Thursday 29 July 2010

Should Nazi doctors be given credit for their medical discoveries?

The past few years have seen a number of revelations concerning hitherto-hidden secrets of the Holocaust: gold plundered from corpses; the corporate theft of life savings placed for safekeeping in Swiss banks; looted art displayed in distinguished galleries; and the expropriation by insurance companies of the unclaimed insurance policies of Holocaust victims. The beneficiaries; prestigious banks, elite galleries, wealthy insurance companies are not the sort of institutions one ordinarily associates in any way with genocide.

There is another perturbing category of eminent exploiters. It includes illustrious universities, research institutes and, in one documented instance, an eminent museum whose quarry were the cadavers of Jewish and non-Jewish victims of Nazi terror. These macabre spoils of Nazi slaughter remained in these institutions' collections (anatomical, pathological and anthropological) for decades after the end of the war. More of this kind of grim booty is probably yet to be found in collections in Germany, Austria and other countries that were once part of the Third Reich. The specimens are tangible evidence of the role played by medicine and medical science in the crimes of the Nazi regime.

The medical professions of Germany and Austria, including academic medicine, played a critical role in the evolution of Nazism's programs of human destruction, programs that culminated in genocide and the exploitation of the dead. Nazi medical science, through the application of egregious eugenics (the study of heredity) and racial hygiene, created classes of inferior human beings. Individuals consigned to these classes were selected for enforced sterilization, medical killing (in the so-called euthanasia operations), and destruction in the death camps. Indeed, killing by gas chamber evolved from medicine. Academic medicine not only provided the ‘scientific’ rationale that legitimized eugenic and racial selection, it also exploited human victims for inhuman research. By defining some human beings as ‘subhuman’, Nazi medical science placed them in the category of ‘scientific specimens’, without protection from German law (which defended animals such as dogs and cats against the same fate). Medical science also plundered the remains of murdered individuals in order to acquire specimens for university institutes of anatomy and pathology and neuropathology, as well as for prestigious research institutes such as the Kaiser-Wilhelm (now the Max Planck) Society.

Every captive of the Nazi state was considered to be a potential subject for inhuman research. Helpless victims, the inmates of psychiatric hospitals and concentration camps, were available for exploitation while still alive. Leading scientists and professors took an active part in this ruthless abuse. Every university anatomical institute in Germany and probably Austria was the recipient of the cadavers of victims of Nazi terror, in particular, political victims executed by the Gestapo.
In the Third Reich, medical depravity was ubiquitous. The following are some representative examples of those involved in medical atrocities:

Professor Dr. Carl Schneider (1891-1946), Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Heidelberg, used the Nazis' euthanasia program for his own depraved research. Schneider conducted psychological assessments of children he knew were doomed to die, and had their brains collected and dissected after they were murdered. Schneider committed suicide after the war.

Professor Dr. Hermann Stieve (1886-1952) was a leading anatomist at the University of Berlin and the Berlin Charité Hospital who exploited the killing programs of the Third Reich to conduct studies on the female reproductive system. When a woman of reproductive age was to be executed by the Gestapo, Stieve was informed, a date of execution was decided upon, and the prisoner told the scheduled date of her death. Stieve then studied the effects of the psychic trauma on the doomed woman's menstrual pattern. Upon the woman's execution, her pelvic organs were removed for histological (tissue) examination. Stieve published reports based on those studies without hesitation or apology.

After the war, Stieve lectured medical students on studies he had conducted on the migration of human sperm, studies performed on women raped before their deaths in Gestapo execution chambers. Stieve discussed this research before an audience of appalled but silent medical students in East Berlin. (Russian scientists reportedly sought out Stieve's research after the war.) Stieve served as dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Humbolt University, the East Berlin successor to the University of Berlin. A lecture room and a sculpture of his bust were dedicated in his honor at the Berlin Charité Hospital.

The neuropathologist Dr. Julius Hallervorden (1882-1965), who directed the famed Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute of Brain Research (KWIBR) in Berlin-Buch, seized the opportunity afforded by the murder of psychiatric patients at Brandenburg to acquire hundreds of brain specimens for what was probably the foremost neuropathological collection in the world. Renamed the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (MPIBR), the institute and its neuropathological collection were relocated from Berlin-Buch to Frankfurt. Hallervorden, who was actually present at the "euthanasia" killing center in Brandenburg, had a congenital neurological condition conamed for him: Hallervorden-Spatz Disease. His laudatory biography is included in a 1990 anthology of the founders of child neurology.

The execution chambers of jails throughout the Third Reich were virtual slaughterhouses, and the remains were delivered to every university institute of anatomy in Germany (and probably Austria). Many of the victims were Polish and Russian slave laborers executed for such acts as socializing with German women. In 1942, the Reich Ministry of Justice declared that the corpses of executed Poles and Jews would (contrary to existing German law) ". . . not be released for burial by the relatives." Their destination would be a university anatomical institute.

Thus far only the universities of Tübingen and Vienna have held formal investigations into anatomical practices at their respective institutions during the Nazi era. Both universities issued reports that are in the public domain.

In 1988, it was revealed that the Tübingen anatomical institute still had in its collections the remains of victims of Nazi terror. Despite the assertions of the then director of the anatomical institute that only two microscopic slides may have been derived from "possible" victims of the Nazis, inquiries revealed that the Institute of Anatomy had received the cadavers of over 400 victims. The names of all the foreign workers executed by the Nazis whose bodies were sent to the anatomy institute are listed in the records of the institute. All suspect specimens or specimens of uncertain origin were buried in a special section of the Tübingen cemetery reserved for the remains of subjects used for the teaching of anatomy. On July 8, 1990, a commemorative ceremony was held.

The Institute of Anatomy of the University of Vienna was headed by the noted anatomist -- and Austro-Fascist -- Professor Dr. Eduard Pernkopf. Pernkopf, who was appointed dean of medicine at the university after the Anschluss, was the founding editor of a major text on human anatomy, a text that is still considered a "masterpiece" and the "standard by which all other illustrated anatomic works are measured." The book continues to be published under the imprint of the original publisher, Urban and Schwarzenberg. In the book's illustrations, artists graphically expressed their Nazi sympathies: The artists Franz Batke, Eric Lepier and Karl Entresser incorporated Nazi iconography (swastikas or SS symbols) into their signatures. More disconcerting are questions concerning the subjects in those paintings. The age, appearance and crude haircut of one of the subjects raises questions as to whether the real-life model may have been a prisoner.

The 1964 two-volume English-language edition included original unaltered signatures, complete with Nazi symbols. Current editions of Pernkopf's Anatomy include paintings from the original editions, but Nazi iconography has been airbrushed out -- with two exceptions. In March 1995 the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority of Israel, Yad Vashem, formally requested that the Universities of Vienna and Innsbruck undertake an independent inquiry, with outside experts, into the backgrounds of the subjects in Pernkopf's Anatomy. The request was made of the University of Innsbruck because it was believed that many of the original Pernkopf specimens were still in the university's anatomical institute.

The initial request from Yad Vashem was denied. However, in February 1997, the Rector of the University of Vienna, Professor Alfred Ebenbauer, formally announced a university commission of investigation; a report was issued on October 1, 1998. The investigation revealed that the Institute of Anatomy received almost 1,400 cadavers from the Gestapo execution chamber in the Vienna Regional Court (Landesgerichte). While the anatomical institute and its collection were destroyed by a bomb near the end of the war, the investigation did identify approximately 200 institute specimens from the Nazi era that were still in other universities' collections. The University of Innsbruck has refused to undertake any investigation.

Following the 1988 revelations that anatomical and pathological specimens from the Nazi era were still to be found in institutions in West Germany, the government of Israel made a formal complaint to the West German government on this matter. In response to the Israeli complaint, inquiries were made through the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Culture and Education of the Länder. The initial inquiries focused on institutions in West Germany. A subsequent report covered institutions in East Germany. No German institution at that time, except for the University of Tübingen, conducted a formal self-examination.

Since then, there have been two attempts to initiate formal investigations into the collections of two German universities: the University of Heidelberg and the Ludwig-Maximillian University of Munich. The University of Heidelberg was asked to undertake an inquiry into the matter of the Schneider collection of the brains of murdered children. The Ludwig-Maximillian University of Munich was asked to conduct an inquiry into allegations that the university's Institute of Anatomy contained cadavers of circumcised males identified as "prisoners from wartime." Both institutions demurred.

In addition to the universities, investigations are required of other scientific institutions, such as the Max Planck Society. While the Max Planck organization did remove specimens from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt and the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, no formal investigation of its collections and wartime conduct has ever been conducted by that organization.
There has been no investigation by Humbolt University or the Berlin Charité Hospital into the research, or the anatomical collection, of Professor Hermann Stieve. Stieve's experiments represent some of the worst examples of evil perpetrated on women in the name of science.

In addition to investigations into prestigious academic and research institutions, there should be public inquiries into the two medical schools instituted by the Nazi regime at Strasbourg in Alsace and Pozen in Poland. Given the designation Reichsuniversität, their goals were to implement Nazi ideals and policies. The Strasbourg institution was part of the SS research organization known as the Ahnenerbe.

he anatomy department of Strasbourg's medical school was headed by the renowned Professor Dr. August Hirt. Hirt, who was the coinventor of the fluorescent microscope, intended, at Strasbourg, to acquire a "collection of skulls of all races and peoples." Nazi authorities, cooperating with Hirt, gassed approximately 86 Jewish prisoners from Poland at the Natzweiler concentration camp in German-occupied France, and transferred the bodies to Hirt's institute. After the war, unsuspecting French medical students dissected some of these remains. Hirt, who was also involved in horrific experiments with mustard gas and phosgene, committed suicide in 1945.

The dean of the medical department of the Reichsuniversität of Pozen was the German anatomist Professor Dr. Hermann Voss (1894-1987). Voss derived great personal satisfaction from the death of Poles who were either cremated in the oven of his anatomical institute or dissected in his anatomy lab. Voss used the bodies of the executed prisoners for the preparation of skeletal remains that he then sold for profit. Voss's institution also prepared death masks and busts from the bodies of Jews sent from a nearby concentration camp. These were sold to the Vienna Museum of Natural History, along with the skulls of Jews and non-Jewish Poles. The specimens were ordered by Dr. Josef Wastel, the head of the anthropology department of the Vienna museum. The skulls, masks and busts were displayed in the museum's Race Gallery. In 1991, most of these items were turned over to the Austrian Jewish community. The skulls were buried. In 1997, the Vienna Jewish Museum displayed the masks in an exhibit entitled "Masks: An Attempt About the Shoah."

The skulls of the non-Jewish Polish victims and the gypsum death busts of two Jews remain in the collection of the Vienna museum. The museum also possesses extensive documentation on its specimen collection (including the account books and inventory), as well as on the role played by the museum in the Nazi regime's racial programs.

A formal investigation of the Vienna Museum of Natural History is presently under consideration.

Professor Hermann Voss continued his anatomy career after the war. He had appointments in Halle (1948-1952), Jena (1952-1962) and subsequently, as professor emeritus at the Greifswald anatomical institute. Voss also coauthored a textbook of anatomy, Taschenbuch der Anatomie; it was probably the most popular anatomical textbook ever published in Germany. The book appeared in 17 German-language editions, as well as in Spanish and Polish editions.

Over a century ago the universities, museums, clinics and research institutes of Germany and Austria gave birth to modern medicine and medical science. These achievements were rooted in the rigorous application of academic and scientific principles of research, documentation and publication. Six decades ago many of those institutions participated in some of the greatest crimes in the history of humanity. These institutions now have a moral obligation to explore their own past, and to do so by applying the same scholarly principles they continue to espouse. Moreover, given the current evidence, investigations into the use of the remains of victims of Nazi terror must be implemented in those countries and territories that were once controlled by Nazi Germany. Justice and simple decency demand nothing less.

There was one medical experiment the Germans did that was cruel but it actually served an important purpose. Many German fliers were dying in the cold sea after they bailed out of their flaming planes so the Germans decided to find a way in which they could increase their flyer’s chances of survival.

The German doctors placed prisoners in vats of ice cold water and when they became unconscious, they then brought them out of the water with the purposes of trying to revive them. They failed every time. Finally, they realized that because the back of their heads were chilled by the cold water, they died shortly thereafter. As a result of those experiments, the Germans made life jackets that would keep the back of the flyer’s heads out of the water and that saved them from an early death. Now all life jackets are made in the same manner so that the heads of anyone wearing them are kept out of the water and now anyone wearing them has a better chance at surviving their ordeal in the icy water.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Strangely similar to

Medicine and Murder in the Third Reich
By William E. Seidelman, M.D.

Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies
Published by the Anti-Defamation League's Braun Holocaust Institute