Zofia Majewska - Aniela Gelbard (1907-1997)

Autor: Krystyna Makowska
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Zofia Majewska - Aniela Gelbard (1907-1997)


Zofia Majewska (from the collections of the Archives of the Medical University of Gdańsk)

Zofia Majewska was born on January 13, 1907 in Warsaw by Marszałkowska 118 street, under the name of Aniela Gelbard [1]. She was using her birth name till 1946. Her family had Jewish roots declaring the Evangelical Reformed faith. She was born in a family of doctors. Her father Henryk Gelbard (d. in 1938) was a dental surgeon and her mother, Helena née Lichtenfeld was a dentist [2]. She also had a 5 years younger sister - Halina who worked in juvenile court [3].

Biography written by Aniela Gelbardówna upon admission to medical studies at the University of Warsaw (from the collection of the Archives of the University of Warsaw)

Her childhood was carefree and pleasant in a family atmosphere until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Aniela Gelbard was 7 years old at that time [3].

In 1915, she traveled to Moskow, Russia with the Red Cross Hospital. They lived on the Kuntsewo estate, just outside Moscow, and her father worked as the chief physician in the hospital established and located at the Metropol hotel in Moscow. In 1916 she studied at the Russian gymnasium of Mrs. W. Rzhevskaya. In this school the lectures were in Russian, however, this was not a problem, because Aniela, through contact with children in Vilnius, Minsk and Kuntsevo, learned to speak Russian quite well. Despite the war that had been going on since 1914, life in Moscow was relatively peaceful. However, after the outbreak of Kerensky's revolution in April 1917, things began to become very dangerous [3].

After the October Revolution in 1917 Gelbards family returned to Warsaw and moved into a former apartment at ul. Marszałkowska at the corner of Wilcza [4]. From 1918, Aniela passed the entrance exam and became a student of the Secondary School of the Teachers' Trade Union in Warsaw. The school run by Mrs. Popławska was known for its high level of teaching. Aniela was very careful about her grades at school and was one of the best students in her class. She passed her high school final exams in 1924. At that time, there were no entrance exams for medical studies, and admission to University was based on high school leaving exam results, general references and patronage, as well as medical background. On October 13, 1924 she began studies at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Warsaw [2]. It was during her studies that Aniela discovered her passion for research. In the third year of her studies, on her own initiative, she attended the laboratory of the Hospital in Czystem, where she learned laboratory diagnostics under the supervision of an experienced hematologist. In this institution, she also received additional education in the field of microbiology, and even conducted her own bacterial cultures. The knowledge acquired from the laboratory has proven to be very useful many times. In her fourth year, she took advantage of the fact that her uncle was a radiologist and additionally learned the basics of this field from him. At the same time, from the beginning of the fourth year until the end of her studies, she went to the Department of Internal Diseases run by Professor Witold Orłowski to expand her internal medicine knowledge [3]. Aniela Gelbard received her doctorate in all medical sciences on June 16, 1930 [4]. After a period of working as a volunteer in the internal medicine and neurology departments (headed by Dr. Stefan Mozołowski) of the Ujazdowski Hospital, in 1932 thanks to her father’s connections she was employed at the Department of Neurology at the University of Warsaw, headed by Professor Kazimierz Orzechowski [1].


Student ID card of A. Gelbard (from the collection of the Archives of the University of Warsaw)


Aniela Gelbard's diploma of doctor of general medicine issued by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Warsaw (from the collection of the Archives of the University of Warsaw)

She worked in the Department of Neurology until the outbreak of World War II. The Neurological Clinic was moved to another building, on Aleje Jerozolimskie but Aniela Gelbard was banned from working at the Clinic due to her Jewish origins [1]. She then started working at the Jewish Hospital in Czyste. At this hospital, she first worked in the professor's neurological ward Eufemiusz Herman, and later moved to the infectious disease ward of Professor Jakub Penson. In the hospital in Czyste she was participating in secret teaching of medical students; after the liquidation of the ghetto, she had to go into hiding [4]. Aniela Gelbard with her mother and sister had to live in the ghetto at Twarda street, and when the ghetto area was reduced, they lived in Franciszkańska street. When the Gelbard family got out of the ghetto, they immediately obtained Aryan papers [3]. Therefore, it was the moment when Aniela Gelbard had to forget about her real name and therefore she used the personal name of Zofia Majewska [2]. Her mother and sister were murdered by the Nazis in 1944 (her father died before the outbreak of the war) [2]. After the fall of the Warsaw Uprising, she was deported deep into the Reich and returned to Poland in May 1945 [4]. She started working at the position of adjunct at the Department of Neurology at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, headed by Professor Zygmunt Kuligowski [1]. In January 1946, the professor was appointed as the Polish ambassador to Egypt and then Zofia Majewska, after 7 months of stay in the Lublin clinic, became its head. She took over the management of the Clinic, and thus the entire didactics: exercises, lectures and exams, as well as all clinical duties. After the end of the war, on April 15, 1946, she officially changed her surname Gelbard to Majewska. Her new name ensured her survival and continued to give her a greater sense of security. The changes were made pursuant to the provisions of Art. 2 and 8 of the decree of November 10, 1945 on changing and establishing names and surnames /Journal of Laws No. 56 item 310/105 [3]. In September 1946, she agreed to the proposal of professor Władysław Jakimowicz and under his supervision became a senior assistant at the Neurological Clinic of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk, [4].

In 1947, she specialized in neurology[2], and on September 22, 1948 she obtained her habilitation (as the first woman in the history of the Gdańsk university [1]), based on the work On the development of the child's motor system between the 1st and 10th day of life [4]. A year later, she went on a specialization internship at the State Institute of Pediatrics in Leningrad, where she received the degree of candidate of science [1]. After her return, in 1950, she specialized in pediatric neurology [2]. In the same year, she became the head of the first Department of Pediatric Neurology in Poland. Janusz Korczak of the Neurological Clinic in Gdańsk, as an associate professor [1,4]. In 1951, she replaced Professor Jakimowicz as the head of the Department and Clinic of Neurology of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk, in 1954 she became an associate professor and in 1960 a full professor [2] (also the first woman in the history of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk [1]). In 1970, after the division of the Neurological Clinic, she became the head of the Developmental Neurology Clinic, which she ran until her retirement in 1977 [4].


The first page of Z. Majewska's habilitation thesis (from the collection of the Archives of the Developmental Neurology Clinic GUMed)

She participated in numerous internships, meetings and scientific conferences, also abroad [2]. She was the chairwoman of the Developmental Neurology Committee of the Committee of Neurological Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a member of the Rehabilitation Committee and the Developmental Defects Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Polish Neurological Society and other scientific societies [4]. Her achievements include 177 publications, mainly in the field of neuropediatrics. She was the supervisor of 18 doctorates and supervisor of eight habilitations [1]. She was awarded, among others, the Knight's Cross (1954) and the Officer's Cross (1956) of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Gold Cross of Merit (1953), the Medals of the 10th and 40th Anniversaries of the People's Republic of Poland, the title of "Distinguished Teacher of the Polish People's Republic" and the diploma of "Child's Friend" and honorary citizenship of the city of Gdańsk [2]. In 1988 (again as the first woman [1]) she was awarded an honorary doctorate (honoris causa) from the Medical Academy in Gdańsk [4].


Ceremony of awarding an honorary doctorate (from the left: Prof. Z Korolkiewicz, Prof. B. Krupa-Wojciechowska, Prof. J. Galiński, Prof. Z. Majewska) (from the collection of the Archives of the Developmental Neurology Clinic GUMed)