On the Knife’s Edge.
The Surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch: between Medicine and Myth

Sauerbruch – the myth: like no other physician, Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875-1951) represents the epitome of a surgeon. At the same time, opinion is divided. In the operating theatre, he was devoted to treating all of his patients equally. As surgeon general and research reviewer, however, he knew about the practice of performing criminal human experiments in concentration camps and did not raise his voice against it. How were these two positions reconciled? Who was the man? How did he become an ambivalent idol?

The exhibition aims to present ‘the whole Sauerbruch’. It charts his career from petit bourgeois beginnings through the main stations in his life, from Breslau to Zürich and Munich to Berlin. His medical achievements—such as the development of a low-pressure chamber enabling operations on the open chest and the construction of an actively moveable prosthesis for the arm—are highlighted.

The exhibition also follows him on the public and political stage, addressing his ambivalent attitude towards National Socialism. It becomes clear how his reputation grew even more following the end of World War II, which he experienced performing operations in the bunker of the Charité’s Surgical Clinic. To this day, the figure of Sauerbruch profoundly shapes the image of the ‘medical demigod in white’.