11 November 2013

Hirt and friends

Last year I noted the article by Jones and Whitaker on 'Anatomy's use of unclaimed bodies: Reasons Against Continued Dependence on an Ethically Dubious Practice'

'August Hirt and "extraordinary opportunities for cadaver delivery" to anatomical institutes in National Socialism: A murderous change in paradigm' by Hans-Joachim Lang in (2013) 195(5) Annals of Anatomy 373 comments that
 German anatomical institutes always had problems obtaining sufficient cadavers for research and training. In the National Socialist (NS) period this changed. Universities could count on "extraordinary opportunities for cadaver delivery." Most frequently tacitly, many bodies were those of victims of NS crimes. Scientists increasingly exploited the exceptional political situation to systematically supplement their institutional collections. Their endeavors to fill the, in their terms, "lamentable gaps" in their collections took on truly bizarre forms. In Austria, Jewish cemeteries were plundered for racial-political expansion of anatomical collections. A change in paradigm was merely the next step: intentional murder for the benefit of NS-oriented science. In December of 1942, anatomists meeting in Tübingen discussed plans for "material acquisition." August Hirt, director of the anatomical institute at the Reichsuniversität in Strasbourg, was to develop guidelines. There was express reference to "Auftrag Beger," which had already been conceived although not yet realized: at the behest of Hirt and the SS-scientific organization, "Ahnenerbe," the anthropologists Bruno Beger and Hans Fleischhacker selected 86 Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz in June of 1943 and deported them to the concentration camp at Struthof near Natzweiler, where they were murdered. The bodies were delivered to the anatomy department in Strasbourg for preparation and used as anatomical specimens. The Reichsuniversität Strasbourg was considered a center of excellence for Nazi ideology. For modern scientists, the elucidation of these criminal acts is not exhausted in the search for an answer to the questions of perpetrator, place, modus operandi or motive. A suitable memorial to the victims must go beyond mere quantification.