A beaming Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport accepted her doctorate to loud applause at the University of Hamburg on Tuesday, almost eight decades after the Nazis forced her to abandon her studies.
The pediatrician had written a doctoral thesis on diphtheria as a 25-year-old student at the university's medical school in 1938, but because her mother was Jewish she was never allowed to take the final step of defending her work before a board of examiners.
"After almost 80 years, it was possible to restore some extent of justice," Burkhard Göke, the medical director of the university's hospital, said in his speech at Tuesday's award ceremony. "We cannot undo injustices that have been committed, but our insights into the past shape our perspective for the future."
The Nazis embarked on a vicious campaign against the Jewish population soon after coming to power in Germany in 1933. Under Hitler, Jews were expelled from universities and schools, forced to close their businesses, and eventually murdered at concentration camps across Europe.
Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport set up the first clinic of neonatology in Germany
After learning of Syllm-Rapoport's unfinished degree, the Hamburg medical school last month convened a board of examiners to give her the chance to defend her thesis. According to the faculty dean, Uwe Koch-Gromus, she was "brilliant," leaving the examiners "speechless at her expertise."
In her acceptance speech on Tuesday, Syllm-Rapoport said she had completed the degree on behalf of all those who had suffered under Hitler and the Third Reich.
"For me personally, the degree didn't mean anything, but to support the great goal of coming to terms with history - I wanted to be part of that," the 102-year-old told regional public broadcaster NDR.
In 1938, Syllm-Rapoport migrated to the United States where she met her future husband, Samuel Mitja Rapoport (1912-2004). After the war they returned to Germany, to East Berlin, where Syllm-Rapoport became a renowned professor of neonatology at the Charité hospital.