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From Gestapo interrogation to Stanford lectures: A late psychiatrist's amazing story

Korner book.JPG

As a writer in a news office, one of my responsibilities is to prepare faculty obituaries. It's not my favorite thing to do - it's always sad to write about someone's death - but the upshot is that I often learn some amazing things about some pretty amazing people.

That was certainly the case last week, when I put together an obit of Anneliese Korner, PhD, an emeritus professor of psychiatry who grew up in the same German neighborhood as Adolf Hitler lived in at the time. Years later she did important, interesting work at Stanford - her area of expertise was the development of premature babies - but it’s her personal story I found so compelling: born in Munich in 1918, Korner's childhood was spent watching the wave of anti-Semitism grow in her country and, at the age of 15, she was interrogated by the Gestapo. The latter event, coupled with the increasing discrimination against Jewish people, so concerned her parents that they sent her to Switzerland, where she studied with famed child psychologist Jean Piaget, PhD - and a career was born.

Korner's childhood experiences were captured in a 2002 memoir, Across the Street from Adolf Hitler. I haven't read it yet, but I'm eager to do so - if only to learn more about her encounter with the Gestapo and how she turned a presumably terrifying experience into something positive and life-changing:

For Jackie and me, the feeling that we, a couple of young kids-and a couple of Jewish young kids at that-could put one over on the Gestapo, felt great. It still does.

It so happened, my encounter with the Gestapo was the single most important turning point of my life. Unexpectedly, it changed everything-and all for the better.

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