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MAINZ, Germany – A 102-year-old who was denied a Ph.D. by the Nazi regime in the 1930s is to finally receive the honor following the successful defense of her thesis.
Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport, a retired neonatologist who lives in Berlin, submitted a doctoral thesis on diptheria in 1938. As the daughter of a Jew, Syllm-Rapoport was not permitted to complete her oral defense because she was categorized as a “first-degree crossbreed” and therefore “non-Aryan” under Hitler’s so-called "race laws."
Almost eight decades later, the injustice has been righted after officials at the University Clinic in Hamburg-Eppendorf learned of her story and allowed her to formally finish her doctorate.
“I am happy and proud, but this is not about me,” Syllm-Rapoport told NBC News. “This is in commemoration of those who did not make it this far.”
In 1938, she emigrated to the United States, where she “received most of her training” and later worked as a pediatrician at a Cincinnati hospital.
She moved along with husband Samuel Mitja Rapoport to communist East Berlin in 1952, where she became the head of the neonatology department at the city's Charité hospital.
Under East German law, female university professors had to retire at age 60, “which made me cry at the time because I did not want to leave,” she recalled.
Professor Uwe Koch-Gromus, the current dean of the University Clinic in Hamburg-Eppendorf, took up Syllm-Rapoport's cause after learning of her story from a co-worker.
Friends helped her prepare for her thesis test because she is now almost blind.
“I was very excited during the exam and could have done better, if I had been just a little younger,” she said.
Syllm–Rapoport, who has written an autobiography entitled "My First Three Lives," will be joined by family members, former students and friends as she is presented with her official certificate on June 9.
"With this belated graduation we cannot make up for the injustice that has already occurred but we can contribute to working through the darkest sides of German history at universities," Koch-Gromus said in a statement.