Blacklisted doctorJoseph Hittelman

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The son of Russian immigrant Jews, Hittelman grew up in California and became a medical doctor. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in the Philippines. After the war, he returned to work as a family practitioner in Southern California. But in October 1952, he and several other doctors from the Los Angeles area were summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities — the House equivalent of the Senate’s “Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations”, which was chaired by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Hittelman was branded a “subversive.” Why? “Most of us worked in clinics,” he said years later. “It all goes back to seeing the big gaps in healthcare delivery.

Family photo.

We [tried] to liberalize the medical profession” to help bring health care to the poor. “We got a group together to back Roosevelt, and that was a ‘Red activity’,” he recalled. But Hittelman refused to answer personal questions about his politics. “When I first went into medical school, the first day I was presented with a box of bones and a skull and, lo and behold, the skull had a hinge on top and I could unhinge it and look inside,” he told the House Committee. “My skull does not have a hinge on top, and nobody is going to look inside my skull.” He was never prosecuted, but like many, he was “blacklisted” for years, and barred from the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (which later merged with Mount Sinai Hospital to form the prestigious Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was finally allowed to practice). He retired in 1994. Dr. Hittelman died July 12 — at Cedars-Sinai — after a heart attack. He was 100.

From This is True for 17 July 2011