May 2003 Journal

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Dr Hannah Hedwig Striesow: Distinguished citizen (profile)

Hannah Striesow, a sprightly 94-year-old, was born in Bamberg and studied medicine in Halle. Due to the Nazi restrictions, she was not allowed to graduate as MD after taking the Statsexamen. Not being permitted to practice either, she was obliged to become an assistant to a dental surgeon in Hamburg until, in 1936, she came to England. Initially, this was to visit a sister but she decided to stay, though not before going back to Germany to buy clothes, reckoning that she would not have money to buy any more, for some time at least.

As with many other refugee doctors, Hannah’s qualification was not recognised in England at the time, so she became a trainee nurse at the London Jewish Hospital, on a salary of £25 per year. Of that, some 25 shillings had to go on ‘training fees’. After three years’ training she became a staff nurse and began work as night sister at Lingfield Epileptic Colony.

In late 1939 Hannah married, but this had to be kept a secret as nurses were not permitted to marry. Her (non-Jewish) husband, Hans, was an internee on the way to Canada on the ill-fated Arandora Star, but he luckily survived by swimming away from the ship, to avoid being sucked under when the hull went down. He was to have been sent to Canada a second time, but Hannah successfully claimed the right of a married woman - that she had to give permission for her husband to be sent overseas. Her claim was successful and Hans was interned on the Isle of Man for a while.

On her husband’s release, Hannah decided that her ‘biological clock’ was ticking: if she was to have children, there was little time to waste. When she was 36, in 1944, her first son was born, followed by a second one two years later. One son became a banker, the other a schoolmaster (later headmaster). Both are now in retirement.

In 1950 Hannah was informed about the exciting possibility of her German qualification being recognised here, following a probationary period. This was a common procedure at the time as the country was short of doctors for the newly established National Health Service. Many refugee doctors had been placed on a temporary register during the war and were later transferred to the permanent register.

So, it was back to the London Jewish Hospital to renew her medical skills but, shortly before the end of this probation, Hannah had the opportunity of taking over a general practice in Forest Gate. A new career at the same time as having two young children! Within two years, she had some 3,500 patients. She retired in 1990, aged a little over 80. She still lives in the house where her practice was and remains in touch with many of her former patients.

That Hannah’s work in the community was successful is shown by the Outstanding Citizen Award given to her in 2001 by Newham Council which she proudly showed me.

At the age of 94, Hannah’s movements are naturally somewhat restricted, but her mind remains highly active. She retains the same interest in life and keeps very busy. The day after I met her, she was due to go on a visit to Germany. Long may she continue!
Paul Samet

previous article:AJR ANNUAL REPORT 2002
next article:Learning from the past: Britain’s controls on 1930s Jewish immigration