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  Walter Holtzapfel Biographical Portrait - In Memoriam

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By: Gisbert Husemann, M.D.
pgs. 1-6.doc

Certain key points are clearly of significance in this biography. Below, an attempt is made to create a portrait from these in remembrance of a friend who is no longer with us.

Walter Holtzapfel was born in Kiel, Germany on 28 June 1912. He died in Ariesheim on 13 January 1994. His father had been a lieutenant commander in the German navy stationed at Kiel. He died in a fatal accident during trials with remote-controlled submarines in 1917. Though only five years old at the time, Walter Holtzapfel did retain some memories of his father. His mother was a Baroness of Rheinhaben, member of a family with a long tradition as army officers based in Potsdam. (In spite of this military background, her son was entirely unmilitary by nature.) His younger sister Claere went to the Stuttgart Waldorf School and also studied medicine. She was to marry his colleague Gustav Hartmann, school doctor in Rommelsbach/Reutlingen. His mother later married the physician, Enno Mueller-Juergens. Walter was to write his obituary in 1967.(1) At the age of 13 Walter went to the secondary modern school in Niebuell on the North Sea coast. The fatherless boy became particularly attached to one of the teachers, who had a good influence on him. There are many lakes in the part of Germany between North Sea and Baltic Sea. Many of the men there are fishermen by trade and the young people practically live on the water. Young Walter would go sailing whenever possible, developing considerable skill on Lake Gotteskoog. (As late as 1991 he went sailing on the Lake of Zurich in stormy weather; he reached the shore safely and was applauded by the crowd). On the one hand sailors must take account of the winds, and be flexible in adapting to them, on the other they must have the helm firmly in hand. Through the sense of balance the helmsman's body becomes part of the wind and the waves.

Walter finished school in 1931 and moved to Freiburg/Breisgau to study medicine. A first key point in his life came when he went to Dornach with a group of young people to visit the Goetheanum as a tourist. (It was only after this that he came across the anthroposophic study group of young medics in Freiburg.) In the Medical Section room at the Goetheanum, which he himself was later to occupy with three colleagues, the 19-year-old student met Ita Wegman. That year, a small group of physicians had started to meet and study together in Basel; they were also able to see anthroposophic medicine in action at the Ariesheim clinic. Ita Wegman had responded to their request and provided the opportunity, offering accommodation and meals at the clinic at a modest charge. These courses continued from 1930/31 until shortly before World War 2 and were held twice a year. W. Holtzapfel took part in 1933, on the invitation of Elwine Conrad from Ulm, who was later to be his wife. In January 1933, Walter Holtzapfel became a member of the Anthroposophical Society. He took his finals in Freiburg in 1937. There followed the usual clinical years, and he also entered more deeply into anthroposophic medicine by taking locum positions, working at the Burghalde clinic - then with Dr. Use Knauer as medical director - and becoming involved in the scientific work at the Wiesneck Sanatorium (Friedrich Husemann Clinic). He was drafted into the army in 1941, which was also the year when he became engaged to Elwine Conrad. They were able to attend the Christmas midnight mass held at St George's Church in Hagenau, near the Odilienberg mountain. In 1942 they were married by a Christian community priest in a room at the clinic under conditions of strict secrecy. It was the time when anthroposophy was banned. The same year W. Holtzapfel was posted to a military isolation hospital in Kiev. The war, which brought disease and death for millions, became for him a highly personal element of destiny. He contracted typhus and was unfit for active service for a whole year. In 1944 he was posted as medical officer to an artillery unit in Russia, ultimately finding himself in the pocket at Brody. There a key event took place which will be discussed later.

Wounded, he went to hospital and then to the Western front, and in 1945 he was released from a French war prison. At his parent-in-law's home in Ulm he found his wife and the young daughter who had been born in the meantime. They established a group practice and were among the founders of the Ulm Waldorf School, which opened its doors in 1947. Two daughters were born to them, and Holtzapfel became the school doctor. The flexibility developed when sailing had its inner equivalent in sensitive awareness of childhood development. He loved being with children (later also his grandchildren) and had a real understanding for the different phases of youth, something which would also have made him a good pediatrician. The work at the school resulted in medical/educational images of copper, gold and the iron process for medicinal use in the early, middle and later stages of youth.(2)

Then came the invitation to work at a curative education institution in Switzerland. He was there for two years (1961/62) before returning to his family who had moved to Arlesheim because of better educational oppor- tunities for the children. Walter Holtzapfel became school doctor in Basel, gave courses for the nurses at the clinic, and was involved in training curative education teachers. This work also resulted in the publication of the original work: "Point and Circle in Rudolf Steiner's Curative Education Course."(3) He started with the geometric image and related this to specific pathological conditions. The epileptic child is as if fixed to a point in an internal organ, a maniacal child appears to be swept along by peripheral forces, and so on, with four more examples where the geometric image offered a useful approach.

The last essay to be written as part of his continued work on the cancer problem was on "paraneoplastic tumors."(4) Here he solved a medical mystery: the tumors, which are entirely different by nature and appear separately in both space and time, are mirrored by the two groups of principles, the lower (physical and etheric) and the higher (astral and ego). He based this on Chapter 15 in Fundamentals of Therapy where two diseases that are distinct from each other are shown to be due to separation between the higher and lower principles. A magnificent solution! I said to him at the time that I felt that this was his most significant discovery. And he agreed with me. He studied the Fundamentals of Therapy so thoroughly that chapters of it became transparent to him, revealing ancient mysteries. Holtzapfel's name will be remembered in connection with the fact that this work presents a new initiate medicine. These things did not come easily, however, for that was not his nature. The calm contemplation of empirical research was equally applied to guiding principles of the spirit. He brought them into equilibrium. Walter Holtzapfel thus was a Goethean scientist of anthroposophic medicine, and this made him a teacher of anthroposophy.

In 1964 Walter Holtzapfel was asked by Dr. Kirchner-Bockholt to join the group of four at the Medical Section (with Dr. Kirchner-Bockholt, Madeleine van Deventer and Dr. Hans Bleiker). He was now appointed to the place he had first visited as an outsider exactly 33 years ago. Dr. Ita Wegman, whom he had met on that first occasion, had now been dead for 21 years. But the visit of the 19-year-old and his present appointment had one thing in common, for compared to his new colleagues he was again coming from the outside. Some thought must be given to the 33-year interval. The archetype of it are the 33 years from the birth in Bethlehem to the resurrection. Christian evolution in the Western world has condensed this period into the cycle of the year. The period which passes between the birth celebrated at Christmas and Easter, the feast of resurrection, reflects the 33 years. Out of this period within the year, which may be seen as a symbolic period of time, religious ritual seeks to gain access to the eternal truths of the spirit. What does this time interval signify in the life of the individual? It indicates that in an individual who may be quite unassuming something appears that goes well beyond the personal level and is part of world history. It is a hidden germinal principle, with the Christmas 1929 element becoming the Easter 1964 element.

Five years later, at the age of 52, he became the leader of the Medical Section until succeeded by F. Lorenz in 1977. During this time, his work was rich and varied, with lectures, courses and travels. He visited the United States, Mexico, Canada, England and the Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Denmark. Wherever he went listeners expected him to show an immediate interest in local conditions and do them justice. He was able to lecture in English and to meet the tremendous and varied demands because in mind and spirit he had the helm firmly in hand, taking his inner orientation from continued study of anthroposophy. He was able to sense the particular needs of an audience and maintained a balance between these and a considerable staying power and inner certainty. The skills acquired as a schoolboy in dealing with wind and water were now tested to the full, becoming scales to be held in balance at a higher level. The books he published on the basis of his work as a teacher were not huge tomes, but succinct, written in a clear, unemotional style which nevertheless held the attention. When the editor of the anthroposophic medical journal received a manuscript in his handwriting he always knew this would be an original piece of work. Walter Holtzapfel's commentaries on certain chapters of Fundamentals of Therapy also include distinctly subtle trains of thought.

We now come to the key event that happened in the Brody pocket in Russia in 1944. General events that proved disastrous for all concerned became an individual karmic imperative. In a position where orders are no longer given, every individual has to take care of himself, and our friend, having taken a different direction from the rest, found himself on his own. At that moment, the 32-year-old heard a voice beside him: "Bend down!" We can only do justice to this by comparing it to a situation described by Rudolf Steiner. In Neuchatel the two-word imperative had been "Stand still!" The person concerned found himself on the edge of a precipice in the early dawn; he would have fallen to his death had he taken another step. He was saved by a voice when no physical human being was present.(5) "Bend down!" - a bullet went through Holtzapfel's cap, just missing his head. Another bullet took away a finger. And who spoke the words that saved him? Rudolf Steiner: "That is how Christian Rosenkreutz calls people to be his pupils." "We look in awe on a heart and mind in which the seed of a great destiny has been sown, and which must wait for the development that will follow such a conception."(6) This revelation and the 33-year rhythm no doubt belong together, complementing each other. The inner rhythm of life is taken up into the karmic event. The scales now had their hypomochlion (Greek for firm support from below). In coming upright, the I was firm in recognizing its task. From depths of spirit the call had come from outside.

We were able to walk part of the way with an individual whose work is of world significance. Living with anthroposophy had created a bond of friendship that was for life and would never break, even if opinions differed. Because of this friendship, Mrs. Elwine Holtzapfel gave us personal glimpses of the last months, weeks and days of her husband's life. He read R. Steiner's Truth and Knowledge.(7) A paragraph from the preface is reprinted below because of the marginal comments.

The outcome of what follows is that truth is not, as is usually assumed, an ideal reflection of something real, but a product of the human spirit, created by an activity which is free and independent; this product would exist nowhere if we did not create it ourselves. The object of gaining perceptive insight is not to repeat in conceptual form something which already exists, but rather to create a completely new sphere which only offers complete reality if seen in conjunction with the world we perceive through the senses. The highest human activity, creative activity of the human mind and spirit, is an organic part of the general progress of the world. Without it, the progress of the world could not be conceived as a whole complete in itself. Human beings are not idle onlookers observing the progress of the world, merely recapitulating in their minds images of events that take place in the cosmos and in which they are not involved. They take an active part in the creation of the world's progress. Perceptive insight is the most perfect thing in the organism of the universe.

In the margin below this paragraph our friend wrote three comments during the last weeks of his life:

Life theme, Confession of faith, Inscription on grave stone: Truth will set you free.

The last words spoken the night before our friend died, when he left the curtains open at the center, which was not his usual habit, were: "There must be more light." The etheric light arising inside went to meet the external light: "0 Sun, the souls of the dead go towards your ray. When human beings have died, their souls stream out into the great expanse of the cosmos on the paths of the sunlight (coming towards us), but in the opposite direction."(8) Those last words held an experience of the senses and of things beyond the realm of the senses. The beginning, when he was born four days after St John's Day, and the end which came in midwinter, are like a great arc of life as a whole drawn by the I itself: Given up to the external light, becoming aware of the inner light of the spirit. These two notes are brought together in the following words, spoken by our friend himself: A star guides the I along earth's paths to its spiritual home.

Gisbert Husemann, MD Friedrich-List-Str. 27 D-737600stfildem Germany References

1 Beitr Erw Heilk Nr.5,1967.
2 Beitr Erw Heilk Nr.3,1955.
3 BeitrErwHeilkNr.4,1975.
4 Merkurstab Nr.4,1987.
5 Steiner R Das esoterische Christentum und die geistige Fuehmng der Menschheit. Domach 1977.
6 Goethe, Kindred by Choice.
7 Steiner R. Truth and Knowledge (GA 3). Bound together with The Philosophy of Spiritual Actvity.
Tr. R Stebbing. West Nyack, NY: Rudolf Steiner Publications 1963.
8 Steiner R. Menschenfragen und Weltenantworten (human questions and cosmic answers)
(GA 213).

A bibliography of W. Holtzapfel's books, papers and essays has been published in Merkurstab

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