Refugee Doctors

Escape is only the first challenge.


Though they lived decades apart, Adolphe Dessauer and Abdelwahhab Azzawi share similar stories. They were both esteemed physicians who faced violence and persecution in their home countries. They both sought refuge abroad and found safety, only to find themselves facing a new struggle—getting permission to practice medicine in their new homes.

Dessauer, a Jewish doctor, fled Germany for the United States in 1938. Azzawi, a 36-year-old ophthalmologist from Syria, found asylum in Germany in 2015. Both men’s lives were spared through the generosity of their new countries, but they had to struggle to give back in the most meaningful way they could—by sharing their medical expertise.

In 2016 every American Nobel laureate in science was an immigrant. And it wasn’t just that year; U.S. winners often are born abroad. Yet as global an enterprise as science has become, navigating bureaucracy and straddling boundaries seems to be as difficult in the 21st century as during World War II.

This podcast was inspired by a painting once owned by Adolphe Dessauer. The painting is now part of the CHF exhibition Things Fall Apart.

Show Clock 

00:13 Intro
01:35 The German doctor 
14:28 The Syrian doctor 


HostsMichal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez 
Reporter: Catherine Girardeau 
Audio EngineerCatherine Girardeau


Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. Additional music is courtesy of the Audio Network.