Jewish doctor finally gets his degree, 86 years late

Dr Fritz Deutscher was forced to flee from Austria just before qualifying. Now his British family has received his university diploma


Recognition at last: Fritz Deutscher, later Dr Frank Dexter, in his British army uniform during the Second World War (Photo: Courtesy Dr Selwyn Dexter)

A Jewish doctor who was expelled from the University of Vienna medical school during the Anschluss in 1938 has received a posthumous doctorate 86 years later.

Fritz Deutscher, who later changed his name to Fred Dexter, passed away in 1988 at the age of 74, having established himself as a GP and ophthalmologist in the UK.

Deutscher fled Austria after being expelled from the University of Vienna medical school with just one final exam left to complete when Austria was annexed into the German Reich on 12 March 1938. Now, 86 years after he left university, his diploma has finally been issued.

Deutscher was born in 1914 to Jewish parents, though his father died in the final days of the First World War. He began medical school in 1932 and gave English lessons to pay for his degree.

A sharp young man, Deutscher also played violin to a high standard, according to his son Selwyn Dexter, 73, a GP and medical acupuncturist, who got in touch with the rector of the University of Vienna just over a year ago to see about getting his father a posthumous doctorate.

"He would just be pleased that an injustice had been corrected,” said Dexter.

He said his father enjoyed medical school in Vienna, though by the mid-1930s Nazism was ramping up and universities became increasingly hostile places for Jewish students and faculty. According to Dexter, Deutscher’s non-Jewish friends would occasionally warn him not to come to campus on days when there were riots or protests.

“But one day he got caught up in a Nazi riot and he received a very significant head injury which left him in the Vienna hospital,” Dexter said. “He recovered from that. He was a very determined person.”

By 1938 Deutscher had finished all his studies and received his absolutorium, a certificate attesting to the completion of one’s courses prior to the final exam. All he had left to do was sit his final exam in three months and he would have his MD.

But in March of that year Germany annexed Austria, and German laws stipulated that only a select number of Jews could remain at the university. Deutscher knew that he needed to leave Vienna.

Fortunately, he had a contact from Wales whom he had met while hitchhiking in Europe on holiday, a banker who was willing to sponsor his visa to the UK. Once Deutscher travelled to the UK, he secured visas for his brother and mother through a relative, who could covertly send them to Vienna through a third party.

Deutscher joined the British Army as a medical orderly in 1939 before attending the University of Edinburgh in 1943 to complete his medical degree. There he met Judith Lurie, the daughter of a local kosher butcher, and the pair married in 1946. The couple had five children and moved to Liverpool around 1950, according to Dexter, though Judith died in 1960. After that, the family spent time travelling around New Zealand and Australia before eventually returning to Liverpool.

Deutscher brought his absolutorium and other certifying documents with him wherever he went, said Dexter, and his careful preservation of these documents enabled his family to secure his posthumous diploma. After a year of negotiation with the university rector, Dexter said the university finally agreed to award his father the degree he was so close to completing, and they received the official copy in the post last week.

“The fact that he kept his absolutorium diploma protected by cardboard as he travelled the world and for more than 50 years showed it was obviously precious to him,” said Dexter. “Finally having recognition for him brings comforting resolution to our family.”

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