About Hermann Baum

Hermann Baum – His Personality and His Work

Authored by G. Michel

An English translation of a German article published in Mh. Vet.-Med. 38 (1983): 551-554

Animal Production and Veterinary Medicine Section of the Karl Marx University Leipzig, Scientific Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology (Head: Vet.-Rat Prof. Dr. sc. G. Michel)


                    Hermann Baum 

The work and personality of Hermann Baum will be honoured in a memorial lecture. His activities in teaching and the development of textbooks, in research, and as Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Leipzig and Rector of the University of Leipzig will be emphasized. Working alongside Wilhelm Ellenberger, these activities made Professor Baum not only a leading veterinary anatomist, but also an exemplary representative of veterinary medicine.

On March 16, 1932, the University of Leipzig held a moving funeral service to bid farewell to the veterinary anatomist Professor Dr. Dr. h. c.[1]  Hermann Baum, who died after a long and severe illness in the midday hours of March 13, 1932.

Anyone reading the obituary of Hermann Baum will realize what a great personality he was. Today, 50 years after his death, we will emphasize not only this, but, in the sense of Marxist historical research, also the impact of his personality and work in society on our own activities in teaching and research. We must take into account the impressive characters that contributed to our subject areas. Hermann Baum is one of the greatest of these characters, and his work still forms the basis of our work in many areas.

Hermann Baum was born in Plauen on December 25, 1864, the son of freight forwarder Hermann Baum. He attended secondary school in Plauen and then took up the study of veterinary medicine at the former veterinary school in Dresden. At that time, the veterinary school in Dresden had reached a high point, with such outstanding teachers as Leisering, Sußdorf, Siedamgrotzky, Johne, Müller, and above all Ellenberger. Baum showed an early interest in morphology during his studies. Ellenberger recognized this interest and soon recruited Baum to work in his institute. Already as a student, Hermann Baum wrote his first publications on The Morphological-Histological Changes of the Resting and Active Liver Cell. In doing so, he demonstrated his particular aptitude for morphological work. On January 1, 1888, after obtaining his license to practice veterinary medicine, Hermann Baum joined Ellenberger’s institute, which at that time still included anatomy, histology, embryology, and physiology, as an assistant. In addition to Baum’s work in teaching and research, and the completion of his dissertation on The Arterial Anastomoses of the Dog and the Significance of the Collateral Circulation of Animals in 1889, Ellenberger immediately assigned him the task of detailing the anatomy of the dog for students of veterinary medicine and for researchers. Baum dedicated himself to this task with great zeal, and Anatomy of the Dog, published together with Ellenberger, was available as early as 1891. It was a very modern work for that time, proving Hermann Baum’s great ability as a textbook author. It is still often consulted today but unfortunately has not been reprinted.

After receiving his doctorate in 1889 in Erlangen (the veterinary school in Dresden did not yet have the right to award doctorates), he was appointed Prosector[2]  in 1891, Associate Professor in 1897 and Professor Ordinarius[3] of Anatomy at the Dresden Veterinary University in 1898.

Hermann Baum’s development was influenced by Wilhelm Ellenberger. This was clearly evident in Baum’s first works in the fields Ellenberger was involved in, such as physiology and pharmacology. Through their joint work and the influence of Ellenberger during Baum’s early years, a unique relationship of cooperation and trust developed between them, to which veterinary anatomy owes many important works and which made the institution in Dresden and later in Leipzig one of the leading institutes of veterinary anatomy and physiology. Hermann Baum’s greatness was demonstrated by the fact that, among other things, he soon became recognized for his own work, took over the anatomy department in 1889 and gave it its own unique character.

The work of Hermann Baum proves that even in those days a university teacher achieved the highest impact through the unity of teaching and research. Hermann Baum has been described as an excellent teacher. According to his obituary written by Scheunert, Baum’s anatomical talent allowed him to share what he saw in vivid clarity through the written word. His clear diction enabled him to unite the anatomy of individual structures into a viable whole, with the overall function emerging beyond mere description, a goal that every anatomist strives for and only a few have succeeded as Hermann Baum did.

His commitment to teaching was demonstrated in his unflagging activity in the dissecting room. Here, he found a way to work directly with his students. Baum considered dissection absolutely necessary to learning and developed this area into a vital basis of anatomical teaching. In this approach, he gave us an example of how the highest impact in anatomical education can be achieved simply by combining lectures with dissection. Hermann Baum also showed that anatomical teaching can only be successful with appropriate and always up-to-date teaching materials. His intensive efforts to develop and revise textbooks were certainly not an end in themselves, but a compelling necessity for him as a responsible university teacher. His efforts to develop teaching materials were not only evident in the writing of textbooks, but also in his commitment to the expansion of anatomical learning collections. Under his tenure in Leipzig, the anatomical collection became a respected attribute of the institute and, at the same time, an integral part of the student training. This was demonstrated by the immediate vicinity of the anatomical collection to the dissecting room and from the way the collection was built up and the quality of the preparations. Professor Schwarze, together with his Senior Preparator Mr. Petzold, deserves special credit for having rebuilt this collection in the spirit of Hermann Baum after its almost complete destruction in the Second World War. This was done in conjunction with the post-war rebuilding of the Institute, which was completed in 1957, and for which we would like to express our gratitude today, 25 years later, and do so with the obligation to maintain and continually modernize what has been created. The constant revision of textbooks was Baum’s heart’s desire. Two days before his death, he was still negotiating with a representative of a publishing house about the 17th edition of Ellenberger-Baum. This last edition, completed by Grau and Cohrs in the spirit of the editor, is considered to be the most mature work among his textbooks, and many veterinary anatomists still like to turn to the 17th edition when they want to find a certain detail. The 17th edition, in particular, shows Baum’s signature style, which he ultimately imprinted on all works of anatomy published together with Ellenberger, and demonstrates the qualities that Baum developed in his many years of collaboration with Ellenberger. This applies not only to the Manual of Comparative Anatomy of Domestic Animals, simply referred to as Ellenberger-Baum, which increasingly showed Baum’s style in the nine revised editions he published, but also to the Topographical Anatomy of the Horse and the Manual of Anatomy for Artists. His constant connection to histology is expressed in the elaborate details of the chapter Circulatory Apparatus in the Manual of Microscopic Anatomy of Domestic Animals.

Hermann Baum’s teaching activities were based on extensive research. After writing his first two papers as a student, he first tackled various questions in the area of anatomy and, under the influence of Ellenberger, also in the areas of physiology and pharmacology. From 1911 onward, his work was exclusively concerned with the lymphatic system of domestic animals. In this field, together with his Preparator, Mr. Kurzweg, he achieved truly great things. No fewer than 53 independent journal articles and 5 comprehensive monographs, including The Lymphatic System of Pigs, completed and published after his death by his student Grau, were dedicated to this subject. These works provide a comprehensive picture of Baum’s achievements in this field of research. He always placed particular emphasis on the care taken in his work. Despite the difficulties of the methodology, he examined every detail in as many individual animals as possible. For example, 160 cattle and calves were used for his studies on the bovine lymphatic system. Together with Mr. Kurzweg, he spent whole evenings, even nights, according to reports by his former co-workers, in order to clarify certain questions. He is a shining example through his responsibility to scientific work and at the same time his recognition of the activity of technical staff. He was also an outstanding example of responsibility to his numerous students. Hermann Baum understood how to found a “school”. The former Veterinary Anatomical Institute in Leipzig became known worldwide as a centre of lymphatic research through his and his students’ work. Hermann Baum came to the forefront in university policy work relatively late in his career. He was certainly overshadowed by Ellenberger in this area, although he deserves credit for supporting Ellenberger in his work developing the Dresden Medical School. However, Baum’s support was always based on his own ideas. Hermann Baum’s own personal opinions were particularly evident during the discussions on the transfer of the Dresden Veterinary School to the University of Leipzig, and the planning of the new institute.

While fully supporting Ellenberger’s general plan in principle, Baum had his own thoughts on the matter, which at times put the intimate friendship between the two to a severe test. If Ellenberger was the initiator, Baum was to a greater extent the organizer, and it was, therefore, a natural consequence that he was elected the first Dean of the University of Leipzig and that the immediate tasks of the incorporation of the veterinary college in 1923 fell to him. However, it is significant that in the ceremony on the occasion of the incorporation he singled out Ellenberger as the “father of the idea and the tireless driving force behind its implementation” and thus the “intellectual creator of the new veterinary school”. Hermann Baum did not stop at words of thanks. His vow to prove himself worthy of the university’s trust through his scientific achievements as a teacher and researcher still applies today at our progressive university. In his speech, he is quoted: “There should not be a lack of areas for this kind of activity, because with the enormous increase in the value of farm animals it will be necessary to research the breeding, nutrition, and preservation of these species even more extensively than has been done so far.” These words reflect the long-term vision of the work of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Through his intensive work at his university, Hermann Baum soon earned the trust of the entire senate. He was elected Rector of the University of Leipzig on November 1st, 1930. For him, this certainly fulfilled the one hope expressed in his 1923 speech at the incorporation of the veterinary college, which was that the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine would grow as if it was a seed planted by the university, the mother tree. It is a special honour that a representative of such a young college became Rector of such a venerable university after such a short time of affiliation.

Hermann Baum fulfilled the office of Rector with all his energy, despite his increasing illness and the difficulties of the time due to the increased rise of Nazism. He expressed this in a letter to Professor Kallius in the following words: “In addition, my year as Rector has been an unusually difficult one, more difficult than any of the preceding years. The political conditions among the students and student groups have taken on forms that no one would have suspected before and which could embitter even the most enthusiastic Rector. In Leipzig, the conditions were particularly bad because the city was chosen by the National Socialists as a Sturmblock[4]. That there was no major catastrophe despite this is still often like a dream to me today.” Even if these words already contain a certain resignation, they still show the sense of duty and responsibility with which Hermann Baum took on every position that he held, and at the same time his attitude towards National Socialism.

This characterizes his personality as a university teacher of his time. As a bourgeois scholar with close ties to student associations and a strong humanist attitude, he was always concerned with the position and development of his subject area in the context of the traditions of the university. He was an extremely conscientious personality. It was written in his obituary that he did not cancel a single lecture in 42 years until his illness, that he was always found in close contact with his students in the dissecting room and that he spent evenings, even nights, repeating experiments and proving findings; these behaviours are an expression of his attitude towards teaching and research. In his inaugural speech as Rector, he spoke about adaptation. Of particular interest are his remarks in this speech on the functional adaptation of the organism. They confirm that Baum was not only a descriptive anatomist, but that he also recognized the importance of functional anatomy. His expositions on the adaptation of the organism to environmental influences and, based on this, the question of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, are an overview of the knowledge of that time, shaped by numerous examples from his own experience. This viewpoint is a foundation of modern morphology, in that we, as morphologists, should not only rigidly describe anatomical structures in the dead animal, but in their interaction with their living environment. Hermann Baum was a strong comparative anatomist. This is particularly evident from his work in the Anatomical Society. He sought discussion and was rarely absent from the meetings during the long years of his membership in the Society. In his lectures and discussions, he strove to connect the work of all anatomists, particularly cooperation with human anatomists. This is particularly evident from his collaboration in the Nomenclature Commission, where he endeavoured to bring the nomenclature of human and veterinary anatomy into agreement. Intensive discussions and extensive correspondence took place. In some preserved copies of letters to Professor Stieve and Professor Kallius, Baum’s clear arguments are expressed, often spiced with a dash of humour, with which he championed a cause. The fact that Baum’s passionate advocacy of this project was not successful may have had various causes and certainly advantages as well as disadvantages. Baum’s behaviour in this matter is particularly indicative of his endeavour to promote comparative anatomy, an endeavour which, despite separate nomenclatures, is still a common need for human and veterinary anatomists in their collaboration today. Hermann Baum’s character embodied cordiality and balance, despite all the hardship he imposed on himself and thus on his colleagues. His constant willingness to help and his sense of humour made working at his side a joy, and this is reflected in the number of his students. His collegial attitude was particularly emphasized. At the same time, he could be tough and energetic when it came to defending a cause, as his remarks and letters testify.

Hermann Baum was a great anatomist. He received numerous honours. In 1904 he was appointed Royal Saxon Medical Councillor, in 1909 Senior Medical Councillor and in 1915 Privy Councillor. In 1910 he was appointed as a member of the Kaiserlich Leopoldinisch-Carolinische Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (Academy of Natural Scientists) in Halle. He received high orders as well as honorary memberships in various societies and was appointed honorary doctor of the medical faculty in Leipzig in 1923. Influenced by his collaboration with Wilhelm Ellenberger, Hermann Baum gave anatomy a new profile. This is reflected in his overall work in teaching, in his preparation of textbooks, in his expansion of the anatomical learning collections and in his research. Through his constant striving, his sense of duty, his selfless work, and his commitment to the discipline, he still serves as a role model for us, his successors, 50 years after his death. Not only his name, but above all his work, remain unforgettable and will always be an inspiration for us.

Author: Vet.-Rat Prof. Dr. sc. G. Michel, DDR – 7010 Leipzig. Semmelweisstraße 4

Image: Hermann Baum. Source: Universität Leipzig Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Permission. CC BY-NC Courtesy of Universität Leipzig Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

  1. Dr. h. c. is the abbreviation for honorary doctorate
  2. The professional title for the "dissector" of an anatomical institution
  3. Professor of the highest rank at a German university
  4. The German word ‘Sturmblock’ is a synonym for 'Sturmbock', 'Rammbock' or 'Widder', all meaning 'battering ram'. Baum assumes the Nazis wanted to win the students of Leipzig for their objectives and politics and thus use the University of Leipzig as a battering ram to get into the 'fortress' of the German University in general. (Credit: Dr. Rolf Essig, free author, Bamberg)


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