Hiltgunt Margret Zassenhaus, M.D.

(1916 - 2004)


Dr. H. Margret Zassenhaus was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1916.  She has lived in the Baltimore area since coming to the United States in 1952.  She has been in private practice since 1954, specializing in internal medicine and has hospital privileges at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Maryland General Hospital.

Dr. Zassenhaus is best known for her work against the Nazis prior to and during World War II.  Her first act of defiance was as a schoolgirl when she refused to salute Hitler as ordered.  One day, out of desperation she broke a classroom window rather than obey the order, and, as a result, she was left alone.

During the years that followed she earned a degree in Scandinavian languages while taking medical classes at the same time.  After completing her studies, she was hired by the German Department of Justice to censor mail written by Jews in Polish ghettos to friends and relatives in Scandinavia.  She used this opportunity to pursue her work against the Nazis. Instead of deleting passages from the letters, she wrote messages in
the margins asking for help and offering hope.

Later when she was given a more responsible position, that of supervisor of Scandinavian political prisoners, she saw this as an opportunity to do even more.  She put herself at greater risk.  But because she worked for the German Department of Justice and ranked above the guards and officials in the camps, the Nazis were fearful of her. Thus, she was able to carry out her work with relative ease.  Through her efforts and connections with the underground, she was able to save 1,200 prisoners from execution. In 1952, she followed up on an offer made by William Anderson, a physiology professor at the University of Maryland Medical School and came to Baltimore.  She became a U.S. Citizen in 1957.

Zassenhaus has written two books about her wartime experience: Halt Wacht im Dunkel (On Guard in the Dark), published in 1948 and Walls, published in 1974.  She received a Nobel Prize nomination for Walls.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 1986.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001