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Ludwig Guttmann

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Ludwig Guttmann


Ludwig Guttmann wearing eyeglasses, a black suit, and a tie while holding his face.

3 July 1899 (

Known for
Founding the Paralympic Games

Notable prizes
Fellow of the Royal Society

March 18, 1980, Aylesbury, United Kingdom

Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg

Textbook of Sport for the Disabled

Sir ludwig guttmann health and wellbeing centre open day june 2015

Sir Ludwig "Poppa" Guttmann (3 July 1899 – 18 March 1980) was a German-born British neurologist who established the Paralympic Games in England. The Jewish doctor, who had fled Nazi Germany just before the start of the Second World War, is considered to be one of the founding fathers of organised physical activities for people with a disability.


Ludwig Guttmann wearing eyeglasses and a white suit.

Butter bullets ludwig guttmann clip

Early life

Poster featuring Ludwig Guttmann, one of the founding fathers of organized physical activities for people with disabilities.

Ludwig Guttmann, the eldest child of the family, was born in Tost, within Upper Silesia, Germany (now Toszek, Poland) on 3 July 1899. His family moved when he was three years old to the Silesia city of Königshütte (today Chorzów, Poland).

Early career

Ludwig Guttmann wearing eyeglasses, a white suit, and a black tie while holding his face.

Guttman first encountered a patient with a spinal cord injury in 1917, while he was volunteering at the Accident Hospital in Konigshutte. The patient was a coal miner who later died of sepsis. Guttman started his medical studies in April 1918 at the University of Breslau. He transferred to the University of Freiburg in 1919 and received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1924.

Ludwig Guttmann wearing eyeglasses, a black suit, and a tie while holding his face and with a pen on his hand.

By 1933, Guttmann was considered the top neurosurgeon in Germany. With the arrival of the Nazis in power, Jews were banned from practising medicine professionally and he was allowed to work only at the Jewish Hospital in Breslau, where he became director of the hospital. Following the violent attacks on Jewish people and properties during Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit anyone without question. The following day he justified his decision on a case-by-case basis with the Gestapo. Out of 64 admissions, 60 patients were saved from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.


Ludwig Guttmann with a serious face and wearing eyeglasses.

In early 1939, Guttmann and his family left Germany because of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. An opportunity for escape arose when the Nazis provided him with a visa and ordered him to travel to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

Guttmann was scheduled to return to Germany via London, where the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) arranged for him to remain in the UK. He arrived with his wife Else Samuel Guttmann and two children, a son, Dennis and daughter, Eva aged 6 in Oxford, England, on 14 March 1939. CARA, which negotiated with the British Home Office on their behalf, gave Guttmann and his family £250 (equivalent to around £10,000 today) to help settle in Oxford. Guttmann continued his spinal injury research at the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in the Radcliffe Infirmary. For the first few weeks after arrival the family resided in the Master's Lodge of Balliol College (with the Master Sandie Lindsay) until they moved into a small semi-detached house in Lonsdale Road. Both children were offered free places by the headmistress of Greycotes School. The family were members of the Oxford Jewish community, and Eva remembers becoming friendly with Miriam Margolyes, now a famous actress. The Jewish community in Oxford was growing rapidly as a result of the influx of displaced academic Jews from Europe.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Guttmann and his family stayed in the home of Lord Lindsay, CARA Councillor and Master of Balliol College.

Stoke Mandeville

In September 1943 the British government asked Guttmann to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. When the centre opened on 1 February 1944, Guttmann was appointed its director (a position he held until 1946). As director of the UK's first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries, he believed that sport was a major method of therapy for injured military personnel helping them build up physical strength and self-respect.

Guttmann became a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom in 1945. He organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled persons on 28 July 1948, the same day as the start of the London 1948 Summer Olympics. Guttmann used the term paraplegic games for national games held to encourage his patients to take part. This came to be known as the "Paralympics", which only later became the "Parallel Games" and included other disabilities.


By 1952, more than 130 international competitors had entered the Stoke Mandeville Games. As the annual event continued to grow, the ethos and efforts by all those involved started to impress the organisers of the Olympic Games and members of the international community. At the 1956 Stoke Mandeville Games, Guttmann was awarded the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for his meritorious achievement in service to the Olympic movement through the social and human value derived from wheelchair sports.

His vision of an international games the equivalent of the Olympic Games themselves was realised in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held alongside the official 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Known at the time as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, and organised under the aegis of the World Federation of Ex-servicemen (an International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled), they are now recognised as the first Paralympic Games. (The term "Paralympic Games" was retroactively applied by the International Olympic Committee in 1984.)

In 1961, Guttmann founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled which would later become known as the English Federation of Disability Sport. In the same year, he became the inaugural President of the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (now the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS)).

Later life

Guttmann became the first editor of the journal, Paraplegia (now named Spinal Cord). He suffered a heart attack in October 1979 and died on 18 March 1980.


Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the National Centre for Disability Sport in the United Kingdom, was developed by him alongside the hospital.

A specialist neurorehabilitation hospital in Barcelona, the Institut Guttmann, is named in his honour.

In June 2012, a statue of Guttmann was unveiled at Stoke Mandeville as part of the run up to the London 2012 Summer Paralympics and Olympic Games. Guttmann's daughter, Eva Loeffler, was appointed the mayor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games athletes' village.

In August 2012, the BBC broadcast The Best of Men, a TV film about Guttmann's work at Stoke Mandeville during and after the Second World War. The film, written by Lucy Gannon, starred Eddie Marsan as Dr. Guttmann and Rob Brydon as one of the seriously injured patients, who were given a purpose in life by the doctor.

The Sir Ludwig Guttmann Centre is an NHS facility providing GP, Orthopaedic and Sports and Exercise Medicine outpatient services as well as imaging on the site of the 2012 Olympic village.


As "Neurological Surgeon in charge of the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Stoke Mandeville", he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1950 King's Birthday Honours. On 28 June 1957, he was made an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John.

He was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1966, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Selected publications

  • 1959. The Place of Our Spinal Paraplegic Fellow-Man in Society: A Survey on 2000 Patients. Dame Georgina Buller Memorial Lecture.
  • 1973. Spinal Cord Injuries: Comprehensive Management and Research. Blackwell Science. ISBN 978-0-632-09680-0.
  • 1973. "Sport and Recreation for the Mentally and Physically Handicapped" in The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. 1973; 93(4): 208–21, PMID 4276814.
  • 1976. Textbook of Sport for the Disabled. Aylesbury: HM+M. ISBN 978-0-85602-055-1
  • References

    Ludwig Guttmann Wikipedia