Otto Krayer was born, educated, and began his academic career in Germany. When the Nazi government banned and dismissed Jews from holding high academic positions, Krayer was offered the newly opened chair in pharmacology at Düsseldorf. His quiet refusal on ethical grounds was met by the government with banishment from all German universities and libraries. This act of conviction by Krayer, which he always minimized, necessitated his leaving Germany in 1933.
After a brief time in London, Krayer became head of the Department of Pharmacology at the American University of Beirut, which he represented at the Tercentenary Celebration of Harvard University in 1936. At that time, he was asked to give lectures in pharmacology at the Harvard Medical School and later was appointed to that faculty. When Krayer was invited to Chair pharmacology at the Peiping Union Medical College in China, the medical students at Harvard petitioned Krayer to stay, and also delivered the petition to the dean, who responded with an offer of tenure and the departmental chair.
A substantial part of the research conducted by Krayer at Harvard was on the veratrum alkaloids and reserpine. He was interested in all aspects of the substances, but focused on cardiovascular effects using the canine heart-lung preparation. Krayer was exquisitely artful in his successful use of the demanding procedure, and even used it in cardiovascular teaching labs.
After the war, Krayer participated in war relief efforts and founded the Committee to Help German University Scientists rebuild the devastated German academic community. Even after his retirement from teaching and research, he and his wife, Ruth, dedicated themselves to helping young pharmacologists.
We are honored to list Dr. Krayer as a past president of ASPET (1957) and the 1961 recipient of the inaugural ASPET Torald Sollmann Award in Pharmacology.
Dr. Krayer's compelling story has inspired several recountings and tributes. Some of these are linked below.