Lives of the fellows

Aron Holzel

b.27 January 1909 d.28 October 1978
MD Prague(1933) DCH(1947) MRCPE(1964) MRCP(1965) FRCPE(1969) FRCP(1970)

Aron Holzel was born in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia which is now part of Rumania, the son of Solomon Holzel, a Jewish farmer and accountant, and of Bertha Fiderer, daughter of Isaac Fiderer, a merchant. He was educated at the Maximilian Grammar School, Vienna, and at the German University of Prague, qualifying with distinction in 1933. From 1934 to 1939 he worked in Prague as a children’s physician, holding junior posts in the Babies’ Hospital, the German Children’s Hospital and the University Polyclinic for Children’s Diseases. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Germans he escaped to England, and worked in Warwick during the war as resident assistant physician.

At the end of the war he was appointed locum consultant in paediatrics. He moved to Manchester in 1948 to join Wilfrid Gaisford in establishing the new academic department of paediatrics, and as lecturer in child health worked successively at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, the Duchess of York Hospital for Babies, and Booth Hall Children’s Hospital. In 1955 he was made senior lecturer and in 1962 reader. In 1971 he was awarded a personal chair, and on his formal retirement in 1974 he was made professor emeritus and appointed dean of postgraduate medical studies.

A member of the British Paediatric Association from 1951, he was appointed to its Council and Academic Board in 1966. He was also a member of the German, Swiss, French and Japanese Paediatric Societies, and a founder and one-time president of the European Society for Paediatric Research. In 1973 he became the first paediatric president of the Manchester Medical Society.

He died as he would have wished, after giving a paper on his favourite topic of milk allergy in babies.

Medicine was the major interest in Aron Holzel’s life, but his knowledge encompassed a wide range of cultures and disciplines. Within medicine his contributions were wide ranging, spanning medical history and philosophy, the description of new physical signs and the exploration of new aspects of pathophysiology. His most recent research was on the founding fathers of Manchester paediatrics.

Aron Holzel was a masterly clinician, observant, devoted and careful in everything he did. His research work stemmed in the first instance from clinical observations interpreted in the light of his wide embracing knowledge of pathophysiology. He was perhaps the first paediatrician to recognise the importance of milk allergy; he was the first to demonstrate the existence and nature of lactose intolerance, and he initiated the studies that led to the elucidation of the enzyme defect in galactosaemia. He was also among the first to demonstrate the role of the respiratory syncytial virus in bronchiolitis, and of staphylococcal infection in toxic epidermal necrolysis. Cystic fibrosis and infant nutrition were subjects which particularly interested him.

As a colleague he was stimulating, approachable and inexhaustibly good-natured. He could, however, be disconcertingly outspoken when he felt anyone was not living up to his professional and personal standards of conduct. Holzel was as widely respected locally as he was in the wider circles of European and world medicine, and universally liked. He brought to Manchester medicine, with its tradition of down-to-earth competence, a wider vision. His contributions to medical knowledge were on a par with his concern for his patients, and his influence lives on.

Aron Holzel married Dr Frieda Salus, daughter of Dr Richard Salus, in 1941, and their daughters are Dr Ruth Holzel, who obtained a PhD in chemistry, and Dr Helen Holzel, who became a microbiologist.

JA Davis

[, 1978, 2, 1504, 1567; Lancet, 1978, 2, 1060; Times, 4 Nov 1978]

(Volume VII, page 274)

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