Ernst & Margarethe Laqueur-Loewenthal
Visual biography

Ernst Laqueur was born in Obernigh, Silesia, into a prosperous Jewish family. He studied pharmacology and medicine in Breslau and Heidelberg. In 1905 he married his cousin Margarethe Loewenthal, a beautiful and artistically gifted young woman from Brieg (now Brzeg, Poland).
Ernst pursued an academic career, teaching successively at the universities in Heidelberg, where his first daughter Gerda was born; in Königsberg, where his son Peter was born; and in Halle, where he occupied a variety of posts as assistant and private tutor in physiology and pharmacology.
In 1912 the family moved to Groningen, where Ernst worked as an assistant in the physiological laboratory of Professor H.J. Hamburger. When, shortly after being appointed lecturer in biology, the First World War broke out, Ernst volunteered as a doctor in the German army. The whole family, now with three children, moved back to Germany. In 1919 their fourth child and second daughter Renate was born there. In 1916 Ernst was transferred to the Heeresgasschule in Berlin to do research on the treatment of victims of chemical warfare. The Germans having occupied Belgium, he was transferred to Ghent, where he was appointed lecturer in pharmacology in 1917. At the end of the war, the Belgians, initiated a disciplinary procedure against the german faculty. Ernst was among those accused of high treason. His trial took place in absentia because he had contracted typhoid fever. His wife had taken him to Brieg to look after him, in all probability saving his life.
In 1919 Ernst received an offer from Professor I. Snapper, an acquaintance from his Groningen period, to assist him in Amsterdam. In 1920 he was appointed Professor and founded his own laboratory on the Polderweg in Amsterdam, where in 1923 he began producing insulin and calibrating insulin specimens. In 1923, together with Salomon van Zwanenberg, director of Zwanenberg Slachterijen, and mathematician J.F. van Oss, he established Organon, a commercial company specializing in the scientific preparation of organ extracts. In establishing the company, Ernst stipulated that ten per cent of the net profit be used to fund scientific research. The laboratory on the Polderweg was, therefore, less dependent on subsidies. By making full use of this beneficial arrangement they achieved widespread recognition for their cutting-edge endocrinological research. Ernst Laqueur travelled frequently to lecture.
In the 1930s he was also active in supporting committees for refugees from Germany and Central Europe when the rise of Nazism in Germany made life difficult for Jews and others.

My grandparents initially lived on Middenweg in Amsterdam. Before the war, they moved to Sarphatikade, opposite the Amstel Hotel. As little girls, we three granddaughters would sit on the windowsill watching the many lights dancing across the water in the evening. Ernst Laqueur was an attentive grandfather and a charming host. He was an excellent pianist and loved to dance. For many years he was the chairman of the artists association ‘Voor Allen’ (For All) in Amsterdam.
My grandmother Margarethe Loewenthal was an energetic and self-willed woman who was demanding of her children. She was a lively hostess who loved to entertain guests, which once included Alma Mahler and Frans Werfel. She sang for the family and visitors, accompanied on the piano by her husband.

In 1941 the Nazis stripped Ernst Laqueur of his professorship and refused him access to his laboratory because he was Jewish. Given protection by unidentified people, he never had to wear the Star of David and was able to remain in Amsterdam. His children were able to benefit from this protection until October 31, 1943. On November 1, 1943, my family and Renate Goldschmidt-Laqueur and her husband Paul Goldschmidt were arrested by the Germans and taken into custody.

Following the Liberation, Ernst was able to continue his scientific work. In his final years he received many honours and tokens of esteem from his colleagues. He suffered a fatal heart attack while helping at a road accident during a holiday in Switzerland in 1947.

For many years my grandparents had two seats in the second row of the balcony for the Thursday evening concerts at the Concertgebouw. During the time I was studying in Amsterdam in the mid-1950s, I often accompanied my grandmother to these concerts. She loved Mahler and Wagner. But she couldn’t abide Schoenberg, Berg or Britten and would ostentatiously leave the auditorium to drink tea during pieces by these composers. Once a week, when I would cycle to the Artis zoo to draw the animals, I would sometimes stop at the Sarphatikade on my way home to have a delicious lunch with my grandmother.

A biography of Ernst Laqueur by the historian Dr Peter Jan Knegtmans will be published in Amsterdam in the autumn of 2014.

Biography of Ernst Laqueur 1880-1947
Biography of Margarethe Laqueur-Loewenthal 1883-1959

1880 Ernst Laqueur is born in Silesia
1883 Margarethe Loewenthal is born in Brieg (now Brzeg, Poland)
1904 Ernst passes his medical finals
1905 Ernst graduates in Breslau
1905 marriage of Ernst and Margarethe
1906 birth of daughter Gerda in Heidelberg
1909 birth of son Peter in Königsberg
1914 birth of son Hein in Braunschweig
1912 Ernst becomes assistant of Physiologist to H.J. Hamburger in Groningen
1914 outbreak of First World War, Ernst enlists, the family returns to Germany
1916 Ernst undertakes research into effects of poison gas in a Berlin laboratory
1917 Ernst transferred to Ghent, becomes Professor
1918 Ernst contracts typhoid fever and is transported by his wife to Brieg
1919 birth of daughter Renate in Brieg, Ernst goes to work in Groningen
1920 Ernst appointed Professor at the University of Amsterdam
1922 birth of daughter Lilo
1923 Ernst establishes Organon and his own laboratory on the Polderweg in Amsterdam
1941 the Nazis dismiss Ernst and deny him access to his laboratory
1947 Ernst dies in Switzerland
1959 Margarethe dies in Amsterdam