<Jan Esser (1877-1946) was Dutch chess champion, chess columnist, president of the Dutch chess federation for a short time and founder of several
chess clubs. He was an enthusiastic match player and once beat Janowski 2-1. But his most remarkable achievements were not in chess. He
was a man who wanted to be the best in every field he touched and to a large extent he succeeded in this. Still, his most ambitious scheme became a
failure and he died in poverty and isolation, his pioneering efforts forgotten and neglected.
While still living in the Netherlands as a general medical practitioner, his house became a meeting place of artists and intellectuals and his friendship with several of the greatest Dutch artists was to be
the foundation of his career as one of the greatest private art collectors that the Netherlands has ever known. Just one example, given in Neelissen's
book: at a time that Piet Mondriaan, who was to become the most famous Dutch artist of the 20th century, was still virtually unknown, Esser already
possessed 70 of his works. Many Dutch museums possess works donated by Esser, some of them are the crown jewels of their collection.
Esser was also a shrewd financial speculator, who bought and sold castles, palaces, theatres and grand
hotels as easily as if they were toy buildings from Legoland. He was a farmer, horse-breeder, builder, hotel manager, operator of a vaudeville house, but all these were only side-activities to his practical and theoretical work as a pioneer of plastic surgery.
This by the way was a term that Esser abhorred, because it suggested trivial cosmetic operations for the idle rich. From time to time he did not feel
above making some easy money that way, but his real work was quite different: he gave new faces and a bearable life to the victims of battles or of
terrible accidents whose faces had exploded.
The beginning of his spectacular career as a "structive surgeon" - the term invented by Esser - was in World War I. At first he had offered his
services to the French and British governments, who were not interested, and so in 1915 he went to the other side, the German and Austrian empires.
With him he took four Dutch nurses, recruited from the staff of a rival Dutch surgeon who was not at all pleased. Accommodating the wishes of
others was never to be a consideration in Esser's grand schemes.
From Brünn (nowadays the Czech Brno) where he arrived in 1915, he moved to Vienna, then to Budapest and finally to Berlin, where he became quite famous. A Dutch newspaper reported in 1918 that the Emperor's sister in law, the Duchess of Sleeswijk-Holstein-Coburg, took part in his operations as an assistant and that the Empress
visited his clinic and conversed with his patients.
Esser performed thousands of operations and developed many new techniques, which he was to describe later in books and scientific articles. As Neelissen writes, some of these techniques were to be reinvented about fifty years later by American
surgeons who had no idea that Esser had ever existed.>