Because her mother was Jewish, Ingeborg Rapoport was deemed ineligible for academic advancement by the Nazi regime

By Tiare Dunlap
May 14, 2015 06:15 PM

In 1938, Ingeborg Rapoport was denied the right to defend her doctoral thesis in Germany. Seventy-seven years later, she was given a second chance.

The 102-year-old, who lives in Berlin, was just 25 when she wrote her doctoral thesis on diphtheria, an infection that among the leading causes of death for children in Europe and the U.S. at the time.

Because her mother was Jewish, Rapoport was deemed ineligible for academic advancement by the Nazi regime.

“I was told I wasn’t permitted to take the oral examination,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

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That same year, she emigrated alone to the U.S. where she completed hospital internships and eventually earned her M.D.

While at her first job at a Cincinnati hospital, she met the man who would become her husband – an Austrian-Jewish doctor and biochemist named Samuel Mitja Rapaport.

“I have never felt bitterness,” she told the paper. “I’ve been shockingly lucky in all this. For me it all came out well: I had my best teachers in the U.S., I found my husband, I had my children.”

The couple had four children and eventually returned to Europe after receiving unwanted attention from the U.S. government for their communist views.

Rapoport went on to found the first neonatology clinic in Germany.

Upon hearing of Rapoport’s situation from her son, Tom, a colleague took her cause to Dr. Uwe Koch-Gromus, the dean of the University of Hamberg’s medical faculty. The dean then devised a legal pathway for Rapoport to take the oral exam that was denied to her almost 80 years ago.

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Rapoport passed her exam on Wednesday, and she will officially become the oldest person to receive a doctoral degree in a ceremony on June 9.

“Studying made me remember how abandoned and uncertain I felt in 1938,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “That was covered up, but it’s come back recently in my dreams.”