Leopold Schönbauer, o. Prof. Dr. med.

13.11.1888 – 11.9.1963
born in Thaya, Austria died in Wien, Austria

Chirurg, Politiker


Ehrung Titel Datierung Faculty
Monument Gedenktafel, Altes AKH 1981 Faculty of Medicine


Rector Faculty of Medicine 1953/54

Leopold Schönbauer was a prominent surgeon and distinguished cancer researcher. He established neurosurgery in Austria and was fundamental in the beginnings of tumor radiation therapy in the interwar period. Most of all, however, he was known as the „savior of the General Hospital“ in the course of the liberation of Vienna in 1945. With „civil courage instead of opportunism“, as obituaries put it, he successfully negotiated with both war parties – SS-troops and Soviet soldiers – to keep the hospital area out of the fights in April 1945. Immediately afterwards the hospital staff voted to make him the institution’s director. This episode thus also stood at the beginning of his successful post-war career. He remained director until his retirement in 1961, became rector of the University of Vienna in 1953/54, and was a member of parliament for the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party).

Amendments to an Austrian biography

During National Socialism, Schönbauer was made a professor. From 1939 until 1945 he was vice dean of the medical faculty, managed the First Surgical University Clinic and was a member of the advisory board of the main department E (health policy and social welfare) of the municipal administration in Vienna.
At his department in the General Hospital, patients who were not considered „hereditarily healthy“ according to National Socialist ideology were sterilized. From June 1940, Schönbauer was an NSDAP party member with the number 8,121,441, supporting member of the SS and in 1943 received the NSDAP’s Treuedienstabzeichen (Civil Service Faithful Service medal) in Silver.

Between 1938 and 1945 Schönbauer travelled much and held lectures in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Budapest. His name can also be found on the list of attendees of a conference at the Military Surgeons’ Academy in Berlin, which leading National Socialist doctors also attended in May 1943.

A new beginning in 1945

Already in June 1945 the then rector of the University of Vienna, Ludwig Adamovich sen., released a statement which emphasized Schönbauer’s commitment towards patients and colleagues who were persecuted, among other things, as „Mischlinge“ („half-breeds“) during National Socialism. Adolf Schärf, later the Austrian president (SPÖ), repeatedly was Schönbauer’s patient, including during the „rescue of the General Hospital“. In May 1945 Schärf was responsible for an exemption in §27 of the Verbotsgesetz, the law prohibiting National Socialist activities, which unofficially was called the „Schönbauer-paragraph“ or „Lex Schönbauer“. Schärf wanted to enable the striking of individual National Socialists from the registration files of de-Nazification, to protect them from punishments such as occupational bans. This led to an excessive number of exemption applications, with former National Socialists declaring themselves special cases, saying they never abused their NSDAP memberships or that they had always had a positive attitude towards an independent Austrian republic. Schärf’s intervention had consequences: the exception became the rule, the „§27-method“. Schönbauer also profited from this: due to the exemption he was de-Nazified and was able to become chief physician, university professor, hospital director and member of parliament.

What remains?

Leopold Schönbauer’s biography reveals facets of Austrian contemporary history that show his was not an isolated case. The exceptional surgeon’s life and career seem typical for a representative of the medical profession of the time: on the one hand due to his attitude during National Socialism, on the other hand due to his accommodating de-Nazification after 1945. Schönbauer’s complicity in National Socialist science was ignored in his numerous honorings after 1945, be it the Schönbauer bust in the new General Hospital, or the Schönbauer special stamp, his honorary grave, or a memorial plaque in the old General Hospital which occupied the area of today’s Vienna University Campus at that time. This memorial plaque was unveiled in 1981 and is located in courtyard 1, to the left of the Jahoda Gate.

Archiv der Universität Wien, Medizinische Fakultät, Personalakt Leopold Schönbauer.
Berlin Document Center: NSDAP Collection A 3340 MFOK - U029.
Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Archiv der Republik, Inneres 1945–2002, Gauakt 1416 (Leopold Schönbauer).
Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv – NS-Registrierung │ 1945-1957 Schönbauer, Leopold (K7 104).

Linda Erker

Zuletzt aktualisiert am 06/07/22