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