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Hirschler, Ignác

(1823–1891), ophthalmologist and president of the Jewish Community of Pest. Ignác Hirschler was born in Stomfa, where his father was a merchant. The family moved to Pest in the 1830s, and Hirschler studied at the prestigious Piarist secondary school, where he experienced antisemitism firsthand. In his autobiography, he wrote: “Sitting at the Jewish desk in the back of the classroom, I felt the poisoned sting of humiliation, which influences a person’s spirit and frame of mind more adversely than is generally believed.”

Hirschler studied ophthalmology in Vienna and Paris and became an assistant to the world-famous eye surgeon Louis Desmarres in Paris. He also studied microscopic methods in the tissue laboratory of David Gruby, a fellow Hungarian Jew. Hirschler returned to Hungary at the end of 1849, immediately after the suppression of the 1848–1849 Hungarian Revolution. There he applied for a lecture post at the university in Pest in 1851, but since he refused to convert to Christianity, his application was rejected. From 1859 on, he worked as the chief ophthalmologist at the Pest Hospital for Poor Children; later, he led the department in this field at the Rókus Hospital. In 1868 he became a member of the National Public Health Committee, which was responsible for organizing the training of doctors in Hungary and preparing public health laws. From 1869, he was a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Hirschler edited the Szemészet (Ophthalmology) supplement of the Orvosi Hetilap (Medical Weekly) from 1864 until 1880. His served as president of the Magyar Orvosegyesület (Hungarian Physicians Association) between 1874 and 1881, and as chairman of the ophthalmologic congress in Vienna in 1880. He was physician to many important Hungarian public figures, including the poet János Arany and the statesmen Ferenc Deák and József Eötvös. Hirschler published numerous scientific articles on innovative ophthalmologic methods in Hungarian and German medical journals. In 1885, he became a member of the Upper House of the Hungarian Parliament.

Hirschler aimed to keep alive the reform spirit of the suppressed revolution. During the 1850s—a decade of Austrian repression—he formed a circle of liberal-minded Hungarian physicians. He also worked to achieve Jewish political and cultural emancipation. From 1861 until 1863, Hirschler served as president of the Jewish Community of Pest, Hungary’s leading Neolog community. He modernized its administration and initiated its annual report on the budget and activities of its departments. When the General Congress of Jews from Hungary and Transylvania (A Magyar és Erdélyi Izraeliták Egyetemes Gyűlése) was convened in 1868–1869, Hirschler, as one of the leaders of the progressive camp, was elected chairman.

Hirschler was involved in Jewish public life at many levels. Because he was close to József Eötvös and Ágoston Trefort, the successive ministers of education and religious affairs, his opinions were solicited on significant Jewish issues such as the establishment of the Rabbinical Seminary in Pest. In his last years—a consequence, ironically, of his nearly complete blindness—Hirschler retired from public life. He died in Budapest in 1891; his autobiography was published the same year.

Suggested Reading

Zsigmond Groszmann, “Hirschler Ignác,” IMIT Évkönyv, 1941 (Budapest, 1941): 143–158; Ignác Hirschler, Autobiographisches Fragment (Budapest, 1891); Sámuel Kohn, Emlékbeszéd dr. Hirschler Ignác fölött (Budapest, 1891); Lajos Varga, “Hirschler Ignácz,” Szemészet 3 (1960): 178–186.