Eugen Kolisko, the first Waldorf school doctor

Tomás Zdrazil

Heisler did not trust himself to do this task and declined. Molt by return sent a telegram to the just 26-year-old Eugen Kolisko: “Oehlschlegel to America for Waldorf college. Please fill in for him immediately. Room organised.” Kolisko had been a lecturer in medical chemistry at Vienna University and was a highly gifted, universally educated and anthroposophically well-founded scientist. He was someone qualified for the planned anthroposophical free “Waldorf college”. A corresponding building had always been included in all construction plans for the school grounds. Kolisko, an academic physician, not an educator, suddenly had to cope with a considerably unruly class. He started with biology, which was easiest for him, followed by mathematics, German and physics. The first months were a baptism of fire for the slightly built doctor: “… primary school makes much greater demands of the teacher than university, paradoxical as that may sound …,” he noted soberly. But his insightful living learning and loving nature won the hearts of his pupils who – as they described it – swarmed closely around him: “We could not get close enough to absorb the knowledge filled with his warm humanity.” 

But “Koli”, as he was called, above all stood at the forefront of all the anthroposophical endeavours whose goal was a free higher education system and the renewal and spiritualisation of the arts and sciences: he gave courses and lectures, undertook research, published and edited. Rudolf Steiner valued his research work and that of his wife Lili; praised his lectures – “… he speaks the truth right to the heart of the matter; and fully comes alive in that truth …”; invited him to his key lecture courses for young doctors, special needs teachers or pastoral workers; and liked him to come along on his lecture tours to Holland and England. 

But the foundation of a free college in Stuttgart never came about at that time. Kolisko nevertheless remained at the Stuttgart school and after a brief period as a class teacher worked as an all-rounder in the upper classes both as a history and English as well as chemistry and biology teacher. He did not take up work as the school doctor until 1921, not just on the basis of his own specialism but with his newly acquired knowledge of education. He combined within himself the educational and medical approach. 

The state of health of very many pupils was disturbing after the war. Kolisko applied himself in many different ways and together with others organised regular free meals for malnourished pupils. Steiner addressed his medical and educational remarks above all to Kolisko. A difficult time started for Kolisko and his colleague and friend Walter Johannes Stein in 1925 after the death of Rudolf Steiner; he suffered from a lack of understanding and conflicts and finally had to leave the Waldorf school in 1934. He spent the last five years of his life in England.