Obituary: Dr Zoltn Frankl

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The Independent Online
ZOLTAN FRANKL was a great survivor: of the concentration camps, of post-war tyranny, of a huge upheaval in his professional life in middle age, and of difficulties and setbacks that would have stopped a lesser man in his tracks.

In his 1996 autobiography Whirlwind he describes how, at the last minute, as he set off with other Hungarian Jews in November 1944 to the infamous Mauthausen Concentration Camp, he decided to pack his medical bag of surgical instruments. That little bag saved his life and that of many others over the next year and is a perfect example of his quick thinking and practical approach to danger, disaster and cruelty.

Born in 1907 in Kishunhalas, Hungary, to a poor Jewish family, Frankl became one of Hungary's leading oral surgeons, pioneering techniques in maxillo-facial surgery and operating on patients in every situation from the lice-ridden tents of Mauthausen to the leading dental hospital in Budapest.

One of his most hair-raising operations was on Mihaly Farkas, the brutal Defence Minister in the post-war Communist government; it was a dangerous undertaking, not made easier by the presence of 14 secret servicemen next door, but Frankl's hand remained steady and the minister was "saved". Afterwards a Christian colleague whispered to him: "Zoltn, why didn't you kill him?" For a man who believed above all in the Latin tag: "Nil nocere", there was only one answer.

After the revolution of 1956, Frankl left Hungary with his family and eventually arrived in Britain, where he had to qualify all over again, revising from books that had his own articles quoted in the bibliography. A brilliant career in Harley Street followed, and he was still working there in 1989 when he retired, aged 82.

He went on working on articles and his autobiography, the centre of a family he loved and occasionally infuriated (his adored wife, Anuci, died in 1988). In 1991 I helped make a programme about him, Working Among the Tyrants, which was broadcast on Radio 4 and got a tremendous reaction.

My last sight of Zoltn Frankl, a week before his death, was at his table bent over an article on oral surgery he was trying desperately to finish - he did! But I like best to think of him in his beret, grinning hugely in the Hampstead streets near his home, and greeting every pretty woman with a loud "Darlink!" When his son, Andrew, went into the bank to close his account, the woman cashier burst into tears. She was going to miss the man who brought her flowers each time he came to cash a cheque.

Zoltn Frankl, oral surgeon: born Kiskunhalas, Hungary 6 August 1907; married (one son, one daughter); died London 5 March 1998.