Student Workers Reflect: The Oscar Kohnstamm Papers

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/14/14

Students working in the USC Libraries' Special Collections department routinely come into close contact with amazing archival materials. Here on Libwire, we're sharing occasional dispatches from these students about the collections they work with. Here's USC undergraduate Emily Hodgkins on the Oscar Kohnstamm papers:

The collection is predominantly made up of Kohnstamm's published work and research in medical journals. It also includes materials that concern both Kohnstamm and the Sanatorium Dr. Kohnstamm, which he established; there are photographs, newspaper articles, and informational brochures. Oscar (Oskar) Kohnstamm, MD, was a nerve and neurology specialist working around the turn of the twentieth century in Koenigstein im Taunus, Germany. In 1902, he and his wife started a sanatorium for his psychiatry patients and constructed a dedicated building for this practice from 1904 to 1905. By 1911 it was successful enough to be updated, remodeled, and expanded. He treated predominantly internal and nervous ailments, and was published on subjects as wide ranging as hypnosis, the physiology of the brain and spinal cord, and psychiatric illness. In fact, a number of now famous people either visited or stayed at the sanatorium, most prominently the German expressionist painter Ernst Kirchner.  

His papers were donated very recently by his great-granddaughter and USC alumna Ann Hayman, who received her doctor of public administration degree from the USC Price School of Public Policy (formerly the USC School of Public Administration) and taught a graduate-level public policy class for many years. Her daughter-in-law is currently completing her fourth year of medical school at the Keck/USC School of Medicine and Hayman hopes that her two adorable grandchildren will one day become Trojans as well.

In the Kohnstamm collection, there is a little informational booklet (see below) detailing the workings of the Sanatorium when it was very popular, circa 1925 to 1935. Kohnstamm himself had passed away in 1917, but a number of capable doctors including M. Friedemann and B. Spinak worked with the patients until the sanatorium was forced to be sold in the late 1930s once the Nazis came to power because of Kohnstamm and other doctors' Jewish descent. Air raids destroyed portions of the building itself in the early 1940s. But the retreat depicted in the booklet is one of idyllic peace, and knowing what was to come, it seems almost like a calm before the storm. The house itself is beautiful, and each room depicted is furnished cheerfully, with breathtaking views out of every window.  In addition to medical care provided by the live-in doctors, a patient at Sanatorium Dr. Kohnstamm would be able to engage in athletic activity, work in the garden, socialize with visitors, or explore the natural world that surrounded them. Open all year long, it is clear from looking at this booklet that the Sanatorium would have been a unique haven. However, it is also something that distinctly belongs to a past world, a world that was destroyed in part by the looming shadow of World War II.

Emily Hodgkins is a USC student majoring in history with a minor in German studies.

Photo credit: Oscar Kohnstamm papers, Collection no. 6046, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California

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