Hans Kraus (1905–1995) - physician, physical therapist, mountaineer, and alpinist - was a pioneer of modern rock climbing, as well as being one of the fathers of sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Kraus was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1974.
Kraus attended medical school in Vienna in the 1920s, against his fathers' wishes, becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Through his subsequent practice he developed a philosophy of treatment at odds with traditional medicine of the time. He would evolve this method, called "immediate mobilization", over his entire medical career. Passing his medical exams in New York, Kraus continued developing unique methods of fracture treatment, applying them to all kinds of athletes. He become especially well known in skiing circles.
In the 1950s, Kraus was behind a push by the Appalachian Mountain Club to regulate climbing in the Shawangunks, and to install a safety code to prevent climbing accidents. This safety code led to conflicts with Lester Germer and The Vulgarians, and was later abandoned.
Kraus warned Americans that children were not getting enough exercise and were watching too much television. Along with Bonnie Prudden, he campaigned for better physical exercise programs for children, and authored several books on exercise, sports medicine, and physical therapy. Eisenhower championed Kraus and his campaign to get Americans to exercise. However, by 1957, it was clear that Kraus was unsuccessful. Kraus was broadly opposed by the AMA and gym teachers (who felt Kraus was disparaging to their leadership) and many Americans, as Sports Illustrated reported in 1957, who worried that mandatory exercise programs for children would "Hitlerize American youth."
Kraus also continued to develop a unique approach to treating back pain in collaboration with another doctor, Sonja Weber. They developed an understanding of the underlying causes of back pain and devised the K-W Test and exercises to alleviate it.
Kraus was an Associate Professor at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine. His studies on children led to President Dwight D. Eisenhower establishing the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. In October 1961, Kraus became President Kennedy’s secret White House back doctor. The story of Kennedy’s back had never prior been reported, although there was much speculation; but Kraus and Kennedy’s two other White House doctors had sworn confidentiality. In April 2006, over ten years after Kraus’s death, Kraus’s widow donated Kraus’s White House medical records on Kennedy to the Kennedy Library. They are now available to historians as well as the general public. Additionally, some of author Susan E.B. Schwartz’s book interview tapes of Hans Kraus are also archived in the Kennedy Library and available for research.
Kraus’s medical records show that by the time of Kennedy’s death in Dallas, using exercise, Kraus had virtually cured Kennedy of his lifelong back pain. Kraus’s White House medical records also contain several entries about Kennedy’s back corset, which Kennedy had worn since Harvard. As Kraus wrote in the medical records, Kraus had grown convinced that the corset was impeding Kennedy’s recovery and that Kennedy needed permanently to stop wearing it. Finally, in October 1963, Kennedy told Kraus that he would stop wearing his corset permanently in January 1964. Several leading presidential historians, including James Reston and Robert Dallek, have theorized that Kennedy might have survived Dallas if he had not been wearing his corset.
Kraus maintained a multi-tiered, elastic billing system; for climbers and people he knew personally, or anyone who he thought would have trouble paying, he charged nothing; he charged partial payment for middle class patients, and regular rates for wealthy patients and celebrities.
As a young man Kraus fell in love with the mountains, spending as much time as possible hiking and climbing. In his teenage years, Hans learned to climb in the Dolomites. Among his friends and climbing partners were Emilio Comici and Gino Soldà. He would later bring the Dolomite techniques of high-angle face climbing to the United States
In 1940 he met Fritz Wiessner, who would become a lifelong friend and climbing partner. Wiessner had discovered the Shawangunks in 1935 and together Hans and Fritz spent every spare day developing routes in the area. Wiessner was known for his outstanding free climbing technique; Kraus' specialty was aid climbing. Thus, the two men's climbing skills complemented each other. While both men enjoyed climbing with women (notably with Bonnie Prudden, an accomplished climber in her own right), they continued to climb together, with often spectacular results. One of Kraus' and Fritz' most significant efforts at the Gunks was High Exposure, a bold 5.6 that involves a blind reach around an overhung corner 150 feet up in the air; the route still confounds novice climbers. Done in 1941, with a hemp rope and three soft-iron pitons for protection, High Exposure was a world-class accomplishment. Other significant Kraus first ascents in the Gunks included: Northern Pillar 5.2 (The first technical rock climb in The Trapps; Three Pines 5.3; Horseman 5.5; Madame Grunnebaum's Wulst 5.6; Easy Overhang 5.2;Bitchy Virgin5.7R (the first "R" rated climb in the Shawangunks); and Emilio 5.7 (The first aid climb in the Gunks- Hans and Fritz employed a shoulder stand)
By the end of the 1940s, the Shawangunks had fifty-eight documented climbing routes. 26 of these were first ascents by Kraus; 23 were by Wiessner.
Kraus was born in Trieste, Austria and was taught English as a youth by James Joyce. In 1938 the Kraus family fled Europe, just ahead of World War II, this time to the United States. They settled in New York. Kraus was not allowed to enlist in the U.S. military because he had been born in Trieste, which had belonged to the Habsburg Empire at the time of Kraus' birth. Therefore, he was technically considered an "enemy alien", even though he was a legal immigrant, and a Jew. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945.
Sometime in the late 1930s (precise date unknown; pre-1938), Kraus married Susanne Simon. The marriage was apparently not a happy one, and they separated in 1944 and were divorced in the 1950s.
In 1951, Kraus made the acquaintance of Jim McCarthy, a young Princeton University undergraduate and up and coming climber. The two soon became fast friends and climbing partners, and McCarthy would go on to be Kraus' personal lawyer.
In 1984 at the age of 79, Kraus stopped climbing completely, due to arthritis, and the cumulative effects of various injuries. His last climb was Easy Overhang, a route he had done the first ascent of in 1941.
In 1995 Kraus was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died peacefully on the morning of March 6, 1996 in his New York City apartment, holding his daughters hand. His ashes were carried up the High Exposure buttress by an old friend and scattered into the air at the top.
- Hans Kraus, M.D. (#345) – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
- An exercise guru helped ease JFK's back pain – The Boston Globe
- New Finding Reveals President John F. Kennedy's New Exercise Routine Was Healing His Back Pain
- The Standard – How steel back brace made JFK a sitting duck in Dallas – Opinion Section
- The Atlantic | December 2002 | The Medical Ordeals of JFK | Dallek
- Schwartz, Susan E.B. (2005) Into The Unknown: The Remarkable Life of Hans Kraus
- Williams, Richard (2005) Shawangunk Rock Climbs: The Trapps esp History