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Biographical entry Hollender, Louis Francois (1922 - 2011)

MD Strasbourg 1950; Hon FRCS 1980; Hon FACS 1991.

15 February 1922
Strasbourg, France
13 May 2011
General surgeon


Professor Louis-Francois Hollender was a well-known European general surgeon with interests in gastrointestinal, hepatobiliary and pancreatic disorders. He was head of the department of general surgery at the Louis Pasteur University, Strasbourg, from 1970 until 1991, when he was awarded emeritus status. Over the years he trained lots of young surgeons from many countries in Europe and was a natural linguist, speaking easily in German, English and his native French, and being able to switch with ease from one to another in conversation.

He was born in Strasbourg on 15 February 1922. His father, Emile Hollender, was a pharmacist who married Clotilde Fritsch. He had one sister, Monique, who followed in her father's footsteps and became a pharmacist. After schooling at St Étienne private Catholic school in Strasbourg, he decided to study medicine; however, the Second World War intervened. Strasbourg and all of the Alsace region was annexed by the Third Reich, aided by the Vichy government. Robert Wagner, the head of the civil administration, acting directly under Hitler's orders, terrorised the local population. Some 50,000 people were expelled and many deported. All symbols of France were suppressed and the University of Strasbourg relocated to Clermont-Ferrand in central France in order to retain its French identity.

Many young men from Strasbourg were forced to enter the German Army, but Louis Hollender had other ideas. To avoid recruitment into the Wehrmacht, he went into hiding for several weeks. Having relocated to Clermont-Ferrand with the University of Strasbourg, he became active in various areas of the resistance movement and in August 1944 participated in the fighting for the liberation of Paris. For his actions he received several commendations, including a certificate for his sterling work in the defence of l'hotel de ville in Paris.

The liberation of the city of Strasbourg itself, as the Allies advanced into Germany, was highly symbolic. General Charles de Gaulle insisted that only French forces should retake the city, and General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque and his troops swore an oath to fight until their flag flew 'over the Cathedral of Strasbourg'. This was only achieved on 23 November 1944. It was some time before the university returned from central France and to normal activities, but Hollender was able to resume his studies and to pass his qualifying examinations in stages. In his MD examination, he obtained the highest praise from the judges for his dissertation.

From 1946 to 1950 Hollender served internships in Strasbourg's hospitals. His overall surgical training was undertaken under the guidance of A G Weiss and he rose through the surgical ranks from assistant in surgery to full surgeon in 1959. By 1969 he had become surgeon-in-chief to the department of general surgery and gastrointestinal services at Strasbourg, thereby replacing Weiss, his surgical mentor.

In 1947, during his earlier training years and in order to gain thoracic surgical experience, Hollender worked in London with Sir Clement Price Thomas, and later went to Stockholm for cardiovascular experience with Clarence Crafoord. At the Karolinska Institute, heparin prophylaxis had been in use since the 1930s, and Crafoord pioneered mechanical positive-pressure ventilation for thoracic operations, as well as performing the first successful repair of coarctation of the aorta in 1944. In this new but expanding field, Crafoord had a close rival, Robert E Gross of the Boston Children's Hospital, who had performed the first ligation of a patent ductus.

Hollender was a committed European, working in collaboration with departments in Strasbourg, Freiburg and Basle. With the aid of a grant from the French government and as a Fulbright fellow, he travelled to the USA to gain endocrine and more gastrointestinal training. In the States, he worked mainly at centres in St Louis with Evarts A Graham at the Barnes Hospital and in New York, where his mentor at the Memorial Hospital was Alexander Brunschwig. Moving to Boston, his definitive post was at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was attached to Edward D Churchill and Richard H Sweet. His final move was to Chicago: at the Billings Hospital he was tutored by Lester Reynold Dragstedt and then by Warren H Cole at the Illinois Research Hospital.

Following the original work of Dragstedt, Hollender took an early interest in vagotomy in the management of peptic ulcers. Originally an advocate of truncal vagotomy, in 1967 he reported the results of 300 cases, with an analysis of the side effects. Under his influence, Strasbourg became a leading centre for highly selective vagotomy. Later Hollender organised an international conference to sum up the position on surgical treatment. With the advent of drug therapy, the 40-year reign of vagotomy was brought to an end.

Hollender also took an interest in the surgical treatment of hiatus hernia and acute and chronic pancreatitis, and in particular the surgical approach to acute pancreatitis by excising necrotic areas in addition to other supportive measures. The advent of imaging helped decision-making in surgical intervention in the management of acute pancreatitis.

Once established in Strasbourg, it was inevitable that Louis Hollender would be invited to become a visiting professor to centres in Europe and further afield. These included Rome (1972), Buenos Aires (1973), Lausanne (1975), Athens (1976), Berne (1978), Bahia Bianca, Argentina (1978), London (1979), Valencia (1982), Cordoba (1982), Sofia (1982), East Berlin (1983), Budapest (1984), Santa Fe (1985), Campinas, Brazil (1985), Lima, Peru (1986), Santiago (1987) and Indianapolis (1991).

He wrote hundreds of papers and contributed to many books dealing with the surgery of peptic ulcer and pancreatic problems. He was a member of the editorial committees of several surgical journals, including World Journal of Surgery, Digestive Surgery and Langenbeck's Archives of Surgery.

In 1969 Hollender, together with Giuseppi Grassi and G Benedetti-Valentini of Rome, held discussions on organising gatherings of gastrointestinal surgeons of world-renown. The trio founded the Collegium Internationale Chirurgiae Digestivae, later known as the International Society for Digestive Surgery.

Hollender was a member of some 20 French medical societies and a founder member of four, becoming elected president of several of them. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member or fellow of 18 other foreign surgical societies. In April 1980 he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was further honoured by the Academy of Medicine of Buenos Aires, as well as the Deutsch Gesellschaft für Chirurgie. He received numerous honorary degrees, including from the universities of Rome, Cordoba and Athens.

The decorations he received from the French republic not only recognised his professional qualities, but also his political and social commitments as well. He was honoured with the chevalier de la légion d'honneur, the commander des palmes académiques (a decoration for services to education in France) and the silver medal of the French Red Cross.

Outside his busy clinical commitments, he was interested in the history of medicine. He was widely read in both poetry and philosophy, enjoying the works of Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. He was also a lover of classical music, the works of J S Bach being high on his list of favourites.

In March 1957, Hollender married Nicole Ziegler. They had two daughters, Laure and Emmanuelle, and four grandchildren. The Hollender tradition of medicine has continued: Emmanuelle and her daughter Margaux are both doctors. Predeceased by his wife on 22 November 1994, Louis-Francois Hollender died on 13 May 2011, from lung cancer, although he had never smoked and was virtually a teetotaller. He was 89.

When he was admitted as an honorary fellow of the RCS, Hollender was described as '…a surgeon, savant, teacher and Anglophile…' His family describe him as having qualities so essential in a surgeon, including 'respect, availability and attention to others'. Neat in his appearance and professional in his approach, he had 'above all…a very big heart'.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Citation, Harold Ellis, College and Faculty News 1980 317-318; Langenbecks Arch Surg (2005) 390:553-4; Christian Meyer; Laure de Manzini-Hollender].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England