G is for Ludwig Guttmann

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Ludwig GuttmannNow and then there is a coming together of events and circumstance, a synchronicity that cannot be ignored, and then the moment has almost passed and you realise you’ve nearly missed the boat.

Of course, I’m speaking of today’s ABC Wednesday letter G and the opening of the Paralympics founded by Ludwig ‘Poppa’ Guttmann. But hopeful,ly this doesn’t come too late.

Guttmann was born in Upper Silesia, Germany, in 1899 in what is now Toszek in Poland. He met his first patient with a spinal cord injury while working in a hospital in the city of Konigshutte in 1917.

The following year he began his medical studies at the University of Breslau and later at University of Freiberg, qualifying as a doctor in 1924. He started work at the Jewish Hospital in Breslau and had become its director by the 1930s.

Guttmann Statue at Stoke Mandeville

Guttmann Statue at Stoke Mandeville

Following Kristallnacht and the attacks on Jews and their property in 1938, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit anyone without question and thus saved 60 people from the Gestapo and the concentration camps.

He took his family out of Germany in 1939 to escape the persecution and genocide and came to England, settling in Oxford and continuing his spinal injury research at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

In 1943, the British government asked Guttmann to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire where he treated severely injured servicemen.

He was a great believer in sport as both physical and psychological therapy and organised the Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled services personnel in 1948 to coincide with the second London Olympics.

The Stoke Mandeville Games became an annual event and by 1952 there were more than 130 international competitors taking part. In 1956, Guttmann was awarded the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup by the International Olympic Committee for his ‘meritorious achievement in service to the Olympic movement through the social and human value derived from wheelchair sports’.

The Best of MenThe first Paralympics as we now know them took place alongside the XVII Olympiad in Rome in 1960.

Guttmann was awarded the OBE and MBE and was knighted in 1966 for his services to both medicine and sport. The BBC also celebrated his work in the inspirational play, The Best of Men, broadcast in August this year.

UPDATE: The Best of Men will be shown again on the BBC on Sunday, 2 September at 10pm and will be available on iPlayer soon after.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 30th August 2012

    a GREAT story, and right on time for the Paralympic Games in London!

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Mr Parrot 30th August 2012

    Thanks Roger. He was on my list for a future ABC post and it only occured to me at the last moment that it had to be this week!

  • Chrissy Brand 30th August 2012

    Of course, the perfect choice- well done!

  • rhymeswithplague 30th August 2012

    So which is it? Is G for Piers Gaveson or is G for Ludwig Guttman?

  • Kate 30th August 2012

    I know that I would choose Guttman over Gaveson any day. Odd comment from “rhymeswithplague!” Guttman was a GIANT of a man. Thanks for all the information; what a pleasure to read about such a person.

  • "Poppa" Pudding 30th August 2012

    In a world of superficial, ephemeral heroes some men and women stand out as “the real deal” – special and selfless. Ludwig Guttman was one of that rare breed and I salute him.

  • Mr Parrot 30th August 2012

    Thank you all. I’m afraid it’s both Mr Plague, so it’s double homework for everyone!

  • john 30th August 2012

    I have always respected guttman’s vision about how sport can transform spinal cord injured patients but not all patients are quite suited to his regimented rehab techniques
    a massive visionary!


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