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Ludwig Guttmann

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Ludwig Guttmann
Born(1899-07-03)3 July 1899
Died18 March 1980(1980-03-18) (aged 80)
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
CitizenshipGermany, United Kingdom
Known forFounding the Paralympic Games
Medical career
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society

Sir Ludwig Guttmann CBE FRS[1] (3 July 1899 – 18 March 1980) was a German-British[2] neurologist who established the Stoke Mandeville Games, the sporting event for people with disabilities (PWD) that evolved in England into the Paralympic Games. A Jewish doctor who fled Nazi Germany just before the start of the Second World War, Guttmann was a founding father of organized physical activities for people with disabilities.[3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Ludwig Guttmann was born on 3 July 1899 to a German Jewish family, in the town of Tost, Upper Silesia, in the former German Empire (now Toszek in southern Poland), the son of Dorothy (née Weissenberg) and Bernard Guttmann, a distiller.[7][8][9] When Guttmann was three years old, the family moved to the Silesian city of Königshütte (today Chorzów, Poland).

In 1917, while volunteering at an accident hospital in Königshütte, he encountered his first paraplegic patient, a coal miner with a spinal fracture who later died of sepsis.[7] That same year, Guttmann passed his Abitur at the humanistic grammar school in Königshütte before being called up for military service.

Guttmann started his medical studies in April 1918 at the University of Breslau. He transferred to the University of Freiburg in 1919 and received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1924.

Escape to Britain[edit]

By 1933, Guttmann was working in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) as a neurosurgeon and lecturing at the university.[10] He learned from the pioneer of neurosurgery, Otfrid Foerster, at his research institute. Despite having worked successfully as first assistant to Foerster, Guttmann was expelled from his university appointment and his job in 1933 under the Nuremberg Laws, and his title was changed to "Krankenbehandler" (one who treats the sick).[11] With the arrival of the Nazis in power, Jews were banned from practising medicine professionally; Guttmann was assigned to work at the Breslau Jewish Hospital, where he became medical director in 1937.[10] Following the violent attacks on Jewish people and properties during Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit any patients without question. The following day, he justified his decision on a case-by-case basis with the Gestapo. Out of 64 admissions, 60 patients were saved from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.[12]

In early 1939, Guttmann and his family left Germany because of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. An opportunity for escape had come when the Nazis provided him with a visa and ordered him to travel to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.[13] Guttmann was scheduled to return to Germany via London, when the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) arranged for him to remain in the United Kingdom. He arrived in Oxford, England, on 14 March 1939 with his wife, Else Samuel Guttmann, and their two children: a son, Dennis, and a daughter, Eva, aged six.[7] CARA negotiated with the British Home Office on their behalf, and gave Guttmann and his family £250 (equivalent to £20,000 in 2023) to help settle in Oxford.

Guttmann continued his spinal injury research at the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in the Radcliffe Infirmary. For the first few weeks after arrival the family resided in the Master's Lodge of Balliol College (with the Master Sandie Lindsay) until they moved into a small semi-detached house in Lonsdale Road.[14] Both children were offered free places by the headmistress of Greycotes School. The family were members of the Oxford Jewish community, and Eva remembers becoming friendly with Miriam Margolyes, now a famous actress.[15] The Jewish community in Oxford was growing rapidly as a result of the influx of displaced academic Jews from Europe.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Guttmann and his family stayed in the home of Lord Lindsay, CARA Councillor and Master of Balliol College.[16]

Stoke Mandeville and Paralympic Games[edit]

In September 1943, the British government asked Guttmann to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.[7] The initiative came from the Royal Air Force to make sure the treatment and rehabilitation of pilots with spine injuries, "who often crashed on approach with their bombers damaged".[17] When the centre opened on 1 February 1944, the United Kingdom's first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries, Guttmann was appointed its director (a position he held until 1966). He believed that sport was an important method of therapy for the rehabilitation of injured military personnel, helping them build up physical strength and self-respect.[18]

Guttmann became a naturalised British citizen in 1945.[19] He organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled war veterans, which was held at the hospital on 29 July 1948, the same day as the opening of the London Olympics. All participants had spinal cord injuries and competed in wheelchairs.[18] In an effort to encourage his patients to take part in national events, Guttmann used the term Paraplegic Games. These came to be known as the "Paralympic Games", which grew to include other disabilities.

Guttmann presenting gold medal to Tony South at the 1968 Summer Paralympics in Tel Aviv

By 1952, more than 130 international competitors had entered the Stoke Mandeville Games. As the annual event continued to grow, the ethos and efforts by all those involved started to impress the organisers of the Olympic Games and members of the international community. At the 1956 Stoke Mandeville Games, Guttmann was awarded the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for his meritorious achievement in service to the Olympic movement through the social and human value derived from wheelchair sports.

His vision of an international games, the equivalent of the Olympic Games themselves, was realised in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held alongside the official 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Known at the time as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, and organised with the support of the World Federation of Ex-servicemen (an International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled), they are now recognised as the first Paralympic Games. (The term "Paralympic Games" was retroactively applied by the IOC in 1984.)[20]

In 1961, Guttmann founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled, which would later become known as the English Federation of Disability Sport.

Later life[edit]

Guttmann was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1950 King's Birthday Honours, as "Neurological Surgeon in charge of the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Stoke Mandeville".[21] On 28 June 1957, he was made an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John.[22]

He was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966.[10]

In 1961, Guttmann founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia, now the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS); he was the inaugural president of the society, a position that he held until 1970.[23] He became the first editor of the journal, Paraplegia (now named Spinal Cord).[24] He retired from clinical work in 1966 but continued his involvement with sport.[24]

Guttmann had a heart attack in October 1979, and died on 18 March 1980 at the age of 80.[7][failed verification][8][25] He is buried at the Bushey Jewish Cemetery outside of London. [2]


Guttmann on a 2013 Russian stamp from the series "Sports Legends"

Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the National Centre for Disability Sport in the United Kingdom, was developed by him alongside the hospital.[26]

A specialist neurorehabilitation hospital in Barcelona, the Institut Guttmann, is named in his honour.[27] The founder of this, the first rehabilitation clinic for paraplegics in Spain, was Guillermo González Gilbey, who himself had paraplegia and made great progress in England with Ludwig Guttmann.

In June 2012, a life-sized cast-bronze statue of Guttmann was unveiled at Stoke Mandeville Stadium as part of the run-up to the London 2012 Summer Paralympics and Olympic Games. After the Games, it was moved to its permanent home at the National Spinal Injuries Centre.[28] Guttmann's daughter, Eva Loeffler, was appointed the mayor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games athletes' village.[29]

In August 2012, the BBC broadcast The Best of Men, a TV film about Guttmann's work at Stoke Mandeville during and after the Second World War. The film, written by Lucy Gannon, starred Eddie Marsan as Dr. Guttmann and Rob Brydon as one of the seriously injured patients, who were given a purpose in life by the doctor.

The Sir Ludwig Guttmann Centre is an NHS facility providing GP, Orthopaedic and Sports and Exercise Medicine outpatient services as well as imaging on the site of the 2012 Olympic village.

The Sir Ludwig Guttmann Lectureship was established by the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (now ISCoS) to recognize Guttmann's pioneering work and lifelong contribution to spinal cord care.[24]

The Ludwig Guttmann Prize of the German Medical Society for Paraplegia is awarded for "excellent scientific work in the field of clinical research on spinal cord injury".[30]

On 24 October 2013, a commemorative plaque was unveiled by the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) at the National Spinal Injuries Centre to celebrate Guttmann's life and work. As an active member of the AJR, he had served on the board for more than 25 years.[10]

In 2019 the National Paralympic Heritage Centre, a small accessible museum, was opened at Stoke Mandeville Stadium celebrating the birthplace of the Paralympics, sharing the collections of the early Paralympic Movement and the central role played by Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann.

On 3 July 2021, a Google Doodle of Guttmann was featured on the Google homepage for Guttmann's 122nd birthday.[31][32]

Selected publications[edit]

  • 1959. The Place of Our Spinal Paraplegic Fellow-Man in Society: A Survey on 2000 Patients. Dame Georgina Buller Memorial Lecture.
  • 1973. Spinal Cord Injuries: Comprehensive Management and Research. Blackwell Science. ISBN 978-0-632-09680-0.
  • 1973. "Sport and Recreation for the Mentally and Physically Handicapped" in The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. 1973; 93(4): 208–21, PMID 4276814.
  • 1976. Textbook of Sport for the Disabled. Aylesbury: HM+M. ISBN 978-0-85602-055-1.

2023. "PARA LEGACY". Peter Langton. (Para Legacy on YouTube)



  1. ^ Whitteridge, David (1983). "Ludwig Guttmann. 3 July 1899 – 18 March 1980". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 29: 226–244. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1983.0010. JSTOR 769803.
  2. ^ a b "Guttmann, Sir Ludwig (1899–1980)". Wellcome Library. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  3. ^ Bedbrook, G. (1982). "International Medical Society of Paraplegia first Ludwig Guttmann Memorial Lecture". Paraplegia. 20 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1038/sc.1982.1. PMID 7041053.
  4. ^ Ross, J. C.; Harris, P. (1980). "Tribute to Sir Ludwig Guttmann". Paraplegia. 18 (3): 153–156. doi:10.1038/sc.1980.27. PMID 6997807.
  5. ^ Rossier, A. B.; Fam, B. A. (1979). "From intermittent catheterisation to catheter freedom via urodynamics: A tribute to Sir Ludwig Guttmann". Paraplegia. 17 (1): 73–85. doi:10.1038/sc.1979.17. PMID 492753. S2CID 12721123.
  6. ^ Scruton, J. (1979). "Sir Ludwig Guttmann: Creator of a sports movement for the paralysed and other disabled". Paraplegia. 17 (1): 52–55. doi:10.1038/sc.1979.13. PMID 158734.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann". poppaguttmanncelebration.org. The Poppa Guttmann Trust. 2010. Archived from the original on 18 August 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b GRO – Register of Deaths – MAR 1980 19 1000 Aylesbury, Ludwig Guttmann, DoB = 3 July 1899
  9. ^ "Plarr's Lives of the Fellows: Guttman, Sir Ludwig (1899 – 1980)". livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk. Royal College of Surgeons. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d "AJR Honors Sir Ludwig Guttmann". holocaustremembrance.com. IHRA. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  11. ^ Silver, JR (8 February 2005). "History of the treatment of spinal injuries". Postgraduate Medical Journal. 81 (952): 108–114. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2004.019992. PMC 1743190. PMID 15701743.
  12. ^ Hicks, Cherrill (3 August 2012). "Paralympics founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann's legacy celebrated in BBC drama". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 20 August 2012.
  13. ^ "How CARA helped Ludwig Guttmann, Creator of the Paralympics". cara1933.org. CARA. 2012. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014.
  14. ^ Kinchin, Perilla (2006). Seven Roads in Summertown: Voices from an Oxford Suburb. White Cockade Publishing. pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-1-873487-13-6.
  15. ^ Jackson, Freda Silver (1992). Then and Now: A collection of recollections: to commemorate the 150th anniversary Oxford Jewish Congregation, 1842–1992. Oxford Jewish Congregation. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-9519253-1-7.
  16. ^ "Interview with Eva Loeffler, April 2011" (PDF). mandevillelegacy.org.uk. Buckinghamshire County Council. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  17. ^ Probst, Jürgen (October 2013). "Gedenken der jüdischen Mitglieder der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Unfallheilkunde, Versicherungs- und Versorgungsmedizin" [Memory of the Jewish members of the German Society for Accident Medicine, Insurance and Medical Care] (PDF). Orthopädie und Unfallchirurgie Mitteilungen und Nachrichten: 606–613.
  18. ^ a b Druzin, Randi (5 September 2008). "Paralympics traces roots to Second World War". CBC.ca. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  19. ^ Vanlandewijck, Yves C.; Thompson, Walter R., eds. (2011). ""Chapter 1: Background to the Paralytic movement"". The Paralympic Athlete: Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science (Olympic Handbook of Sports Medicine). Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4443-3404-3.
  20. ^ "Paralympics History". paralympic.org. International Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  21. ^ "No. 38929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1950. pp. 2786–2787.
  22. ^ "No. 41122". The London Gazette. 9 April 1957. pp. 4097–4098.
  23. ^ "About ISCoS – ISCoS Presidents". iscos.org.uk. International Spinal Cord Society. Archived from the original on 30 April 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  24. ^ a b c "About ISCoS – Sir Ludwig Guttmann Lecture". iscos.org.uk. International Spinal Cord Society. Archived from the original on 7 May 2009. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  25. ^ Bailey, Steve (2008). Athlete First: A history of the Paralympic Movement. John Wiley & Sons. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-470-05824-4.
  26. ^ "Stoke Mandeville Stadium". stokemandevillestadium.co.uk. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  27. ^ "The Institution – History". Institut Guttmann. 5 June 2015. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Paralympics founder Ludwig Guttmann's statue unveiled at Stoke Mandeville". BBC News. 25 June 2012. Archived from the original on 2 July 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  29. ^ "Paralympics Games: Founder Ludwig Guttmann would be 'proud'". BBC News. 28 August 2012. Archived from the original on 31 August 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  30. ^ "Ludwig-Guttmann-Award". dmpg.de. German-speaking Medical Society for Paraplegiology. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  31. ^ "Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann's 122nd Birthday". Google Doodles. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  32. ^ "Sir Ludwig Guttmann Birth Anniversary: Google Doodle Honours Father of the Paralympic Games". News18. 3 July 2021. Retrieved 3 July 2021.


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