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Eduard Ascher, 86, psychiatrist and teacher


Dr. Eduard Ascher, a psychiatrist who taught at the Johns Hopkins University for 49 years, died Thursday in a Towson nursing home of congestive heart failure. He was 86.

A native of Vienna, Austria, Dr. Ascher emigrated to the United States in 1938 to escape the Nazis' domination of his country.

"He always said, 'Bred in Vienna, a crumb in Baltimore,'" said his wife, Amalie Adler Ascher.

He was a specialist in group therapy and a nationally known expert on Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes people to make involuntary movements or sounds, including uttering profanity in some cases.

During the administration of President Harry S. Truman - who was renowned for his colorful language - a Time magazine reporter once asked Dr. Ascher whether the president was a Tourette's sufferer, according to his wife, who could not recall the doctor's reply.

Dr. Ascher was schooled in Vienna and attended the University of Vienna School of Medicine until 1938, when Adolf Hitler took control of Austria. That year, he was expelled from the university because he was Jewish.

A cousin in St. Louis urged him to emigrate.

"He went by train to Switzerland," his wife said. "He used to tell about the journey - how the Nazi guards got on the train and said, 'You, get off, and you, get off,' and how everyone held their breath until they were gone. He talked about the emotions they all felt when the train crossed the [Swiss] border, and they were free."

Dr. Ascher's brother and two sisters also escaped Austria, but his parents' attempts to leave were repeatedly thwarted, and they died in Nazi concentration camps, Mrs. Ascher said.

Dr. Ascher told an interviewer for The Evening Sun in 1989 that he lost his religious faith after the Holocaust. But he never lost his sense of humor, his wife said.

"At cocktail parties he always held court," his wife said. "He could tell the same joke 59 times and people would always laugh, because he told it. He was the perfect raconteur."

A longtime North Baltimore resident, Dr. Ascher received his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1942 and came to Johns Hopkins as a psychiatric resident in 1943. In 1946, he began teaching there as an instructor. He became an assistant professor in 1949 and an associate professor in 1973.

He also served on the faculties of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Washington School of Psychiatry. He was a consultant in group psychotherapy for Crownsville State Hospital from 1955 to 1970, and for the Baltimore City public school system from 1966 to 1970.

He maintained a private practice from 1952 until his retirement in 1995.

No services are planned.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Thomas Barry Ascher of Baltimore and John Bryan Ascher of Leesburg, Va.; a daughter, Cynthia Ascher Sokolow of Baltimore; and a stepson, Kenneth Charles Weinberg of Baltimore.

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