Dr. Oscar (Oskar) Kohnstamm, M.D. was born in Pfungstadt near Darmstadt on 1871 April 13 as the fourth of five children. His father, even though he had studied Jewish theology and eventually completed his Ph.D., worked as the successful sales manager of a factory after completing apprenticeship for such work in England. It was this academic background that led his father to encourage an environment of learning for his children, as well as establishing the importance of religion and its study. On the other hand, Kohnstamm’s mother (in contrast to her husband) was remembered to speak quickly and think impulsively. A fairly well educated woman herself, she was more practical than her husband in word and deed, as well as more traditionally maternal. Oskar was considered a sort of mixture between the two, blending a personality of his mother with the mind of his father.
Completing high school in Darmstadt, Kohnstamm began studying in Giessen and Strassburg in 1889, then moved on to his clinical training in Berlin, where he developed his interest in both physiology and pathology, as well as the connection between the mind and the body. He studied under renowned pathologist Rudolf Virchow and Dr. Johannes Gad, head of the Gadschen Laboratorium. It was there that Kohnstamm had his first opportunities for research in 1893 under the advisory of Dr. Gad. This project came to be titled, “Die Muskelprozesse im Lichte des vergleichend isotinisch-isometrischen Verfahrens” (Loose English: “Muscle Processes in Light of the Comparative Isotonic-Isometric Methods”).
He came to Koenigstein im Taunus (near Frankfurt-am-Main) in 1894, where he set up his own medical practice. In 1896, he married Eva Pauline Gad, the daughter of his mentor, Dr. Gad. Over the years, Eva and Oskar would have four children: Rudolf (1897 April 14), Anneliese (1900 August 3), Werner (1902 May 1), and Peter (ca. 1910?). Dr. Kohnstamm specialized in physical, neurological, and psychological therapy. In time, he came to be the medical supervisor of a health resort in Koenigstein; this inspired him to think about creating one of his own, as his renown and popularity as a healer in both the mental and physical realms were steadily growing. In 1902, he and his wife started a sanatorium for his psychiatry patients. They constructed a building just for this purpose in 1904-1905, considering it to be the ideal place for rejuvenation of body and soul. In 1911-1912, it was successful enough to be updated, remodeled, and expanded. He treated predominantly internal and nervous ailments, and was published on subjects as wide ranging as hypnosis, the physiology of the brain and spinal cord, and psychiatric illness.
Dr. Kohnstamm was known for hosting cultural activities in the Turnhalle part of the Sanatorium building, with concerts and theater productions that both guests and patients could enjoy. Many well-known people and their families came to the Sanatorium Dr. Kohnstamm in Koenigstein for treatment, and Dr. Kohnstamm's circle of friends and patients came to include such people as Henry van de Velde, Alexander Moissi, Karl Wolfskehl, Botho Graef, Stefan George, and Otto Klemperer.
The years of success were broken up by the First World War, which not only changed the Kohnstamm’s business and medical life, but significantly altered his personal and familial life. With the start of the war, he devoted a portion of his sanatorium to a clinic for the treatment of war illnesses and shock patients. Perhaps Dr. Kohnstamm's most famous patient was renowned artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who had stayed at the Sanatorium in June and July of 1916. He created a now famous portrait of Kohnstamm and a series of murals on the walls of the Brunnenturm of the Sanatorium. But on about 1916 June 16, Kohnstamm's oldest son Rudolf (Rudi) died in World War I on the front in Verdun at the age of 19. After this, Kohnstamm's own health began to fail rapidly, and he died of neglected appendicitis while in Frankfurt on 1917 November 6--to many of those around him, it seemed as though he had lost much of the will to live in the wake of his son’s death, and the background of a continuing war meant even more were dying each day.
However, the Sanatorium Dr. Kohnstamm stayed open for business and research until 1939, when all businesses run by those with Jewish descent were forced to be sold or closed. Parts of the Sanatorium building were eventually destroyed in an air raid on 1945 February 2-3. The murals that Kirchner had done for Kohnstamm were lost in these days, a testament to the end of the era. Since then, the remaining Sanatorium building has been used as a post office.
Information gathered in part from:
Sturm-Godramstein, Heinz. Juden in Koenigstein: Leben, Bedeutung, Schicksale. Koenigstein im Taunus: Magistrat der Stadt Koenigstein Stadtarchiv, 1983. (This book is found in folder 2.16 of the Kohnstamm Papers).
Laudenheimer, Rudolf. “Biographische Skizze.” Erscheinungsformen der Seele. By Oskar Kohnstamm. Muenchen: Verlag der Ernst Reinhardt, 1927. 9-20.