Oswald Bumke

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Oswald Bumke

Oswald Bumke (born September 25, 1877 in Stolp , Pomerania Province , † January 5, 1950 in Munich ) was a German psychiatrist and neurologist . His handbooks and textbooks found worldwide distribution.

In a successful and rapid career, after chairs in Rostock (1914), Breslau (1916) and Leipzig (1921), he succeeded Kraepelin at the psychiatry chair in Munich in 1924 . In 1928/1929 he was rector of the University of Munich and for 22 years he headed the Munich mental hospital .


Oswald Bumke's parents come from the middle class. His father Albert (1843-1892) was the son of a brewer, his mother Emma (1850-1914) daughter of the Stolper factory owner Karl Westphal. Bumke's father was a doctor and assistant to Rudolf Virchow , but did not pursue a scientific career and died when Bumke was 15 years old. One of his three brothers was born without a left hand and died early in a swimming accident, another was Erwin Bumke , who later became President of the Reich Court .


Early career

Oswald Bumke studied at the universities of Freiburg and Leipzig and was temporarily impressed by Rudolf Leuckart's scientific materialism . He continued his studies at the universities of Munich and Halle an der Saale . In Halle, Karl Joseph Eberth , the discoverer of the typhoid pathogen , became his doctoral supervisor. Bumke chose an investigation into a rupture of the ascending aorta as the subject . On August 1, 1901, he became an assistant at the Psychiatric and Nervous Clinic of the University of Freiburg under Alfred Hoche and, after completing his habilitation there in 1904 with the thesis The Pupillary Disorders in Mental and Nervous Diseases , worked there as senior physician from 1906 to 1913. As a neurologist, Bumke tried to deduce the psychological state from the pupillary restlessness. He wrote numerous works in this area, such as his Moscow lecture On the material foundations of the phenomena of consciousness (1923) or his late work Thoughts on the Soul (1941).

Professor in Rostock, Breslau and Leipzig

Bumke held his first professorship in Rostock, where he worked from 1914 to 1916. Bumke was extremely dissatisfied with the conditions there and described them as corrupt and backward. In 1916 he became Alzheimer's successor in Breslau. In 1918 Bumke was offered a position in Heidelberg, but turned it down because Ludolf von Krehl did not want to allow him the specialist area of ​​neurology. From 1 April 1921 to 1924 he worked in Leipzig, where he was a professor of psychiatry and neurology of Paul Flechsig took a mental hospital, from a "dungeon cells, lattices, straitjackets, hammocks and still afraid of the sick" marked has been. The renovation, he said, was a success, but changing the external conditions was much easier than re-educating the nursing staff.

Consilium in Moscow

From March 1923 he stayed for seven weeks with the sick Lenin in Moscow. With him, other doctors were called to Lenin's bedside who were considered outstanding experts at the time: Max Nonne (Hamburg), Adolf von Strümpell (Leipzig), Oskar Minkowski , Otfrid Foerster (both from Breslau) and Solomon Henschen (Sweden). The stay was originally planned for three days, Bumke was asked to stay seven weeks, Foerster many months. The German government and the ambassador in Moscow Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau supported the visit as much as possible out of political interests. In Moscow, Bumke made the acquaintance of Leon Trotsky and Karl Radek , whom he described as people of stature . Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was considered by him to be the opponent of Trotsky and Lenin.


On April 1, 1924, he succeeded Emil Kraepelin as professor of psychiatry and headed the clinic at the University of Munich that he had founded . In the professional world at the time, the fact that no student of Kraepelin was appointed was met with incomprehension. Bumke's inheritance was not an easy one, as Kraepelin, who had made Munich the center of German psychiatry, was still alive and Bumke also tried to push through other ideas. In order to counteract the overestimation of anatomy and physiology , Kraepelin had put his emphasis on psychological research and experimental psychology . Bumke tried to justify both directions and clarified the new course by renaming the university clinic as "Psychiatric and Mental Clinic of the University of Munich." For the academic year 1928/29 he was elected rector of the University of Munich. At that time the climate within the university was already poisoned by political battles and intrigues. One of the votes cast for him was entitled "I think the alma mater has long needed a psychiatrist" . From 1929 to 1933 Bumke was a board member of the Association of German Universities , until it was dissolved. During his time in Munich (1931) he edited a concise dictionary with others on the subject of mental hygiene and psychiatric care .

In 1934 his wife Hedwig, nee Burckart, one of the first German doctors he met in Freiburg, died. In 1936 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina .

During the time of National Socialism , Bumke was a supporting member of the SS and belonged to the Nazi teachers' association. From 1940 he was an advisory military psychiatrist in Military District VII South Bavaria, based in Munich. In August 1942, Adolf Hitler appointed him extraordinary member of the scientific senate of the army medical system. From 1944 Bumke was a member of Karl Brandt's scientific advisory board , which had risen to the position of authorized representative for the health sector.

In 1946 Bumke was suspended from office. In 1947 he was reinstated and retired.

Person and work

Bumke was considered a gifted speaker and lecturer. In addition to a strong scientific focus on neurology, Bumke dealt with border issues between medicine and society. Until shortly before his death he held lectures on psychiatric borderline questions in the overcrowded anatomical lecture hall of his university. Of general importance are his writings on "Culture and Degeneration" (1912/1922), in which he criticized ideas about supposed degenerative phenomena in medicine and society. His controversy with Sigmund Freud is also of great importance . In contrast to Freud, Bumke advocated the unity of the soul with all its expressions. As a Unitarian, he believed that the soul was not divided between the ego , the superego and the id . He turned against what, in his opinion, was unrealistic laboratory psychology and against all modern "brain and libido mythologies". Outstanding is his "Textbook of Mental Illnesses", which recorded the knowledge of his time in a brilliant style.

As a capable organizer, Bumke had not only been elected rector of the university, but was also editor of the Archives for Psychiatry and, as Friedrich von Müller's successor, chairman of the editorial board of the Münchner Medizinische Wochenschrift . Bumke associated with the social and artistic elite of his time and showed himself interested in art. For example, he collected works by Carl Spitzweg . Bumke was the model for the painter Karl Bauer for a representative portrait in the Munich rector's robe . An example of his literary style and philosophical ideas is given by Bumke's collected aphorisms (see below).

Legends that Bumke was Hitler's personal physician have proven to be baseless. According to his own statements, Bumke never met Hitler. In his autobiography ( Memoirs and Reflections ), however, there is a surprisingly clear analysis of Hitler's mind. So far, despite his complete rehabilitation after the war, his role in the time of National Socialism has not been clarified . What is certain, however, is that he was called as a psychiatrist to give a professional assessment of the Hitler assassin Georg Elser . His 1939 essay "The State and Mental Illnesses" is an attempt to develop guidelines for doctors in order to mitigate the effects of Nazi politics.

Publications (selection)

  • 1904 The pupillary disorders in mental and nervous diseases.
  • 1912 About nervous degeneration. ( see also : degeneration )
  • 1919 textbook of mental illnesses.
  • 1922 The subconscious. A criticism.
  • 1928–1932 (as ed.) Handbuch der Geisteskrankheiten. 11 volumes, Berlin
  • 1929 At the borders of psychiatry.
  • 1931 Ed. And collaboration on: Concise dictionary of psychological hygiene and psychiatric care. Ed. Bumke; Gustav Kolb ; Hans Roemer and Eugen Kahn . Author: Bumke; Kolb; Romans. De Gruyter , Berlin
  • 1936 Pregnancy interrupted for medical reasons in the mentally and nervously ill. In: Guidelines for Abortion and Infertility for Health Reasons. Edited by the Reich Medical Association and edited by Hans Stadler. Lehmann , Munich, pp. 125-130
  • 1938 Psychoanalysis and its children.
  • 1939 The state and mental illness. , in a supplement to the Handbook of Mental Illnesses .
  • 1942 Thoughts on the Soul.
  • 1952 Memories and Reflections: The Path of a German Psychiatrist. With a collection of aphorisms. [Ed. Walther Gerlach]. Pflaum, Munich


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Holger Steinberg: Psychiatry at the University of Leipzig: A two hundred year tradition. In: Würzburger medical history reports 23, 2004, pp. 270–312; here: pp. 288–292 ( The Nachflechsigsche time: extended perspectives )
  2. ^ Holger Steinberg: Oswald Bumke in Leipzig. Beyond Kraepelin, Freud and Rüdin'scher degeneracy theory . In: Der Nervenarzt 79, 2008, pp. 348–356.
  3. a b Ernst Klee : The dictionary of persons on the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Second updated edition, Frankfurt am Main 2005, pp. 84–85.
  4. See also Dr. L .: Culture and degeneration. In: Allgemeine Zeitung , November 14, 1924, https://api.digitale-sammlungen.de/iiif/image/v2/bsb00085861_01214/pct:0,65.06024,58.4,33.11625/full/0/default.jpg
  5. The Lords of the Chain - Rector portraits at the LMU (PDF; 3.6 MB), ed. by Matthias Memmel and Gabriele Wimböck, Munich 2011, p. 13.
  6. ^ Johann Georg Elser - November 8, 1939 Rolf Hochhuth in the FAZ magazine of November 10, 1989.