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Biographical entry Hirtenstein, Joseph (1915 - 1997)

MRCS and FRCS 1954; MD Prague 1939.

26 August 1915
Trebisov, Czechoslovakia
7 September 1997
Orthopaedic surgeon


Joe Hirtenstein was born on 26 August 1915 in Trebisov, Eastern Czechoslovakia, where his father, Izidor Hirtenstein, was a butcher. His mother was Ida Berkowitz. He was educated in the Mihailovce Gymnasium and at the Charles University in Prague, where he qualified in March 1939, on the day the Nazis marched into the city. As a Jew, he escaped to join the Free Czech Army, which was forming in the South of France, until the fall of France in June 1940, when the Royal Navy evacuated the Czech Army. As there were too many doctors in the Czech forces, some doctors were released to work in civilian hospitals in England and, in May 1941, he became house surgeon in hospitals in Barnsley, Manchester and Northampton, where he dealt with many of the wounded who had been brought home from the North African front.

Early in 1945, he was asked to return with a medical mission to Czechoslovakia to help with rehabilitation. On arriving in Prague in May 1945, he found that all his family had been killed in the Holocaust. He volunteered to work in Terezin (Theresianstat) concentration camp for several weeks, after which he remained as part of a surgical team in Bulovka Hospital in Prague.

Realising that he would have to join the Communists if he stayed in Czechoslovakia, he returned to England in 1946 and set about studying for the FRCS. After a number of junior posts, he specialised in orthopaedics, and was appointed as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon to Walsall.

In 1943, he married Margaret Peggy Turner, a personnel manager, who died in 1959. They had one daughter, Ann, who became a textile designer, and a son, Michael David, who became a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. There are seven grandchildren. In 1965 he married Susan Balazs, an economist. He died of Parkinson's disease on 7 September 1997.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 315 1997 1626, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England