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Taking my name from my grandfather


My mother's forbears
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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When my mother died she didn’t have much in her wallet, but, strangely, she had a picture of her own mother as her mother must have been at the age of 16. Why my mother should have had this I don’t know; I think she was close to her own mother and she also knew her grandmother. My mother knew her own grandmother who had lived to a very advanced age.

On the maternal side... on the maternal side most of the ancestors there... one knows nothing about the ancestors behind the grandfather. But behind the two grandmothers there are multiple ancestors in Germany, and especially in a little village called Gunzenhausen.  And many of my forebears, her forebears, were rabbis in Gunzenhausen and took the name Gunzenhausen, and... and lie buried in the cemetery in Gunzenhausen.

When in 1965 I went to Munich to get a new BMW, a new motorbike, my first journey was a pilgrimage to Gunzenhausen, which is pretty close to Munich to see the graves of my ancestors.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Germany, Munich, Gunzenhausen

Duration: 1 minute, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012