From Cowpox To Covid-19

Vaccination Certificates from Nearly 200 Years in the Archive of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Pestilance (From the series of prints: The Ten Plagues) (ca. 1925-1928) by Rafaello Busoni and Hans Striem VerlagOriginal Source:

When the Bubonic Plague was raging across Europe, in the mid-fourteenth century, people tried to protect themselves by covering their faces with cloth or using fragrant herbs and rosewater. There were no effective treatments, although people hoped that bloodletting and emetics would expel the pathogens from the body. During the epidemic, the sick were isolated, their houses were marked, or they were banished to lodging's outside the cities. During the epidemic, the sick were isolated, their houses were marked, or they were banished to lodging's outside the cities. A third of the European population died of the plague.

But the illness was not the only thing spreading: so were conspiracy theories. Jews received most of the blame for causing the “Black Death.” In many cases, accusations of poisoning wells lead to murderous pogroms.

For a year now, our lives have been dictated by Covid-19, a highly contagious infectious disease that spread around the globe within several months and has claimed more than 5.5 million lives to date (January 2022). Meanwhile, some vaccine sceptics and Covid deniers in Germany have been styling themselves as victims, imagining themselves as Anne Frank, or donning a yellow Star of David with the inscription “unvaccinated.”

Syringe with vaccine by Tim ReckmannOriginal Source: Flickr

For us archivists, the development and production of vaccines and their administration since December 2020 recalled a type of document that has been preserved in many of our family collections and has suddenly gained strong contemporary relevance: vaccine certificates.

The History of Vaccine Development
The development of vaccination methods and effective vaccines, as we know them today, began in the late eighteenth century with an inoculation for smallpox, which was a widespread disease at the time. With the further advancements of medical history, the discovery of bacteria and viruses as pathogens paved the way to the production of other vaccines against such maladies as cholera, diphtheria, measles, rabies, and typhus.

There are numerous different infectious diseases, and new pathogens have emerged in the past on many occasions. Science has not been able to find effective medicines for inoculating against or treating all of them. From 1918 to 1920, around 500 million people worldwide were infected with the “Spanish Flu” in a pandemic with several waves; between 50 and 100 million of those infected are estimated to have died of it. There was no vaccine against the illness. AIDS was first discovered in the 1980s, and research into a vaccine against HIV infection is still ongoing today.

“There are virtually no vaccine opponents among the Jews.” 
Maurice Fishberg, 1908

Jewish Stances on Vaccination
Judaism has always been very receptive to vaccination against infectious diseases because Jewish law requires protecting life for oneself and others. More than a century ago, the US doctor and anthropologist Maurice Fishberg (1872–1934), who was Jewish, remarked in the Zeitschrift für Demographie und Statistik der Juden (Journal of Jewish Demography and Statistics):

“In fact, every physician who possesses experience with Jews knows well that they are always amenable to employing any new method to prevent or treat disease. There are virtually no vaccine opponents among them, nor any other kind of superstition that could induce them to resist the health authorities’ vaccination efforts. Furthermore, the Jewish clergy is always in favor of leaving medical matters up to physicians.” (“Die angebliche Rassen-Immunität der Juden” [The Supposed Racial Immunity of the Jews], 1908)

Obviously, there are Jews who refrain from getting vaccinated, but staunch opposition to the overall practice has always been an outlier.

The Historical Significance of Vaccine Certificates
The preservation of so many vaccine certificates for so many decades attests to how important these documents were when they were created, not least because the German Empire made vaccinations against smallpox obligatory. This legal obligation was introduced in 1874 and not rescinded in West Germany until 1976. In East Germany, the vaccine requirement remained in force until the German Democratic Republic dissolved and its territory joined the Federal Republic of Germany (formerly West Germany) in 1990.

By assiduously safeguarding vaccine certificates, a person could provide proof of having satisfied the legal obligation. These documents were frequently required to enroll in elementary school. 

Registry of pupils (1890-1940) by Jewish School of EmdenOriginal Source:

A registry of pupils at the Jewish School of Emden, which was maintained from 1890 to 1940, includes a meticulous record of each pupil’s vaccination date.

But these records could also be vitally important when emigrating, especially during the Nazi era. In many cases, proof of vaccination was a requirement to receive an entry visa. Thus, a vaccine and the associated vaccine certificate could be life-saving in more ways than one.

Vaccine record for Ruth Grabowski (11.09.1908) by Dr. Feilchenfeld, Dr. KantorowitzOriginal Source:

The Reich Vaccine Law of 1874

On 8 April 1874, the German Empire introduced mandatory vaccinations with the Reich Vaccine law. This was during the aftermath of the major smallpox epidemics of 1870 and 1873. From then on, the smallpox immunization was obligatory for children “before the completion of the calendar year following the year of birth” and another booster vaccination was required at age eleven. If they failed to comply, the parents or guardians faced a fine or even imprisonment. The vaccine was free of charge.

Our Archive preserves vaccine certificates for these smallpox immunizations from the entire territory of the German Empire. The forms are mostly similar, but varied somewhat by region and time period. The form for the first infant vaccination was typically red, whereas the one for the booster shot was green. Usually the documents list the vaccinated person’s name and date of birth, the date of the vaccination, and the name of the physician administering the vaccine.

Vaccine record for Ruth Grabowski (11.05.1909) by unknownOriginal Source:

Dozens – in fact, hundreds – of vaccine certificates from the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi era have been preserved in family collections. Since 1874, there have usually been two surviving vaccine records per person. 

Vaccine record for Ruth Grabowski (22.05.1919) by Dr. FrankOriginal Source:

For Ruth Grabowski (1907–1981) from Berlin, we even have five – because according to the forms, she was vaccinated “unsuccessfully” three times and the vaccination had to be repeated the following year.

Vaccine record for Ruth Grabowski (23.06.1919) by Dr. FrankOriginal Source:

Vaccine record for Ruth Grabowski (13.09.1920) by Dr. FrankOriginal Source:

Cowpox vaccination certificate for Salomon Pollak (31.03.1844) by Dr. Joh. Bapt. BorakOriginal Source:

The Oldest Vaccine Certificates

The very oldest vaccine certificates in our archive were drawn up long before vaccines became obligatory. In 1844, Salomon Pollak, who was born in Proßnitz in Mähren (now Prostějov, Czechia), was issued a “cowpox vaccination certificate.”

“Cowpox” does not only afflict cattle, as the name suggests. It can also infect other mammals and even humans. However, it does not pose much of a threat to human health. The British doctor Edward Jenner (1749–1823) discovered that injecting cowpox viruses into humans immunized them against smallpox viruses, which are lethal.

He applied this method for the first time in 1796 and called it “vaccination,” derived from the Latin word “vacca,” meaning cow. This technique quickly spread across the territories of the Habsburg Monarchy, and it also became a cornerstone for an extensive campaign against smallpox in other countries. Thanks to this vaccination, the disease has now been globally eradicated.

Salomon Pollak had received the vaccine on 30 July 1818, but when he later became a medical student, he evidently needed the certificate in connection with his practice as a physician. According to the document, he “survived” the “genuine cowpox” – to which he had been exposed in order to confer immunity against smallpox – “reasonably well.” As hypodermic syringes would not become commonplace for another thirty tears, in 1818, an incision was made in Pollak’s skin and the vaccine was introduced directly in the open wound.

Vaccine certificate for Ludwig Kohen (31.05.1871) by Dr. von ClostenOriginal Source:

Other Nineteenth-Century Vaccine Certificates

Some of the oldest vaccine certificates in our archive from the territory of the German Empire belonged to the banker Ludwig Kohen (1829–1912) and his wife Therese (1845–1875), both of whom were “re-vaccinated” (with a booster) on 31 May 1871 in Hamburg.

Vaccine certificate for Therese Kohen (31.05.1871) by Dr. von ClostenOriginal Source:

Vaccine certificate for Fanny Krebs Vaccine certificate for Fanny KrebsJewish Museum Berlin

The next one, five years later, belonged to Fanny Krebs (1863–1944), who was “vaccinated with success for the 1st time” at age twelve on 20 May 1875 in Tarnowitz, Upper Silesia (now Tarnowskie Góry, Poland). By then vaccination had become obligatory, and the certificate is the same standard form that would predominate for decades to come.

Vaccine certificate for Fanny Krebs Back (27.05.1875) by unknownJewish Museum Berlin

Letter summoning the parents of Alfred Auscher (12.02.1877) by Grand-Ducal District Authority MannheimOriginal Source:

In a letter sent on 12 February 1877 from Mannheim, which is 750 kilometers (466 miles) away as the crow flies, the Grand-Ducal District Authority summoned the parents of the four-month-old Alfred Auscher (1876–1939) to vaccinate their son.

Baby photo of Alfred Auscher (ca. 1880) by unknownJewish Museum Berlin

Jewish Physicians Who Administered Vaccines
A large share of the vaccine certificates in our Archive were issued by Jewish physicians. They therefore not only include information about the vaccinated individuals who included them in their bequests, but they also give clues to the physicians’ own careers.

Apart from these certificates, family collections also contain other documents from the doctors administering these vaccines. These can be found among all the papers from the professional training and careers of the Jewish physicians whose lives are documented in the Archive.

University certificate for Arthur Lewkowitz, Heidelberg University, 08.07.1913, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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For example, the medical student Arthur Lewkowitz (1890–1966), who was enrolled at Heidelberg University, received a certificate in the summer semester of 1913 affirming that he had attended “the lecture on vaccination and immunization,” observed initial and second vaccinations and practiced “vaccination techniques”.

Max Kirschner (1886–1975), who worked as practicing physician in Frankfurt am Main beginning after the First World War and also administrated vaccines for the district, was relieved of this duty in 1931. The police commissioner thanked him for his “activities to date in the public interest”.

Max Kirschner, unknown, 1926, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
Thank-you letter for Max Kirschner, Police Commissioner Frankfurt am Main, 05.03.1931, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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Soldier's book for Daniel Siesel Soldier's book for Daniel SieselJewish Museum Berlin

During the First World War

The pay books of German-Jewish soldiers who fought in the First World War also contain frequent references to vaccinations. In massive armies, infectious diseases quickly spread among the soldiers – notwithstanding the establishment of quarantine stations, epidemic hospitals, and disinfection stations.

For example, in 1917–18, the musketeer Daniel Siesel (1897–1978) from Glauberg in Hesse was vaccinated against “smallpox,” “typhus,” and “cholera”.

Telegram on the death of Julius Weinberg (13.03.1918) by Hedwig WeinbergOriginal Source:

For example, the soldier Julius Weinberg died of “spotted fever” – typhus – at a military hospital in Damascus. He was only thirty-three. Our archive includes a telegram sent to his widow informing her of his death. You can also find it in our online feature 12 of 12,000.

Emigration Papers
Emigrating to another country usually required a vaccine certificate among many other documents. The Handbook for Jewish Emigration, published in 1938 by Philo Verlag, devotes three separate entries to different synonyms of the German word for vaccine. The entry for “Schutzimpfung” (protective vaccine) reads:  “Smallpox v[accine] is required for most destination countries. Cholera & typhus v[accine] is advisable for [those intending to] live in or transit through endemic areas.”

Immigration certificate (portion), Jewish Agency for Palestine, 13.09.1933, Original Source:
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Immigration certificate for Max and Katarina Haller Immigration certificate for Max and Katarina HallerJewish Museum Berlin

The immigration certificates for Palestine even indicates that all immigrants received vaccines against typhus and smallpox upon arrival in the territory of the British Mandate. 

Immigration certificate for Max and Katarina Haller Inside page (13.09.1933) by Jewish Agency for PalestineJewish Museum Berlin

If the immigrant presented a vaccine certificate issued during the preceding three years, this obligatory vaccination was waived. This was the case for Heinz Katz (1902–1969), who had been vaccinated against both diseases in Darmstadt on 18 July 1935, as attested by two official letters from district physicians. 

Vaccine certificate for Chaim (Heinrich) Hirsch Katz, Health Department Darmstadt, 18.07.1935, Original Source:
Vaccine certificate for Chaim (Heinrich) Hirsch Katz, Health Department Darmstadt, 18.07.1935, Original Source:
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Sally and Heinrich Katz (1937) by unknownJewish Museum Berlin

Shortly thereafter, he and his wife emigrated to Palestine.

Edith Adler (18.12.1938) by unknownOriginal Source:

Edith Adler (1913–?), who planned to emigrate with her husband to Argentina, obtained confirmation from the Frankfurt am Main health authority that she “[...] does not suffer from any infectious disease, nor from mental illness, leprosy, elephantiasis, cancer, tuberculosis; is not blind or mute, nor does she show any signs of a paralysis that would impede her from working.”

Vaccine certificate for Edith Adler (22.02.1938) by Health Department Frankfurt am MainOriginal Source:

On 22 December 1938, she was “vaccinated against smallpox.” After being “vaccinated against typhus” as well in March 1939 at the hospital of the Israelite Community of Frankfurt, she emigrated to Bolivia via France. In La Paz, the twenty-six-year old was vaccinated once more against “viruela” (smallpox) in October 1939.

Vaccine certificate for Edith Adler (28.03.1939) by Hospital of the Jewish Community Frankfurt am MainOriginal Source:

Bolivian Vaccine certificate for Edith Adler (21.10.1939) by Ministry of Hygiene and Health of BoliviaOriginal Source:

Vaccinated On Board
Anneliese Kuttner (1924–1994) was vaccinated by the “ship’s doctor” on 19 March 1939 “against small-pox and cholera, typhus and parathyphus” during her voyage aboard the Victoria, on which she was emigrating to Shanghai.

Vaccine certificate for Anneliese Kuttner, Lloyd Triestino, 19.05.1939, Original Source:
Anneliese Kuttner, unknown, ca. 1938/39, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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The married couple Jacob Intrator (1875–1943) and Rosa Intrator (1875–1951) fled Berlin in the autumn of 1941 on one of the last trains to Bilbao, Spain. On 4 February 1942, when they boarded the Nyassa, which would take them from Lisbon to Cuba, they were issued a Portuguese vaccine certificate.

Jacob Intrator, unknown, 06.04.1942, Original Source:
Vaccine certificate for Jacob Intrator Vaccine certificate for Jacob Intrator, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
Rosa Intrator, unknown, 06.04.1942, Original Source:
Vaccine certificate for Rachel (Rosa) Intrator Vaccine certificate for Rachel (Rosa) Intrator, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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In Shanghai
Our Archive includes a disproportionate number of vaccine documents from exile in Shanghai, many more than from other countries of exile. This may be related to the fact that almost all the people who took refuge there moved onwards to other countries after the end of the Second World War; a small number of them even returned to Germany.

Rudolf Jorysz receiving a vaccine (ca. 1945-1947) by unknownOriginal Source:

Rudolf Jorysz (1906-1998) receiving a vaccine at the hospital of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Shanghai.

Those vaccine certificates, all of them issued after the war’s end, were therefore preserved among their emigration papers and were accorded particular importance. Documents from Shanghai demonstrate particularly clearly that these documents were sometimes used as official identity papers. Many of them were affixed with passport photographs and signed by the vaccine recipient.

Vaccine certificate for Abraham Meyer Vaccine certificate for Abraham Meyer, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
Vaccine certificate for Cilly Meyer Vaccine certificate for Cilly Meyer, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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Abraham Meyer (1881–1950) and his wife Cilly (1889–1978) fled from Hamburg to Shanghai, where they were forced to live in a ghetto established by the Japanese occupiers until the war ended. They were vaccinated against cholera and typhus on 1 October 1947. In January 1948, they were finally able to emigrate from Shanghai to the US.

Immunization Register for Rudolf Mariam (ca. 1941-1944) by US-ArmyOriginal Source:

Vaccinated Soldiers

We have far fewer documents from German-Jewish soldiers who fought in Allied forces against Nazi Germany during the Second World War than from military service in the First World War. 

However, an “Immunization Register” has survived from Rudolf Mariam (1912–2002), who emigrated to the US in 1938. As a serviceman in the US Army, he was certified to have been vaccinated against “smallpox,” “triple typhoid,” “tetanus,” and “yellow fever.”

A military identity card dating from 1958 belonged to the Berlin-born Willi Löhr (b. 1937) whose mother had been murdered at Auschwitz. In the mid-1950s, he had emigrated to Israel, where he served in the army. His identity card lists his blood type alongside various vaccinations.

Military ID for Willi Löhr Military ID for Willi Löhr, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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Vaccine Certificates as Records of Broader History
Vaccine certificates constitute more than important historical records of medical history. They can also provide personal biographical information. 

For example, the certificate from the twelve-year-old Berliner Jonni Teicher’s (1924–2017) booster vaccination on 19 May 1936 lists his vaccination district as the “private elementary school of the Jewish community.” This is the only surviving indication that he attended that school.

Vaccine certificate for Jonni Teicher, Health Department Berlin, 26.05.1936, Original Source:
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Vaccine papers from the Nazi period frequently attest to the discrimination and persecution to which Jews were subjected. When the Gumpert family from Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) received their vaccinations against smallpox in their hometown before their planned emigration on 2 February 1939, not only did their certificates include the government-imposed second names of “Israel” and “Sara,” they also bore a stamp indicating that the Jewish physician “Dr. Israel Martin Biberstein” was “authorized to treat Jewish patients exclusively.” The stamp includes a Star of David.

Vaccine certificate for Martin Gumpert, Dr. Martin Biberstein, 02.02.1939, Original Source:
Vaccine certificate for Aenni Gumpert, Dr. Martin Biberstein, 02.02.1939, Original Source:
Vaccine certificate for Hans-Joachim Gumpert Vaccine certificate for Hans-Joachim Gumpert, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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Medical Care in the Ghetto
Vaccine certificates issued at the Theresienstadt ghetto are unique in our Archive. Along with the person’s name, these “vaccine cards” list the number of the “transport” within which the person was deported there.

Vienna-born Berta Richter (1875–1959) was deported from Troppau (today Opava, Czechia) in January 1944 as part of “transport” no. XXI/3 and was vaccinated against typhoid fever in January and February 1944.

Vaccine certificate for Berta Richter Vaccine certificate for Berta Richter, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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In fact, it would have suited the regime’s intentions if infectious diseases were to run rampant in Theresienstadt, as they did in other ghettos and camps, claiming the lives of many prisoners. 

However, the Theresienstadt ghetto served for a while as a “show” camp to mislead the international public and visiting delegations from the Red Cross. In that context, vaccines were administered there as well. Berta Richter survived her detainment and died in 1959 at the age of eighty-five.

Facades for the International Commission (1942) by Bedřich FrittaJewish Museum Berlin

After Liberation
Vaccine certificates from the immediate postwar period have also been preserved in our collections, for example, this vaccine certificate for Klaus Zwilsky (b. 1932). 

Klaus Zwilsky on his first ever day at school (1938) by unknownJewish Museum Berlin

The three members of the Zwilsky family survived the Nazi period in the Jewish hospital in Berlin.  A few months after liberation, the Zwilskys were vaccinated against “typhus” and “spotted fever” in August 1945. The supply shortage is reflected in the fact that the vaccine certificates were printed on the backs of old military cards. 

Vaccine certificate for Klaus Zwilsky Vaccine certificate for Klaus ZwilskyJewish Museum Berlin

Vaccine certificate for Klaus Zwilsky Back (13.-28.08.1945) by Dr. Helmut CohenJewish Museum Berlin

Georg Marcuse’s (1901–1994) vaccine certificate is also printed on the back of such a military card.

Vaccine certificate for Georg Marcuse Vaccine certificate for Georg MarcuseJewish Museum Berlin

Vaccine certificate for Georg Marcuse Front (23.07.1946) by Dr. M. HettaschJewish Museum Berlin

Georg Marcuse (ca. 1946-1948)Original Source:

Because his wife was not Jewish, Georg Marcuse was not deported during the Nazi period and was able to remain living in Berlin. In 1946, he received his second typhus vaccine.

Anna Münzer (1875–1974) was already seventy-one when she was vaccinated in late 1945. After liberation from the Theresienstadt ghetto, she went to the Deggendorf Displaced Persons Camp in the US occupation zone.

DP identity card for Anna Münzer, UNRRA Team 55, 23.10.1945, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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In November and December 1945, she was vaccinated there against typhus, typhoid fever, and smallpox. Half a year later, she was able to emigate to the US, where she joined her children. She died in San Francisco at age ninety-nine. 

Vaccine certificate for Anna Münzer Vaccine certificate for Anna Münzer, From the collection of: Jewish Museum Berlin
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Anuschka Wienskowitz’s (b. 1947) vaccine certificate may be emblematic for the fragile resumption of Jewish life in Germany after the Shoah. 

As a daughter of two Auschwitz survivors who had met and married at the Feldafing Displaced Persons camp, she was vaccinated against smallpox in Hamburg a few months after her birth. However, her parents did not see a future for themselves in Germany and the family of three emigrated to the US in 1949.

Vaccine certificate for Anuschka Wienskowitz, Health Department Hamburg, 04.06.1948, Original Source:
The Wienskowitz Family, unknown, ca. 1948, Original Source:
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Covid-19 Today
And today? Covid-19 is also an intrusion on Jews’ lives and religious practices. During the first lockdown, prayer services had to be temporarily suspended. In addition, the public health rules raise many questions. For example, is it permissible to touch a mezuzah in an entryway and then kiss one’s hand? Today, German and European rabbis are appealing for people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. And the chair of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, has spoken out in favor of the vaccination.

Because the Jewish Museum Berlin’s Archive preserves not only documents from the past, but also from contemporary Jewish life, it is quite possible that at some point, we will have a record of a Covid-19 vaccination in our holdings.

Credits: Story

All documents and photos: Jewish Museum Berlin 
Text and object selection: Franziska Bogdanov, Ulrike Neuwirth, Aubrey Pomerance and Jörg Waßmer 

Editing: Mirjam Bitter 
Translation:  Jake  Schneider 
Repro photography: Jörg Waßmer and Jens Ziehe 

We would like to thank the donors and loaners Fred Antman, Viola Bikerman and Harriet Thomsen, Thomas Fritta-Haas, Rivka Ginsberg, Franklin Gumpert and Evelyn Jane Mabee née Gumpert, I. Dinah Haller, Eri Heer and Evelyn Jane Mabee née Gumpert. Dinah Haller, Eri Heller, Joanne Intrator, Hans Richard Jorysz, Heike Kalz, Eva Karpas, Judith, David, Jonathan and Thomas Kirschner, Leufgen family, Willi Löhr, Thomas Mariam, Anne Mayer, Susana Mayer, Trude Meyer, Ekkehard Rentrop, Rotraut Schnabbe, Gunther Steinberg, Giselher Technau, Ralph Wagner and Klaus M. Zwilsky! 

From Cowpox to Covid-19 | Jewish Museum Berlin (

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