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Ruth Silberberg – Oral History Transcription (Cont.)

BRODMAN: And there was no difficulty in your getting out of Germany?

SILBERBERG: No. We left in 1934 and we had no problems. Of course, we had our passports stamped with a “J,” we had to report our departure and so on, but we were not molested personally.

BRODMAN: And you were able to take all your things with you?

SILBERBERG: I guess so. We left with just a suitcase and my husband’s cello. He wanted to show me his hometown in Upper Silesia, so we left on a cross-country bus which the peasants use for going to market. We were not molested at all; we made a little trip to Italy and France and then we came over to this country – to Canada.

BRODMAN: Did your family leave at the same time?

SILBERBERG: No. My family left later and certainly, my husband’s family left at the very last minute.

BRODMAN: They were lucky to get out.


BRODMAN: Do you think the position of educated women in Europe and in the United States is about the same or has it changed over the years?

SILBERBERG: It has changed. When I was a medical student we had a large number of women among the students. I would say that we were at least 20 percent women. Most of them graduated; there were very few dropouts, I would say. How they did in practice is hard to say. Now, I think, women are doing much better in this country than anywhere else. In the situations [that] I’m familiar with, certainly they’re doing better here than in Switzerland. In Switzerland women really have a hard fight.

BRODMAN: Switzerland was always very conservative.

SILBERBERG: In Germany, during the Weimar Republic women made great strides. I had an opportunity to know some of the very prominent women who were in the Ministry of Education and other high spots in education. I suppose they’re doing as well today; I’m not too familiar with the situation in Germany.

BRODMAN: Could you tell us now something about your own work – what you are trying to find out in your research and what you feel you did determine and what avenues you took that proved to be useless, [as well as] your future plans.

SILBERBERG: We started out originally under the influence of Leo Loeb to study various aspects of growth and aging. Since Dr. Silberberg, my husband, specialized in the pathology of bone diseases it was very obvious that we would apply the knowledge of aging processes or growth processes that was available in those days to the skeleton. Really, we had no particular theory in mind. So little was known about it all that you just had to look and see. So, it was very helpful that we could work in Leo Loeb’s laboratory because having as little money for our own research as we had in those days, we could use much of the material that he [Dr. Loeb] used for his investigation and apply [it] to skeletal research. We were in for a great many surprises. Very little, shall we say, was known about the effect of hormones on skeletal growth and aging. Acromegaly, of course, was known as a disease of the pituitary gland, but experimentally this had not been approached at all so it was possible to examine the action of pituitary hormones and, subsequently, other hormones on skeletal growth and aging. We had an uphill fight because growth hormone, for instance, was considered to be a growth stimulant and nothing else. We thought that we had found that growth stimulation is associated with stimulation of aging. So, hormones that do stimulate growth – and it isn’t only growth hormone, it may, for instance, [be] a sex hormone – at the same time stimulate aging. [This] was quite a shock, especially to the group in California (Evans?) who were really the promoter of the idea that pituitary stimulated growth and nothing else.

So we got involved in this problem. Again, in investigating this we came across things that had not been known before, [such as] that one disease of old age, which was considered a typically human disease, occurred in small laboratory animals. It was osteoarthrosis, osteoarthritis as it is called by many people in this country. So we got involved in the pathogenesis of osteoarthrosis with which I am still concerned today.

Again, it is and was an uphill fight inasmuch as osteoarthrosis was considered a purely mechanically-caused disease. Abuse was considered to be the main thing. On the basis of what we have seen in animals we have concluded that metabolic conditions in the body in general, whether it’s hormonal balances or imbalances, or nutritional imbalances, will influence the condition of the joints [just] as these things influence the conditions of other connective tissues. Many conditions that were merely attributed to purely mechanical things are really related to metabolic states of the individual.

Another thing that we were able to point out is the fact that these age-linked joint diseases are, to a large extent, genetically determined just as other chronic diseases of old age are genetically determined. So, in the course of these diseases I am now interested in the relation of diabetes and joint disease of old age. The coexistence of diabetes and osteoarthrosis is well-known but we really do not know whether this is coexistence or whether there is a cause and effect relationship. So this is where I stand today. I am working with diabetic hamsters. Chinese hamsters develop spontaneous diabetes at an early age so they are really a very good model for studying juvenile diabetes. I hope to go on studying age-onset diabetes in animals in which diabetes is produced experimentally.

BRODMAN: You will be doing this in Israel? Do you have laboratory all set up or arrangements made for it?

SILBERBERG: I do not have a laboratory set up. I am going to work in a laboratory which is set up but which is being moved right now to a new location. The head of the group is taking over a division in the new Mount Scopus Hospital and I think I will probably be located up there. I hope to continue this. These people are chiefly interested in osteoporosis, which is also an age-linked bone disease. Again, there are certain correlations between diabetes and bone disease rather than joint disease. I hope that I can work in my interests together with theirs and work with material that is at their disposal and easily available over there.

BRODMAN: This will be at the University of Jerusalem?

SILBERBERG: This will be in Jerusalem, yes.

BRODMAN: You used to go to Switzerland for the summers. Maybe we can hope that you will find it necessary to come back to St. Louis in the winters and thus make a tripartite life for you. Could I end my questions with a very personal, for me, question? That is, you have been using this library since the 1940s. What do you think about the changes which have occurred here?

SILBERBERG: Well, I have only the highest praise for the library, and this is not because you are sitting here. It has been a great help, always, but the changes that have been made here in recent years have really been so helpful in my work that I really wouldn’t know how I could have done this without your help.

BRODMAN: What changes are you referring to? It’s always pleasing to hear that it’s been helpful.

SILBERBERG: The greatest help to me has been the computerization of the reference library. The help that these people have given me, the amount of work that they have saved me, is just phenomenal. But I also want to stress a personal point of view. I have found that everybody in this library is so helpful and so accommodating that it is really a joy to work here. It isn’t embarrassing to ask questions. You really feel that these people make it their job to be helpful.

BRODMAN: We would hope so, but I suspect it’s because you are so very nice to them. Don’t you feel the same way in the libraries in Europe, in Zurich and elsewhere?

SILBERBERG: They are very helpful, yes, and personally very, very nice. But the facilities are not what they are here. Switzerland is a very small country. Many journals are available only in one set of copies. They never tire of getting things for me, but of course it takes a little while and if somebody else happens to have a volume that you [want], you have to wait. So the conveniences here are just marvelous. The same thing has been said to me over and over again by visitors whom I had here.

BRODMAN: We’re very pleased. The main library at the University of Jerusalem is a very, very good one. I knew Dr. Wortman, who was the librarian. His wife is a pediatrician. They used to come to Washington (D.C.) when I was there. The medical school library was just being settled when I was last in Mount Scopus so I really don’t know how that is doing. It was down in the main part of Jerusalem before they took back Scopus in the 1967 war. I’ll have to make that an excuse to come and visit.

SILBERBERG: You certainly have to, and I hope very soon.

BRODMAN: That’s very kind of you. I have finished all the questions I had on my list, but you perhaps have something you would like to say that I didn’t think to ask.

SILBERBERG: Well, I don’t think so. At this moment I can’t think of anything, but I certainly want to thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk to you.

BRODMAN: We thank you. It’s been awfully good of you to give us this perspective and all this time. We’ll miss you when you go and we hope when you have need of us you’ll just write and we’ll send you the photocopies.

SILBERBERG: I certainly will do that. I’m very glad to have this [option] because I know there will be things that I may be looking for and not finding over there.

BRODMAN: Thank you very much.

SILBERBERG: Thank you, Dr. Brodman.

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