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Ernst Rodin, MD (1925–2017): An Icon in Clinical Neurophysiology, A Searcher of Truth in the Midst of Horror

Pearl, Phillip L.

Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology: May 2017 - Volume 34 - Issue 3 - p 296–297
doi: 10.1097/WNP.0000000000000378

Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.



Ernst Rodin, former president of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society (1975) and recipient of the society's Jasper Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, died peacefully on February 5, 2017 at 91 after a long and illustrious career in clinical neurophysiology, epilepsy, and chronicling truth.

Dr. Rodin's medical career demonstrates remarkable intellectual curiosity and achievement. He emigrated to the United States in a rare opportunity to take up an internship in medicine at Staten Island Hospital in New York after his mother made a passing acquaintance during a train ride in 1950 with a Jewish-American woman visiting her ancestral home in Hungary whose cardiologist husband was recruiting trainees. This was followed by neurology training at Mayo, a distinguished career and directorship of the EEG laboratory at Wayne State University in Detroit, followed by a professorship and then emeritus professorship at the University of Utah, where he remained until his passing. He was preceded by his wife, Martha, about whom he wrote with the most love and respect, and survived by his children, Krista, Peter, and Eric and their children and grandchildren.

Ernst would say that he “spent 50 years in epilepsy,” and could teach about it to the end as he did during Harvard Longwood Epilepsy Grand Rounds in August 2017 while visiting his grandson of whom he was quite proud as having attended Harvard. He had an interest in high frequency oscillations long before anyone gave them much attention, and was focused on infraslow activity in his last years. He was fond of saying that the slowest physiologic activity in the human brain was zero Hertz! He was an innovative and early adaptor, having been among the first to be interested in MEG and be ever ready to offer up analyses using his BESA program to his final days. The author can testify to his completely sharp cerebration based on email just days before his death, when he earnestly described his anticipation of attending the upcoming ACNS meeting and participating in discussions about MEG, EEG, and a session on neurohumanities intended to pay homage to great composers based in his native city and language, including Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert and Clara Schumann.

Ernst Rodin maintained a blog, Think Truth, with dozens of remarkable accounts of world history, including a strong focus on 20th century European pre/post World War II history and modern accounts of the Middle East, written with a remarkable, scientifically lucid, and dispassionate approach. The reader can enjoy the beautifully written prose and sense the fairness with which this physician is able to present and explain the varying viewpoints regarding this combustible time of history and conflict.

Ernst was a 12-year-old son of divorce, struggling to adapt to a new stepfather, during the Anschluss in March 1938 when the Nazis annexed his beloved native country of Austria and city of Vienna, until then the world's beacon of culture, music, and, of course, balls and waltzes. An eye witness to the world's epic pathetic and incomprehensible example of man's inhumanity to man, he was one of the longest survivors to try to explain it, and the reader is referred to his many blogs and books, especially his autobiography, War and Mayhem: Reflections of a Viennese Physician (Trafford Pub., Victoria, BC, Canada 1999). As a matter of accident not previously uttered in his household, he learned that his maternal grandfather was from a Hungarian Jewish family, even though he converted to Catholicism to marry who would become Ernst's mother. This made Ernst a Mischling, and thus racially mixed, i.e., non-Aryan, and ineligible to serve on the front. Although drafted into the army of the Third Reich and forced to serve ultimately against Russian soldiers, he mused that he may have been the one person to survive based on Jewish genealogy because all his friends sent to the front “died like flies.”

Having survived the war (with a long series of gripping and compelling anecdotes which are chronicled in his book), he attended the medical school at the University of Vienna and was strongly influenced by the brilliant lectures of Viktor Frankl, founder of the psychiatric school of logotherapy which enabled Frankl to survive his internment at Auschwitz; although the manuscript was ripped from his fingers by his captors, it lived on his brain and became the thesis for the great classic, Man's Search For Meaning. Ernst was proud that he is photographed in the front rows of medical students during a Frankl lecture published in Frankl's book, Was nicht in meinen Büchern steht, portions of which, he translated for this author from German and for which, I will be eternally grateful.

For the student of history who has ever struggled and yearned to make sense of the incomprehensible, the reader is referred to Part III of Ernst's book, Modern Consequences of Old Ideas, especially Chapter 1: “Can Hitler be Understood?” For this memorial piece, Ernst's acknowledgment at the start of his autobiography is included:

With gratitude to my Guardian Angel

whom I have given an inordinate amount

of work throughout my life.

This epitaph will close with Ernst's closing quotation at the end of his book, from the German writer Wolfram von Eschenbach ca. 1220 AD:

When someone reaches the end of his life

In such a manner,

that he has not robbed God of his soul,

through his own fault,

and yet has retained the good will of the world,

with honor,

all the toil was worthwhile.

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The author wishes to acknowledge Dr. Frank Drislane (Boston, MA) and Dr. Marie Collier (Grand Junction, CO) for their careful reading of the manuscript and reminiscing about Dr. Rodin.

© 2017 by the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society