V. Congress of the European Federation of Sexology (EFS)
XIV. DGSS Conference on Social Scientific Sex Research
Berlin, June 29 - July 2, 2000
ABOUT MY FATHER FELIX THEILHABER
by Adin Talbar, Jerusalem
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Chairman,
The loud noise emanating from my parents' bedroom woke me up. I opened the connecting door and saw my mother standing in front of the large window facing the street. I went up to her and saw my father coming out of the house, accompanied by two men, dressed in trenchcoats. He climbed into a sportscar. "What a terrific car!" I exclaimed, thinking he was going to visit some patient. "Quiet", my mother cautioned, "this is the Gestapo." I was eleven years old and knew this frightening word. It happened three months after the seizure of power by the Nazis, apparently on May 30th 1933.
That morning my father, founder and chairman of Gesex (The Society of Sexualreform) and 50 leading physicians were apprehended and incarcerated in Ploetzensee, a prison in Berlin, run by the Gestapo. My father and the doctors whose names were well-known to the police before the Gestapo made their swift raid, were released two months later, returning home to a destroyed existence. The Government Health Service had kicked them out because of "subversive acts against the State" and this was the end of Gesex, just as it was the end of all the other organisations involved in promoting sexual research and reform.
In his lecture about Sexualreform as a part of the new science of Sexualwissenschaft, Magnus Hirschfeld, the founder of sexology, exclaimed during the second congress of the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR) in Copenhagen in 1928 that Ivan Bloch was the creator of the word "Sexualwissenschaft" (sexology), while Felix Theilhaber created the word "Sexualreform" (sexual reform).
Helene Stoecker founded in 1905 the women's organisation Mutterschutz", while Theilhaber founded in 1913 the Gesex Society of Sexual Reform. It's aim was to enlighten the workers and farmers that their physical and mental ill health and values were a product of their socio-economic situation. The draconic penal laws existing against both contraception and abortion, perpetuated their ignorance and misery. These laws had to be abolished. Two hundred top physicians, academics and other intellectuals became members of Gesex. It's office was subsequently opened in Berlin, Buelowstrasse 89, and was re-opened in 1919 after World War I. During the next 14 years of the Weimar Republic Gesex led the fight against paragraph 218, the right to abortion, to legalize? birth control and the laws against the sale of contraceptives.
In those creative years between 1913-1933, Theilhaber published a series of twenty booklets called "contributions to sexual problems" and was himself the author of the following titles, starting in 1913 with Birth Control by Primitive Races in Antiquity;
Human love (Die menschliche Liebe);
Sexuality and Eroticism;
Penitentiary or legal protection for expectant mothers;
Blood Miracle or Love Madness (Blutwunder oder Liebeswahn)
Woman, Before and After Marriage (Das Weib vor und in der Ehe);
and in 1929 Goethe - Eros und Sexus, a controversial book about
the national idol of the Germans;
and my mother translated from Russian into German Dr. Batkis'
booklet on the Sexualreform in Soviet Russia in 1925.
The dissemination of pamphlets and books was only one side of the struggle against the abolition of paragraph 218. Gesex produced a film, "Compulsion to Give Birth" (Geburzwang) which was a sensation. The young gynecologists Lehfeld and Hirsch opened under the patronage of Gesex the first consulting clinic for working women and girls in distress at the Hackescher Markt and encouraged the forbidden, punishable distribution of contraceptives. As a result of the German Doctors' Conference in Leipzig in 1925, perhaps the most important practical move of Gesex was to join, together with other groups, the "Kartell for Reform of the Penal Laws of the State". From 1925 till 1927 the editorial committee, in which my father was a driving force, wrestled with government lawyers and politicians about reforming the existing criminal laws on abortion and contraception, obscenity, pedophilia, exhibitionism, homosexuality and adultery. Nothing was achieved in the end, except a change in the severity of the punishment from "penitentiary" to "prison". Gesex intensified the sex reform activities which culminated in 1932 in a protest rally of 2000 people, organised by Gesex in the City Hall in the centre of Berlin. This was the last great meeting in which all the reform organisations participated, before the catastrophe.
Whilst the total destruction of the sexual reform movement was completed (Hirschfeld's clinic in the Tiergarten was destroyed by S.A. henchmen), Magnus Hirschfeld himself, after a 2 years' worldwide study and lecture tour, was in 1933 talking in Tel Aviv, Palestine, to a captive audience. Incidentally, Tel Aviv became my father's home for the next 20 years.
He had had enough and left Germany in good time. My grandfather Hofrat Adolf Theilhaber, gynecologist and cancer research scientist, remained in Muenich and died of old age in 1937. My father had liquidated what was left of the family fortune and gone to Palestine. As a medical student in Muenich and Berlin he had become an ardent Zionist, toured Ottoman Palestine, and as a young doctor volunteered for medical service with the Turkish Red Crescent in the Turkish-Italian campaign in Tripoli, and the Balkan War against the Bulgarians, aspiring to become later a Turkish government physician in Palestine. He fell ill, returned to Germany to serve and to be highly decorated by the German army in World War I. But before all these adventures, he had written his doctor's thesis on "The theory of the coherency of the social status and the race with the origin of cancer of the uterus" influenced by his mother's untimely death of cancer of the uterus, and his father's medical work on it. Having also studied economics and demography he wrote about the process of total assimilation of German Jews in a sensational study in 1911, called the Extinction of German Jews (Der Untergang der Deutschen Juden), a demographic study of the migration of the Jews into the big cities, , of intermarriage and a birthrate of less than 1 child per family, which would lead to the total disappearance of Jews in Germany - their fate, he wrote, was sealed, and only Zionism could rejuvenate the Jewish people in the diaspora. In 1913 he wrote another demographic study: The sterile Berlin (Das sterile Berlin) influenced by the shocking, cramped, unhealthy conditions of the Berlin working population which he encountered as a young doctor, his conclusions about the reasons for the demographic decline of Berlin may have been instrumental in the decision to found that same year the sexual reform society Gesex.
So now finally, in 1935, he realised the dream of his youth and came to live in Palestine which became Israel. With a Jewish population of less than half a million, only a small percentage of the 2000 immigrant physicians from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia could be absorbed during the six pre-war years. The General Health Insurance Service, created by the Labour Union, modelled after the Soviet bureaucratic system with doctors employed in centrally located clinics took care of the majority of the working population. Theilhaber could not make a living and existed on his savings. Being an active founding member of the Maccabi Sports Organization in Germany he was a regular jogger on Tel Aviv's beach and was intellectually creative in many fields, writing books and articles. He even experimented on a concoction for a contraceptive cream and I remember the logo he designed for its packaging of "a stork in chains" but it never reached the pharmacies. Finally, being a born organiser, struck by the wretched situation of his unemployed colleagues he decided to create a health service based on the free choice of doctors from a list of generalist and specialist Maccabi doctors practicing from their homes, not in clinics or hospitals. Thus in 1941, while World War II was raging in Europe and North Africa, Theilhaber founded, in conditions of utter austerity "Kupat Cholim Maccabi Health Services". With no initial investment they registered their Association and by the end of the year 10 Maccabi doctors treated 250 insured patients in the Tel Aviv area.
When he died in 1956 he was the chief physician and elected Chairman since 1949 of Maccabi Health Services encompassing hundreds of independent doctors all over the country treating 31,500 insured members, then 1.7% of the Israeli population. He had successfully introduced a health organisation based on the principle of "free choice of independent doctors" that sustained itself with no subsidies from anyone. Today, "Maccabi Health Services" has a membership of 1.4 million, comprising 23% of the population of Israel.
Talking to you here, in Berlin, 87 years after the birth of Gesex, whilst the distribution and use of contraceptives are no longer punishable but rather encouraged, the present laws in Germany with regards to abortion are still restrictive and not as progressive as Gesex demanded in 1927.