But Aly had solid evidence. In small groups, German medical students began taking up the same cause. We heard something about children being euthanized at the Heidelberg psychiatric hospital, so we went into the hospital and asked the professors.
TV and print stories spotlighted the continuing use of Nazi-era specimens for research and teaching. Demonstrators protested outside the German Embassy in Israel, and the Israeli minister of religion demanded that Chancellor Helmut Kohl return the remains of all Nazi victims for proper burial. Caplan held the first conference on medicine and science during the Nazi era in Minnesota. A proposal to boycott German data collected under Hitler was a major topic. And the Max Planck Society admitted that its collection contained the tissue of euthanasia victims—including children. The Max Planck Society buried these remains in a May memorial service.
It was the demand Aly had been making. He and Caplan called for an international commemoration and bioethical inquiry. In , the German government ordered all state universities to investigate their anatomical collections. Others followed the Max Planck example of mass disposal. The effort to carry out a full national inquiry foundered at a time of momentous distraction: The Berlin Wall fell in November , and the Soviet Union soon collapsed. Amid the upheaval, indifference won out. The two men were talking about a controversy that flared up at their own institute.
It concerned a work of lasting scientific importance, one that occupies its own niche and is used by doctors and researchers around the world: the Pernkopf atlas. Eduard Pernkopf toiled over his four-volume atlas in Vienna for more than 20 years beginning in Pernkopf was a Nazi. As dean of the medical school at the University of Vienna, he expelled Jews from the faculty faster than any university official in the Third Reich. Nazi insignia appear in his atlas, woven into the signatures of the artists.
A Columbia professor of dentistry, Howard Israel, started asking about the insignia in One of the men portrayed in the atlas had a shaved head—was he a Jewish concentration camp victim? Letters started flying back and forth between Yad Vashem and Vienna. Austrian officials at first denied that any illustrations in the atlas came from the Nazi era. The hair of all cadavers was shaved at the institute, they said. At a University of Vienna symposium called Medicine Under Scrutiny, the rector of the university announced a committee of investigation. It was a big deal. The investigating committee documented the delivery of 1, bodies to the university from the execution chambers of the regional Vienna court.
The images in the Pernkopf atlas could not be traced to individual victims, but the historians I talked to think there is a great likelihood that the drawings depict people executed by the Nazis. Gross did painful experiments on living children there, some of whom died as a result.
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In , he was charged with murder. Gross returned to Spiegelgrund it had been renamed and continued his research using brain specimens from the children who had been killed there. He published 35 papers, some written with University of Vienna faculty. He also testified as a psychiatric expert in thousands of cases in the Austrian court.
As the University of Vienna committee brought renewed attention to this history, evidence against Gross also surfaced in the files of the Stasi, the East German secret police. In , he was indicted for murder again. The court accepted this defense. But Seidelman does not believe it.
Gross lived for six more years, until the age of The Austrian Cross was stripped from Gross the following year. T he long-buried history of Nazi-era anatomy is surfacing now because of a burst of investigation by the third postwar generation. These scholars also want to memorialize the victims.
Hildebrandt has tracked down evidence showing that after World War II, during the Allied occupation, the Allies questioned anatomists at 11 of the 31 anatomical institutes at universities in Germany, Austria, Poland, and the rest of the territory occupied by the Third Reich.
Since , when the German government ordered the universities to investigate their anatomical collections and their wartime histories, only 14 of the 31 universities have done full-fledged and thorough examinations. The other 17 conducted preliminary investigations or none at all. This means they still have a giant Henrietta Lacks problem.
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For example, at Jena, which opened its collections to outside inspection in , more than a dozen paraffin blocks with histological specimens, taken from four people executed under Hitler, have been found in the past three years. Informed consent is the moral difference between the fate of the bodies of Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boysen and of voluntary donors. Anatomists and medical students do need cadavers. Science does need bones and tissue. The utilitarian case for using the bodies of the executed or people who die in public institutions and whose corpses go unclaimed is that the scientific benefit is greater than the moral harm.
And the deceased will never know. When informed consent is not the rule, the people whose bodies and tissues go to medicine have been overwhelmingly the poor and the marginalized. In an article in Clinical Anatomy published last year, bioethicist Gareth Jones and anatomist Maja Whitaker, both from New Zealand, called for an international standard of informed consent.
That would change the ongoing practice in some African countries and also in Bangladesh, India, and Brazil, Jones and Whitaker say, where bequests are rare or nonexistent. It would also require the law to change in parts of the United States. There are concerns, too, about the use of bodies of the executed in China.
Countries without a tradition of body donation pose a greater dilemma, but Jones thinks cadavers could be sent from places where there is a good supply to those where there is not. This requires mutual trust and understanding, something that is built up over many years. In my estimation this side of bequeathing has been seriously overlooked and downplayed by anatomists.
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That helps explain what went so wrong among the anatomists of Nazi Germany. This in no way justifies any of their practices, but if anatomy as a discipline had been radically different, at least some of the horrors of this corner of Nazi atrocities may not have taken place. Markl acknowledged that Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor who selected people for life or death at Auschwitz, did his perverse research on twins with his mentor, an anthropologist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, the precursor to the Max Planck Society. Markl apologized to them personally.
This is the latest stage of reckoning: Trying to attend to the victims and to their memory. He has identified all of the Jews selected for gassing by August Hirt , director of the anatomical institute in Strasbourg who had a singularly ghoulish plan for their remains. Hirt was interested in adding to a collection of skulls at the University of Strasbourg. Hirt was essentially competing with the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which procured Jewish skulls from another anatomist, Hermann Voss. In consultation with the staff of Heinrich Himmler, Hirt received permission to go ahead.
Two staff members were sent to Auschwitz to separate out a group of Jews, 30 women and 79 men. They were examined according to the standards for racial typing of the time: Their skin, hair, and eye color were noted and coded using special tables, and the shapes of their heads, foreheads, noses, mouths, and ears measured.
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Fifty-seven of the men and 29 of the women were chosen. They were gassed in a special chamber and their bodies delivered to Hirt at his anatomical institute. Hirt stored the bodies in the basement. But in January , after the liberation of Strasbourg, the London Daily Mail reported their discovery in the anatomical institute.