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Helga Merits



Anatomy lecture.  Archive photo


Whatever will be will be
The future's not ours to see
Que sera sera

After the Second World War, most students in Europe wanted to study either medicine or architecture.


They had seen so many lives devasted, so much destruction that they wanted to do something positive, to make something, to heal and construct.

For refugee students this was no different.


The medicine faculty at the Baltic University in Hamburg – whose staff, teachers and students were all refugees – was one of the biggest faculties at the university.

Arved was one of the students who wanted to become a doctor.


But the wartime traumas which he had been able to suppress broke through while dissecting corpses during anatomy lessons.


He wanted to be on his own, skipped classes and ignored warnings from the dean.

He tried to make a living for himself, working on the black market, but after some weeks, he discovered that he wanted to study; that this was the only way to work for a future.

Though the rules were strict at the university, Arved was, as he wrote, “forgiven his trespasses”.


Only in his study book there was a reminder of the weeks he had wandered off: the date he was excluded was there, as well as the date he was readmitted.

The refugee organisations at that time were not supportive of studies, especially because most countries were looking for young, healthy, single people: men to work in the mines or within agriculture, women to work as nurses or cleaners.


Students were the ideal group for these countries.

In 1947, a commission from Great Britain came to the Baltic University in Hamburg to encourage the students to stop their studies and come to England, as the world was not waiting for refugees with a doctorate. In case students were not hesitating themselves, the commission was willing to give a push in this direction.

Even though only a few students decided to go to England, most students became uncertain about their choice: were they doing the right thing?


What prospects did they have as refugees?


The staff dealt with their questions, made lists of job opportunities for the respective studies and stated that if you studied you could always do physical labour, in case this was the only remaining possibility.

In 1949 the university had to close its doors and all students needed to emigrate.


Some received a scholarship, others had to start with odd jobs to pay for their studies, but in the end most managed to continue their studies.

Arved knew that the small note about being excluded could have big consequences.


One Christmas, just by chance, leaving a burning candle on his study book, he found his study book was ruined. He received a new one, without this note.

Arved first went to Sweden, but then decided to go to the U.S., where he had more choices, once he learned English.


He became a known and respected obstetrician, dedicating himself to new lives.


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