Crossing borders outside the mainstream: The Berlin neurologist Louis Jacobsohn-Lask (1863-1940) in Russia
The late 19th and early 20th century were years of lively scientific contact between Russia and Germany, especially in the natural sciences and medicine. The First World War disrupted many of these contacts, but the 1920s saw an unprecedented peak in bilateral relations. The 1922 Treaty of Rapallo restored diplomatic relations and facilitated trade between the two countries. Scientific contact became more institutionalized than it had ever been. German-Russian medical relations were especially well-developed at the cutting edge of scientific fields and, more often that not, it was scientists who were outside the mainstream of their fields in their home countries who were most active in crossing borders. The Berlin neurologist Louis Jacobsohn-Lask had a research agenda that pushed him to the margins of the German scientific community, but it intensified his old contact with Russian scientists. Studying tracts and nuclei of the brainstem and the spinal column and leading Emanuel Mendelís labs and clinic, he played an important role in the Berlin Society of Psychiatry and Nervous Diseases in the first years of the 20th century. During the First World War, he lost access to his labs and turned his attention to social issues. In the 1920s, he devoted himself to the field of comparative neuroanatomy which was no more discussed by German neurologists. In addition to professional factors, Jacobsohn-Laskís Jewish background and his familyís communist activism put him increasingly at odds with his home country. Paradoxically, at a time when scientific contact between Russia and Germany had virtually ceased, Louis Jacobsohn-Lask found acceptance and recognition in the Soviet Union; indeed, he emigrated there in 1936. He worked in Sevastopolí; glad to have escaped Nazi Germany on the one hand, he noticed the atmosphere of fear and distrust in the soviet population, on the other hand. His sons were held in Russian prison camps because of their association with German communists who had fallen out of favour with the authorities. Jacobsohn-Lask occupies an intriguing position in the history of German-Russian medical relations. His contact to Russia and the Soviet Union involved personal, professional, social, and political aspects. Personal papers and unpublished materials offer valuable insight into his life and work.
Pavia, Italy, 2006