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Children of the Holocaust Discussion Guide

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Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies
Published by the Anti-Defamation League's Braun Holocaust Institute
Morality and Memory:
A Teacher's Reference

By Director of Braun Holocaust Institute

Of all the horrors associated with the Holocaust, one of the most difficult to discuss with high school students is the collaboration of the German and Austrian medical professions with the Nazi regime.

For many of us who write and teach about contemporary society, the Holocaust has become infused into the disciplines we teach as well as into the way we conduct our daily lives. Moreover, its legacy helps clarify that primary objective which all educators share: to teach students that each human life is a creative entity which should be respected.

Hardly a day goes by without our hearing or reading about some Holocaust-related news. Most of the media attention recently has been on tangible Holocaust issues: looted art, melted gold, stolen possessions. However, as important as these issues are, there are a number of other pressing and unresolved Holocaust subjects, subjects that aren't as tangible, that are somewhat abstract, but that nonetheless resonate with moral implications.

Some of these latter topics are explored in this issue of Dimensions, which means that students reading the issue are the beneficiaries of an important resource. And, as students study these articles, they will be prompted to become researchers, sorting out opinions from hard data; they will want to pursue their research further in books, and newspaper and magazine articles (both current and past). The result of their work will be a wonderful achievement: gaining a sense of history.

Of all the horrors associated with the Holocaust, one of the most difficult to discuss with high school students is the collaboration of the German and Austrian medical professions with the Nazi regime. It is astonishing that physicians joined the Nazi Party in greater numbers than any other professional group. Six percent of the medical profession, nearly 3,000 physicians, joined the National Socialist Physicians League even before Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. It is even harder to believe that German doctors advocated and implemented the sterilization and killing of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and participated in despicable "medical experiments" on helpless victims.

We are still living with the consequences of these horrors. For instance, can any of the information obtained from the Nazi doctors' ghastly experiments conceivably be of any positive use to mankind today -- and if so, should it be suppressed anyway?

Dr. William E. Seidelman's article "Medicine and Murder in the Third Reich," is a particularly powerful teaching tool because the author goes beyond merely providing an overview of brutal doctors and their vicious conduct, to examine the aftermath and significance of an extremely disturbing phenomenon.

There can be no doubt that those sworn to the preservation of life actively participated in genocide. How could these physicians, some quite distinguished in the pre-Nazi era, become the sadists they did? Why did a number of them never repent? Can future societies be sure that their own medical professions will not become egregiously debased? Such questions need to be addressed. 

Topics for Further Research:
  • The T-4 "Euthanasia" Program
  • Pernkopf's Anatomy
  • The Nazi Policy of Forced Sterilization
  • Josef Mengele, a Nazi Doctor at Auschwitz
  • Medical Experiments in Concentration Camps and Death Camps
Further Readings on This Subject:

Dimensions Magazine, Volume 5, No. 2: "Treason of the Medical Profession"

"The Memory of the Perpetrators," Der Spiegel, November 24, 1998

This article originally appeared in Dimensions, Vol. 13, No. 1.

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Selected Dimensions Articles:
Science and the Holocaust
Nazi Medicine and Public Health Policy
Medicine and Murder in the Third Reich
Morality and Memory

Business and the Holocaust
German Industry and the Third Reich
The Ford Motor Company and the Third Reich
Frederick Flick's Opportunism and Expediency
Big Business and the Holocaust

Contemporary Society and the Holocaust
Deniers, Relativists, and Pseudo-Scholarship
Mainstreaming Neo-Nazism

Religion and the Holocaust
The Role of Churches:
Compliance and Confrontation

International Politics and the Holocaust
Co-Opting Nazi Germany:
Neutrality in Europe During World War II

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