Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch

Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch

by Edna P. Gurewitsch


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Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch by Edna P. Gurewitsch

The poignant and unforgettable true account of the deep, loving friendship between a handsome physician and the former First Lady, as seen on PBS’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

 “I love you as I love and have never loved anyone else.” —Eleanor Roosevelt in a letter to Dr. David Gurewitsch, 1955
She was the most famous and admired woman in America. He was a strikingly handsome doctor, eighteen years her junior. Eleanor Roosevelt first met David Gurewitsch in 1944. He was making a house call to a patient when the door opened to reveal the wife of the president of the United States, who had come to help her sick friend. A year later, Gurewitsch was Mrs. Roosevelt’s personal physician, on his way to becoming the great lady’s dearest companion—a relationship that would endure until Mrs. Roosevelt’s death in 1962. Recounting the details of this remarkable union is an intimately involved chronicler: Gurewitsch’s wife, Edna.
Kindred Souls is a rare love story—the tale of a friendship between two extraordinary people, based on trust, exchange of confidences, and profound interest in and respect for each other’s work. With perceptiveness, compassion, admiration, and deep affection, the author recalls the final decade and a half of the former First Lady’s exceptional life, from her first encounter with the man who would become Mrs. Gurewitsch’s husband through the blossoming of a unique bond and platonic love.
Blended into her tender reminiscences are excerpts from the enduring correspondence between Dr. Gurewitsch and the First Lady, and a collection of personal photographs of the Gurewitsch and Roosevelt families. The result is a revealing portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most beloved icons in the last years of her life—a woman whom the author warmly praises as “one of the few people in this world in which greatness and modesty could coexist.” 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504049320
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 356
Sales rank: 502,507
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Edna P. Gurewitsch is an art historian and former art dealer. Born in New York, she earned her bachelor of science degree from New York University and taught at the High School of Music & Art. Gurewitsch also served as vice president of Manhattan’s E. & A. Silberman Galleries. During her marriage to Dr. David Gurewitsch, personal physician of Eleanor Roosevelt, she maintained a close friendship with the former First Lady. Mrs. Roosevelt and David and Edna Gurewitsch bought and shared a New York City townhouse together, and the Gurewitsches accompanied Mrs. Roosevelt on many of her trips abroad.

Gurewitsch has one daughter, three grandchildren, and one stepdaughter. She lives in New York City. 

Read an Excerpt

Kindred Souls

The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch

By Edna P. Gurewitsch


Copyright © 2002 Edna P. Gurewitsch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-3894-5



House Call

THE DAY BEGAN LIKE any other in the life of a busy New York City doctor. It was 1944, wartime. Because of David Gurewitsch's boyhood bout with tuberculosis, he had been rejected by the armed services, despite persistent attempts to enlist. That day, on his heavily scheduled medical rounds, he was making a house call on a patient. He hurried, late as usual, moving quickly and lightly, his long strides reflecting the racewalking championships he'd won as a youth in Berlin. David appeared younger than his forty-two years. A slender, elegant man over six feet tall, he was uncommonly handsome. Dark hair parted to one side revealed a smooth, broad forehead. His blue eyes (the left one with a significant brown spot in its center) were penetrating. He stood impatiently at the door of his patient's home, waiting for someone to answer his ring. To his astonishment, the door was opened by the wife of the president of the United States.

Due to the shortage of civilian nurses, Eleanor Roosevelt had come to help a friend who was ill. David described in his journal: "[She was] Mrs. Trude Lash, whom I had known from student days and who had become one of my first patients in New York. I found Mrs. Roosevelt at her bedside at subsequent medical visits."

Mrs. Roosevelt had been impressed by David's quick and thorough examination of Trude, had noticed his head imperceptibly trembling at times with the intensity of his concentration. No one was a keener observer than she. David's quiet dynamism, his alertness to everyone and everything around him, was not lost on her. From his mother, who had studied medicine in London and who was an innovative physical therapist, he had inherited an uncanny ability to sense what lay beneath the surface of the skin. Added to this was his talent for correct diagnosis. Regardless of the demands upon his time, David was never rushed with patients. He gave himself fully to the moment at hand. He spoke gently with patients, thoughtfully weighing his words, occasionally taking long pauses before answering anxious questions in order to be as certain as possible of the completeness and clarity of his reply, always concerned with its effect upon patient and family. He would tell medical students, "A good doctor answers the questions a patient is afraid to ask." And he would add, "Remember, you are not treating a broken leg. You are treating a person with a broken leg."

Though his background was in pathology and internal medicine, David had become a pioneer in the new field of physical medicine (later called physical medicine and rehabilitation). In 1939, he had joined the staff of the Neurological Institute of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center — his professional home for the next thirty-five years — appointed to its Physical Therapy Service. A poliomyelitis specialist, he was known for achieving outstanding results in the treatment of this paralyzing disease so prevalent at that time among children. He was active in the development of burgeoning physical medicine departments of other hospitals in the early 1940s, and he also looked after his private patients and those of colleagues in the armed forces.

A paralyzed patient once described David Gurewitsch's first visit to his hospital bed:

My favorable impression of him, apart from the fame that had preceded him, was based on three quite unscientific factors — that he was exceedingly handsome, that he finished the examination very quickly, and that my case did not seem to worry him. The first consideration is, of course, irrelevant.... But speed in sizing up the situation meant to me perspicacity and long experience. This man could hold a leg in the palm of his hand as if he were divining the muscular strength from a delicate but almost instantaneous appraisal of its weight. No plodding neurologist he. In minutes he had seen everything. When he noticed I was particularly worried about my arm, he flashed it up again ... then announced, "I guarantee that arm...."

His compelling need to observe and experience as much as possible enhanced his enjoyment of life and helped him to be the astute physician that he was. With an innate understanding of suffering, his easily sensed compassion made him distinctively appealing. He had struck a chord in Mrs. Roosevelt.

The superbly organized Eleanor Roosevelt had the possessions that the family had accumulated during its twelve-year occupancy of the White House packed and shipped to Hyde Park within a week of the president's death, April 12, 1945. The White House had never been home to her. She had moved into it with trepidation and moved out with alacrity. The family's large house and extensive property at Hyde Park were presented to the government in accordance with the wishes of FDR, and from her husband's estate, Mrs. Roosevelt purchased the nearby Val-Kill cottages and land. Her New York City residence was the apartment that she and the president had shared at 29 Washington Square West, Greenwich Village. Estate matters settled, freed of her central position as First Lady, the sixty-one-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt could, for the first time after forty years of marriage, move out of the imposing shadow of FDR and have a life of her own. Her public duties were over, or so she thought, but she was soon persuaded by President Truman to accept an appointment as a delegate to the first session of the United Nations. In April 1946, a year after FDR's death, Mrs. Roosevelt was made chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, but before that appointment, needing a physician in New York, she remembered David and telephoned him.

David wrote, "After the President's death, Mrs. Roosevelt, having settled in her New York apartment, called and asked me whether I would be willing to take her as a patient. She added that she was quite healthy and would probably not take up too much of my time. I readily agreed. Soon afterward a rather voluminous record arrived from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda [Maryland], containing her medical data." The box arrived in David's office in December 1945. His first serious medical encounter with Mrs. Roosevelt occurred on August 14, 1946, when she had a car accident, having fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. He sent her a bill on September 1 for medical care. It was the last time he ever billed her.

Over the course of the next two years, Mrs. Roosevelt made a few telephone calls to David's office, and from time to time, she dropped in to see him, generally for the then-required inoculations before a trip abroad. He was a visitor to Hyde Park only once or twice in those years. That is how it began, the unique friendship between the famous American widow and the cultivated European doctor eighteen years her junior, to whom she would one day write, "You know without my telling you that I love you as I love and have never loved anyone else." Their story sheds fresh light on her last years, a time of important achievement and a deep new attachment.



Flight to Switzerland

DAVID WROTE IN HIS journal about the plane trip to Switzerland:

On November 29, 1947, I was seated next to Mrs. Roosevelt in an airplane heading for Switzerland, she for Geneva, as Chaiman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and I for Davos, for a tuberculosis cure. This trip to Geneva turned out to be most memorable. The very beginning generated much excitement. As the plane took off, the historic voting at the United Nations General Assembly on the proposed Partition of Palestine had just started. Strongly in favor of Partition [the establishment of an Arab and a Jewish state as two separate entities], Mrs. Roosevelt had exerted considerable energy and all her influence to get the United States to vote for it. A friend had brought a small radio on the plane and our group was listening intensely as one by one, the votes were announced. With great relief our party realized that the necessary two-thirds majority in favor of Partition had been reached. We were elated.

In those days the journey to Geneva in a propeller plane required two refueling stops, usually in Gandor, Newfoundland, and Shannon, Ireland. It was expected to take just short of twenty-four hours. This particular trip, however, took four and a half days. The plane had mechanical trouble in Newfoundland which delayed us, and [when we stopped] in Ireland we were fogged in. In the absence of the normal ties and obligations usually present in our daily lives, the contact which had grown between Mrs. Roosevelt and myself in the course of the last two and a half years developed a different dimension. The many hours in the air, and especially the days in Shannon airport, resulted in a friendship most meaningful to me and one which was to last throughout the remaining fifteen years of Mrs. Roosevelt's life. In the detached and somewhat unreal atmosphere of an airplane, I heard much about Mrs. Roosevelt's life and she, in turn, learned about some of the vicissitudes of mine, of my hopes and ambitions. Mrs. Roosevelt was an extremely avid and sympathetic listener and questioner. I told her about my background, about my extraordinary philosopher-father ... who, with my mother and their baby, my older brother, had lived in Switzerland. A short time after having found an adequate solution to his philosophic questions involving the relationship between man and God ... and with the fulfillment of his mission in life, at the age of twenty-six [my father] drowned in a Swiss lake. This was three months before I was born. My mother firmly believed that, at that point, life did not offer him any further challenge and that his death was a suicide.* For her this loss represented a blow from which she never recovered. In her response to a little note I had written her on July seventh, the occasion of the thirty-fifth anniversary of my father's death, she answered: "Don't you know that for me, every day is the seventh of July?"

David spoke to Mrs. Roosevelt about his mother's strength of character, her deeply religious approach to life, and how she had survived the blow of her husband's death, cut off from family (which was in Russia), with a ten-month-old baby and a second child due to be born in three months. He told her that when he was two and his brother three, his mother took them to live with her parents in Russia while she went to study medicine in England and how she returned for them after five years, then settled in Berlin, where she started her practice. He also told Mrs. Roosevelt how his mother had managed to educate her sons, publish her husband's writings, and support her family. He described life and education in Berlin during and after World War I, his family's experiences as aliens in Germany, his determination to be a doctor, and his reluctance to enter medical, school because of the financial burden it would place upon his mother. He discussed his seven or eight years in the business world before beginning medical school with his own financial resources, saying that while the time he spent working was largely wasted, the experience had helped him in administering a medical department and a hospital. He explained that he had been educated in German universities and had done his medical training in Switzerland, Israel, Austria, and England before going to the United States on a fellowship. His financial reserve from his premedical years allowed for independent and long-term education, he said.

Although he and Mrs. Roosevelt had come from different parts of the world, from different backgrounds, and were of different ages, it developed, he noted, that they had much in common. They had both grown up fatherless, for example.

... I, searching for the father I never knew, Mrs. Roosevelt for the father she had lost. During our impressionable young years we had both been raised by grandparents. We both had feelings of early deprivation. The sense of "service" had been strongly instilled into us and accomplishment in life was to be measured more in terms of service than happiness. With a completely different upbringing, each of us was shy, felt somewhat "outside" of the established norms, and were essentially lonely.

In spite of having been born into the "establishment," the niece of a President, the wife of a President, Mrs. Roosevelt was basically a deprived person. It began with the separation from her beloved father, was continued by his early death and by the loss of her mother. In her most impressionable years she was brought up a homeless orphan by a stern grandmother. She found her main emotional support in a French teacher in a school in England. Finally, this feeling of homelessness was repeated in the pattern of her marriage, in which her domineering mother-in-law's house never seemed her own. These were the stories we exchanged.

In Shannon at the time, sleeping quarters in the event of flight delays were in barracks located over a mile away from the airport dining room. The distance had to be covered on foot. Mrs. Roosevelt often took it upon herself to provide me with necessary food, when I, ill, remained mostly in the barracks during the three days of our delay there, waiting for the fog to lift. Her interpretation of "help" was overwhelming.... Our uninterrupted hours of conversation grew. By the time the plane arrived in Geneva, the doctor-patient relationship we had had before became a real friendship. Throughout my stay in Davos our contact continued. We wrote each other almost daily. Mrs. Roosevelt consistently provided me with thoughtful gifts. She sent me a radio, books, fruit and sweets, the manuscript of the book she was writing, and I began to learn what it meant to be Mrs. Roosevelt's friend.

Their backgrounds were indeed different. Eleanor Roosevelt was born into an aristocratic American family, her future position in society predetermined. David was the son of Russian-Jewish parents living in Switzerland. Stateless until he was forty-two, having been issued a Nansen passport (a document identifying those persons who, because of war or for other reasons, were stateless), he spent his youth in the midst of European political upheaval, and he followed no certain course except that which was defined by his mother. Yet he and Mrs. Roosevelt recognized in each other an extraordinary inherited ability to empathize with people, and the fact that they were motivated by compassion to care for those in need. During the long journey, Mrs. Roosevelt found herself increasingly drawn to David. His understanding of his mother's lonely struggles impressed her, as did his resolve to make his life count for something. Reserved manners in an informal man were appealing to Mrs. Roosevelt and helped to establish a rapport between them. He was honest and intense, and his need for support at the time was hard to resist, particularly for a woman so profoundly responsive to frailty. He had many contrasting characteristics that were interesting to her. He was worldly and innocent at the same time. A passionate man, he could be coolly objective. Critical of himself, he was nonjudgmental of others. Highly educated, he was not snobbish. Warmly outgoing, he was a touch elusive. He was aware of the unusual impression he made, of his charisma, which attracted men as well as women. A conventional physician, David was magical. Yet his nomadic formative years in Europe had left him feeling isolated. His vulnerability to the ups and downs of life, a tendency he never quite conquered, and his sense of apartness were felt by everyone to some degree, and deeply by a few.

In 1927, at the age of twenty-five, David had given up his business interests — at nineteen, he'd been a partner in Berlin's first plastics factory, then successfully invested in the newly developing motion-picture industry — before beginning medical school in Freiburg, Germany. With Nazism on the rise, he transferred to the Basel Medical School in his native Switzerland. He was older than most of the other students. "He kept to himself a good deal," I was told by one of his classmates, Dr. Anna-Marie Weil.** She remembered how handsome and gifted he was and that he was always the subject of romantic stories among the other students. Those who had left German universities for study in Basel knew, of course, that there was no going back. They spent endless hours discussing in which countries they could safely practice medicine once they'd received their degrees. David had arrived in Basel with his decision made. He would go to Palestine.


Excerpted from Kindred Souls by Edna P. Gurewitsch. Copyright © 2002 Edna P. Gurewitsch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Author's Note,
Introduction by Geoffrey C. Ward,
Image Gallery,
About the Author,

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Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good reading
pets More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book. If you are remotely interested in Eleanor Roosevelt and the political scene at that time it is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago