|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
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
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:
Further Readings on This Subject:
- 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
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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