Biography of Hugo Spatz
The son of Bernhard Spatz (1856-1935), editor of Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift, Hugo Spatz early became exposed to discussion of medical subjects. He entered medical school in Munich and proceeded to Heidelberg. Following his graduation at Heidelberg in 1914 he went straight to the Western Front for the duration of the war.
Already in Heidelberg his free time found him working in Franz Nissl’s (1860-1919) laboratory. In 1919 he joined the anatomical department of Kraepelin’s Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Psychiatrie in Munich, working with Nissl and Walther Spielmeyer (1879-1935). He was particularly influenced by Spielmeyer.
In 1921 Spatz met Julius Hallervorden (1882-1965) at the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Psychiatrie in Munich. Hallervorden, an East Prussian by birth, was prosector at a mental hospital in Landsberg an der Warthe in Brandenburg, and came to spend his sabbatical year in Munich with Spielmeyer (1921-1922). He brought with him the brain of a girl who had suffered from progressive rigidity; pallidum and reticulate zone of the substantia nigra were a rusty brown from excessive iron: Hallervorden-Spatz’ disease was born.
Spatz was habilitated for psychiatry in 1923, and in 1926 became Oberarzt to Oswald Conrad Edouard Bumke (1877-1950), Kraepelin’s successor. Parkinsonism, rabies, Borna disease (in horses), studied with co-workers, became the subjects Spatz used for his chapter in Bumke’s Handbuch on the encephalitides. He classified them on a morphological basis, according to mode of spread rather than aetiology.
Spatz became ausserordentlicher Professor in 1927, and in 1937 was appointed director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Hirnforschung in Berlin-Buch, succeeding Oskar Vogt (1870-1959), who had been forced to retire by the Nazis. An ever-increasing material allowed him to investigate the systemic atrophies involving, among other structures, the basilar pontine nuclei and the inferior olivary nucleus, also Pick’s disease, on which he worked in 1926 with Onari.
Both Hugo Spatz and Julius Hallervorden conducted research on euthanized children. Under the regime of Spatz and Hallervorden, the brain research Institute established a collaborative relationship with the infamous asylum (later killing institute) at Brandenburg-Görden. For more details about this, see the article about Julius Hallervorden.
At the outbreak of World War II Spatz, with his associate, the neurosurgeon Wilhelm Tönnis (1898-1978), and the neuropathologist Richard Lindenberg, were mobilised to the front by the Luftwaffe. Air attacks on Berlin in 1941 forced Spatz’ to return. In 1944 Hallervorden left with part of the Institute’s collection for quiet Dillenburg in the Westerwald, Nassau. Spatz remained to the bitter end, trying to evacuate the rest of the collection to Munich.
He reached Munich in the spring of 1945. Being a director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut, he was put under arrest by the U.S. military police and interned in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, then invited to join the U.S. Aeromedical Center in Heidelberg. His chapter on brain trauma in German aviation medicine, World War II (Washington D.C., U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 2 volumes, 1950) was magnificent.
Not until 1947 could Spatz reach Dillenburg to join his wife and six children and the Hallervorden's in an old feudal castle overlooking the town, in which they found shelter.
Being war criminals did not hurt the post-war careers of Spatz and Hallervorden. Through Otto Hahn (1879-1968), Max Planck’s (1858-1947) successor, Spatz and Hallervorden in 1949 were given laboratories in the physiology institute in Giessen. Here Spatz, together with a dozen young assistants, was able to complete an enormous work on the hypothalamus and pituitary, particularly of a tuberohypophysial secretory pathway, and Hallervorden to ponder on the nature of the demyelinative diseases.
Spatz was emerited in 1959 and later joined Hallervorden, who died in 1965. He mowed to a bright new institute in Frankfurt-Niederrad, the Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung. Here Spatz worked to the end, particularly on the brains of subhuman primates. Evolution of the human brain was his theme, and he dwelt especially on the basal (orbital) neocortex, phylogenetically and ontogenetically the latest to develop, and related, he found, to man’s superior psychic activity. Profound personality changes, preceding the intellectual deficit, would result from damage of this region. His concluding papers, logical yet wistful, were on the future of the human brain.
In contrast to Hallervorden, who was blunt and seemingly lacking in sentimentality, Spatz was diplomatic and obviously a romantic. An expert on medieval church architecture, he would draw a crowd of passers-by as he commented to companions on this and that aspect of an ancient façade. Each Oktoberfest in Munich he closed the laboratory for one afternoon, taking all as his guests to the fair grounds and the beer halls. He was the first to jump on the table and toast everyone from servant to professor. As director of the Institut in Berlin, he would take as much time ironing out the troubles of s scrubwoman as in paying his respects to a dignitary.
In one respect Spatz was different from Hallervorden. During the German occupation of Holland he took great personal risks smuggling food to prisoners of war in German strongholds.
But a war criminal he was.
We thank Dr. Günter Krämer, Zürich, Switzerland, for biographical information.
- Beiträge zur normalen Histologie des Rückenmarks des neugeborenen Kaninchens. Jena, 1917.
- Physiologie und Pathologie der Stammganglien.
In: Handbuch der normalen und pathologischen Physiologie; volume 10, Berlin, 1927.
In Handbuch der Geisteskrankheiten, volume 11, 1; Munich, 1930.
- Vergangenheit und Zukunft des menschenhirns.
Akademie der Wissenschaften. Wiesbaden, Steiner, 1964.
- A. Kreuter:
Deutschsprachige Neurologen und Psychiater. Ein biographisch-bibliographisches Lexikon von den Vorläufern bis zur Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts.
Band 3. München, K. G. Saur 1996: 1378–1383.