Retired doctor, survivor, turns caring into a 2nd career

"There were so many things that came up after I finished my book," said Hartmann, 85, in a phone interview from his home in Syracuse, N.Y.

Medical problems plagued the doctor's family. His wife, Herta, died of cancer in 1988. His mentally and physically disabled son Michael was hospitalized with seizures. Hartmann, himself, was diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

Reflecting on this post-retirement phase of life led to a second book, "In Search of Self, In the Service of Others: Reflections of a Retired Physician on Medicine, the Bible, & the Jews."

Hartmann's exploration of self, his roles as husband, father, Holocaust survivor and Jew "begins and ends in service to others," he writes in the introduction.

"Any Jewish person who has experienced the Nazi Holocaust has to come to grips with his or her identity," writes Hartmann, who spent over a month in Buchenwald.

A member of Temple Society of Concord, a Reform synagogue, he says his inspiration comes from Torah.

"I learned from my experiences how not to be to other people. Going through the Holocaust taught me to act according to the Torah."

After retiring from medicine, Hartmann put his energy into writing, something he sees as another kind of service.

"Partly it's a service to others, and partly it helps me to talk about it, to relieve me of any bad memories," he says. Hartmann's bad memories include being in Breslau, Germany (now the Polish city of Wrozlaw) in 1938 on Kristallnacht.

"We stayed close to home and didn't go out. We didn't know what would happen," he recalls.

The idea that Jews died in the Shoah because they weren't pious enough — a belief held by some fervently religious — is "obscene," Hartmann says.

"I don't believe that God had anything to do with it. It was people."

So motivated was Hartmann to finish writing "In Search of Self," he refused bypass surgery. Instead, he treated his condition with a low-fat, high-protein diet, vitamins and medication.

"I figured I was able to do writing and reading at that time but I didn't know what would happen after the bypass."

In retirement he found himself tending his own medical problems as well as those of his wife and son. In his book, he recalls his wife's battle with cancer.

"Not only did she demonstrate the stamina and courage that saw her through so many struggles during our life together, but in her waning days and weeks she showed all of us how to hold onto life and how extraordinarily graceful and dignified one's departing can be."

He also writes about his son Michael, now in his 40s, who's waged a lifelong battle with seizures. At five months, he had a reaction to a DPT vaccination that left him mentally retarded and a quadriplegic. (The pertussis component of a diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus vaccine occasionally caused severe reactions.) Though he is unable to speak, he smiles and hugs friends and family.

"When you are the parent of a disabled child or adult, you try to find meaning in a smile, a glance, a gesture," Hartmann writes.

It is through caring for his family and patients that Hartmann has derived meaning from his life.

"I learn from the biblical and talmudic teachings that we have to improve the world," he says. "That's what we are here for. I try to do that."