architektenleben in bewegter Zeit, Studien zur Geschichte des Krankenhauswesens Bd. 47, Herzogenrath 2009.
Werner Hegemann (ed.), Hermann Distel - Krankenhäuser, Hellerau 1932.

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About the Author

Harro Jenss, Dr. med., studied human medicine in Marburg and London. 1977 to 1993 Medical Clinic of the Eberhard-Karls-University Tübingen, internist and gastroenterologist, 1994 to 2011 Chief Physician of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Waldshut/Südbaden. His research interests include: Jewish physicians under National Socialism.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Harro Jenss, The Extension Building (1928-1931) of the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, July 22, 2019. <> [December 07, 2023].

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the material is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute it in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.