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Let’s not forget the role doctors played in the Holocaust
January 31, 2013 at 7:35 AM


January 30, 2013 (PJSaunders) - The millions of Jews and others killed during the Holocaust have been remembered in services this week across the UK, as part of Holocaust Memorial Day

Candles have been lit at ceremonies in London and Staffordshire's National Memorial Arboretum, 68 years after Auschwitz was liberated.

More than one million people, mostly Jews, died at the Nazi camp before it was liberated by allied troops in 1945.

But the horrific genocide of six million Jews was only the final chapter in the story. 

What is far less well known is the role of doctors in the process. 

Twenty-three physicians were tried at the so-called Nuremberg Doctors' Trial in 1946 (picture above), which gave birth to the Nuremberg Code of ethics regarding medical experiments. 

Many others including some of the very worst offenders never came to trial (see full list here). 

What ended in the 1940s in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka had much more humble beginnings in the 1930s in nursing homes, geriatric hospitals and psychiatric institutions all over Germany. 

When the Nazis arrived, the medical profession was ready and waiting.

Germany emerged from the First World War defeated, impoverished and demoralised. 

Into this vacuum in 1920 Karl Binding, a distinguished lawyer, and Alfred Hoche, a psychiatrist, published a book titled ‘The granting of permission for the destruction of worthless life. Its extent and form'. 

In it they coined the term ‘life unworthy of life’ and argued that in certain cases it was legally justified to kill those suffering from incurable and severely crippling handicaps and injuries. Hoche used the term ballastexistenzen (‘human ballast’) to describe people suffering from various forms of psychiatric disturbance, brain damage and retardation.

By the early 1930s a propaganda barrage had been launched against traditional compassionate 19th century attitudes to the terminally ill and when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, 6% of doctors were already members of the Nazi Physicians League. 

In June of that year Deutsches Arzteblatt, today still the most respected and widely read platform for medical education and professional politics in Germany, declared on its title page that the medical profession had ‘unselfishly devoted its services and resources to the goal of protecting the German nation from biogenetic degeneration’.

From this eugenic platform, Professor Dr Ernst Rudin, Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Psychiatry of Munich, became the principle architect of enforced sterilisation. The profession embarked on the campaign with such enthusiasm that within four years almost 300,000 patients had been sterilised, at least 50% for failing scientifically designed ‘intelligence tests’.

By 1939 (the year the war started), the sterilisation programme was halted and the killing of adult and paediatric patients began. The Nazi regime had received requests for ‘mercy killing’ from the relatives of severely handicapped children, and in that year an infant with limb abnormalities and congenital blindness (named Knauer) became the first to be put to death, with Hitler’s personal authorisation and parental consent.

This ‘test-case’ paved the way for the registration of all children under three years of age with ‘serious hereditary diseases’. This information was then used by a panel of ‘experts’, including three medical professors (who never saw the patients), to authorise death by injection or starvation of some 6,000 children by the end of the war.

The Nuremberg trials

Adult euthanasia began in September 1939 when an organisation headed by Dr Karl Brandt and Philip Bouhler was set up at Tiergartenstrasse 4 (T4) (pictured right). The aim was to create 70,000 beds for war casualties and ethnic German repatriates by mid-1941. 

All state institutions were required to report on patients who had been ill for five years or more and were unable to work, by filling out questionnaires and chosen patients were gassed and incinerated at one of six institutions (Hadamar being the most famous). 

False death certificates were issued with diagnoses appropriate for age and previous symptoms, and payment for ‘treatment and burial’ was collected from surviving relatives.

The programme was stopped in 1941 when the necessary number of beds had been created. By this time the covert operation had become public knowledge. 

The staff from T4 and the six killing centres was then redeployed for the killing of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and disloyal Germans. By 1943 there were 24 main death camps (and 350 smaller ones) in operation.

Throughout this process doctors were involved from the earliest stage in reporting, selection, authorisation, execution, certification and research. They were not ordered, but rather empowered to participate. 

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Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist with the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes at Nuremberg, described the process in his classic article 'Medical Science under Dictatorship' which was published in the New England Medical Journal in July 1949.

‘The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.’ 

The War Crimes Tribunal reported that ‘part of the medical profession co-operated consciously and even willingly’ with the ‘mass killing of sick Germans’. 

Among their numbers were some of the leading academics and scientists of the day; including professors of the stature of Hallervorden (neuropathology), Pernkopf (anatomy), Rudin (psychiatry/genetics), Schneider (psychiatry), von Verschuer (genetics) and Voss (anatomy). None of these men were ever prosecuted while of the 23 defendants at Nuremberg, only two were internationally recognised academics.

It is easy to distance ourselves from the holocaust and those doctors who were involved. However, images of SS butchers engaged in lethal experiments in prison camps don’t fit the historical facts; the whole process was orchestrated through the collaboration of internationally respected doctors and the State. 

With the advantage of hindsight we are understandably amazed that the German people and especially the German medical profession were fooled into accepting it. The judgement of the War Crimes Tribunal in 1949 as to how they were fooled was as follows: 

 

'Had the profession taken a strong stand against the mass killing of sick Germans before the war, it is conceivable that the entire idea and technique of death factories for genocide would not have materialized...but far from opposing the Nazi state militantly, part of the medical profession co-operated consciously and even willingly, while the remainder acquiesced in silence. Therefore our regretful but inevitable judgement must be that the responsibility for the inhumane perpetrations of Dr Brandt (pictured left)...and others, rests in large measure upon the bulk of the medical profession; because the profession without vigorous protest, permitted itself to be ruled by such men.' (War Crimes Tribunal. 'Doctors of Infamy'. 1948)

2010 article in American Medical News covered the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition on medicalised killings under the Nazis. It concluded:

“‘The misguided scientific ideas of physicians and scientists were integral to Nazis' crimes against humanity and should serve as a reminder to doctors to put patients before political ideology ... As evil as these actions appear in retrospect, they arose out of a highly sophisticated German medical culture... More than half of the Nobel Prizes that were awarded in science through the 1930s went to Germans ... 'These doctors became killers, not despite their training but in the name of their science and training… All doctors and medical professionals need to know and understand this material.'"

Reprinted with permission from Christian Medical Comment.

source

Replies

  • lga1965
    by lga1965
    January 31, 2013 at 6:19 PM

     Oh give me a break. Public schools always have taught the facts of WWII and the Holocaust since I was in school, and since my kids and grandkids have been in school in several different states. In fact, a Holocaust survivor who had the tattoo of numbers on his arm and many stories to tell kids spent over an hour in the middle school auditorium speaking to all the kids last fall. I understand he has been invited to speak to schools all over the Twin Cities.

    Some of the high schoolers in my school district in MN( and in Chapel Hill,NC, where my grandson is a Junior,too)have taken Field Trips to Washington DC amd visited the Holocaust Museum. (My daughter and her family did too in addition.)

    How can you consistently criticize and blame public schools? I know...I bet its because you home school and you don't trust anyone in Education and the Government but ,of course, you trust yourself. Right? Prejudiced much?

    Quoting kailu1835:

    You can thank public school for that one :(

    Quoting jehosoba84:

     

    Quoting IhartU:

     One of the things that has stuck with me most after visiting the Holocaust museum was a picture of naked little boy standing there crying hysterically. He was one of the children that were mentally handicapped that were killed by injection. I still think about that boy from time and time and I always end up in tears. It just breaks my heart that he probably had so much love to give and was never given a chance.

     I have always wanted to go to the Holocaust museum. What saddens me even more is that many of our youth today do not know the horrors committed during this time, or even what the Holocaust is.


     

  • Bookwormy
    January 31, 2013 at 6:38 PM
    I DON'T CARE! There can be no justification for Mengela & his ilk.


    Quoting ReadWriteLuv:

    The holocaust was a dreadful, awful, vile, disgusting, terrible time in world history. It should never be condoned. However, HUGE advances in modern medicine came from the experiments in the death camps. Doctors learned things that medical professionals had never known, all because the ethics of human experimentation hadn't allowed them to push a human body to the limits that they did. There are two sides of every coin, and OF COURSE I am not saying that this should have happened. It's horrible and disgusting, but at the same time, anyone who has been vaccinated, treated for cancer, has recieved fertility treatment, been treated for hypothermia or burns, taken an anti-depressant, you have reaped the benefit of the research done by the Nazi's. Doctors worldwide jumped all over their research for the benefit of all humanity.


  • ReadWriteLuv
    January 31, 2013 at 6:43 PM
    Whether or not we care doesn't matter. It happened. There is no justifying it, it was evil manifested through human action, but the end result is almost every advancement we have in modern medicine. You can hate it, I can hate it, but it is what it is. We all have to go to the doctor sometime in our lives, and the fact of the matter is that our doctors know what they know and are able to treat us with specifc pharmaceutical combinations because of Nazi research. It's just a disgusting, unpleasant fact.

    Quoting Bookwormy:

    I DON'T CARE! There can be no justification for Mengela & his ilk.




    Quoting ReadWriteLuv:

    The holocaust was a dreadful, awful, vile, disgusting, terrible time in world history. It should never be condoned. However, HUGE advances in modern medicine came from the experiments in the death camps. Doctors learned things that medical professionals had never known, all because the ethics of human experimentation hadn't allowed them to push a human body to the limits that they did. There are two sides of every coin, and OF COURSE I am not saying that this should have happened. It's horrible and disgusting, but at the same time, anyone who has been vaccinated, treated for cancer, has recieved fertility treatment, been treated for hypothermia or burns, taken an anti-depressant, you have reaped the benefit of the research done by the Nazi's. Doctors worldwide jumped all over their research for the benefit of all humanity.


  • Bookwormy
    January 31, 2013 at 6:58 PM
    Candle says she had no alterior motives. I choose to believe her. Why not? The Nazis were sick folk. Just maybe she's above using them to forward her political agenda.
  • Euphoric
    January 31, 2013 at 7:03 PM

     :(

    Quoting IhartU:

     One of the things that has stuck with me most after visiting the Holocaust museum was a picture of naked little boy standing there crying hysterically. He was one of the children that were mentally handicapped that were killed by injection. I still think about that boy from time and time and I always end up in tears. It just breaks my heart that he probably had so much love to give and was never given a chance.

     

  • autodidact
    February 1, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    I guessed from the headline who the OP is.

  • saphiraka
    February 1, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    Very interesting article.   I have always wanted to go to the Holocause museum.. In high school I took AP European history  and my teacher was a member of the museum.. She had acess to some materials other teachers wouldnt.   I will never forget one of those movies we had to watch (we even had to have a permission slip to watch it, although it was a college credit/level class  we were most of us 16 or 17).  They were in the concentration camp, rounding up the children..  One particular child was trying to run and hide.. Out of desperation he went to the out houses and was going to climb down into the filth.. There were already so many children hiding there he couldnt fit.    The parents had been told the kids were going off to a new school and were singing and happy as they helped load their children into the trucks, not realizing they were headed instead to the gas chambers..  Even being out of school now for 15 years that movie of actual footage has stuck with me.

  • Aamy
    by Aamy
    February 1, 2013 at 8:26 AM
    We went to DC last summer. I went to the holocaust museum, but my dd was to young to go in and so was my DS. Maybe this summer. When I was little my mom and dad took me to a camp in germany. Spelling is wrong but dauchu. I can to this day remember it. I also got to go to the house where Ann Frank hid at. Very very moving.

    Quoting IhartU:

     


    Quoting jehosoba84:


     


    Quoting IhartU:


     One of the things that has stuck with me most after visiting the Holocaust museum was a picture of naked little boy standing there crying hysterically. He was one of the children that were mentally handicapped that were killed by injection. I still think about that boy from time and time and I always end up in tears. It just breaks my heart that he probably had so much love to give and was never given a chance.


     I have always wanted to go to the Holocaust museum. What saddens me even more is that many of our youth today do not know the horrors committed during this time, or even what the Holocaust is.


      We took the kids on a vacation to DC a few years ago and I made sure the Holocaust museum was one of the places we visited. My girls were old enough then to be greatly impacted but my son was pretty young and didn't understand a lot of what he saw. I'm planning on going back within the next few years now that he's older. I just think it's a very important part of history that everyone needs to know about and that everyone should try to visit that museum at least once in their lives to fully 'get' what went on and what those people went through. It's one thing to read about it or see tv programs but to see the items up close makes it so much more real and it will stick with you for the rest of your life.

  • TruthSeeker.
    February 1, 2013 at 8:48 AM

     

    Quoting January1964:

    This is why I dislike the term "carseat Nazis."

      What are carseat Nazis?

  • TruthSeeker.
    February 1, 2013 at 8:53 AM

     Did Public schools stop teaching about the Holocaust? I went to hight school in the early 90's and it was still being taught.

    Quoting kailu1835:

    You can thank public school for that one :(

    Quoting jehosoba84:

     

    Quoting IhartU:

     One of the things that has stuck with me most after visiting the Holocaust museum was a picture of naked little boy standing there crying hysterically. He was one of the children that were mentally handicapped that were killed by injection. I still think about that boy from time and time and I always end up in tears. It just breaks my heart that he probably had so much love to give and was never given a chance.

     I have always wanted to go to the Holocaust museum. What saddens me even more is that many of our youth today do not know the horrors committed during this time, or even what the Holocaust is.


     

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