Lives of the fellows

Julius Hoenig

b.11 April 1916 d.19 February 2009
MD Prague DPM Lond FRCP(1974)

Julius Hoenig, known as ‘John’ was professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry, Memorial University, St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. He was born in Falkinow, a town near Prague in Czechoslovakia, to a Jewish family. His father, Joshua, was a merchant and his mother, Bertha née Gratzova, was the daughter of a famer, Ernest Gratz. He attended Kraslice School and then enrolled in medicine at Charles University, but was forced to flee to Glasgow in his third year when Hitler invaded the country.

After qualifying in Glasgow in 1942, John joined the RAMC. He was sent to India, then Rangoon in Burma and Singapore, following the retreating Japanese troops. He treated the injured from both sides and also civilian casualties. When the war ended in 1944 he spent three years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, before returning to the UK to study neurology and complete his psychiatric training at the Institute of Psychiatry. While there he researched the use of electroencephalography, which was then a very new investigative procedure.

Appointed a consultant in psychiatry at the St Francis Hospital, Haywards Heath in 1953, he annoyed the senior management by completely changing their current procedures. He instituted a weekly case conference, insisted on discharging long stay patients back in to the community and often changed their legal status from involuntary to voluntary status. On the recommendation of Sir William Mayer-Goss [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.275] the World Health Organization (WHO) asked John to go to India and start a psychiatric institution there. Thus he became visiting professor at the All India Institute of Mental Health in Bangalore from 1955 to 1956.

When he returned, he was invited to join the faculty at Manchester University and he spent 12 years there. He established a programme for training junior staff in the teaching hospital and the surrounding psychiatric hospitals. Instigated by John, many local hospitals developed psychiatric units to support those caring for the mentally ill at home. He supervised PhD students and wrote widely on a number of topics, including access to psychiatric services and transsexualism. Many fellow German speaking psychiatrists encouraged him to translate the important writings of Karl Jasper whose work was, at that time, unavailable in English. With M W Hamilton he published a translation of Jasper’s General psychopathology (Manchester University Press) in 1964. Five years later, also with Hamilton, he wrote The desegregation of the mentally ill (London, Routledge, 1969) and contributed a chapter on schizophrenia to Coppen and Walk’s Recent developments in schizophrenia (Kent, Headley Bros, 1967).

In 1968 a new medical school was established at Memorial University in St John’s, Newfoundland and John became professor and chair of the department of psychiatry. He welcomed the opportunity to include in the teaching of his subject aspects that had been previously neglected in North America such as phenomenology. While there he continued his intermittent work with the WHO in Asia, including three visits to Sri Lanka to help establish general hospital psychiatric units and recruiting Asian psychiatrists to fill posts in Canada.

On leaving St John’s, he moved to Toronto and continued clinical work and teaching at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. After retirement in 1992, following a stroke, he continued to translate seminal German psychiatric texts until his late 80s.

During his time in Glasgow, he met Inga née Greve, whose father, Ernst was a business executive. Inga had been evacuated from Berlin in the Kindertransport programme to rescue Jewish children. They married in 1942 and had a son and daughter. After the war they both discovered that many of their families had perished in the concentration camps including Inga’s parents and only sibling. His wife was known as a gracious hostess and, when they moved to Canada, her paintings of Newfoundland were greatly admired. Inga predeceased him in 2007 and he was survived by their children, Elizabeth, a social worker and nurse who worked for the welfare of foster children in London, UK, and Peter, who was a successful New York lawyer, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2009 339 3715]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List