Medicine in the third reich: New medical education agenda

Shmuel P. Reis, Hedy S. Wald

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


It was the day after Holocaust Memorial Day. As an anatomy instructor, I [UriWeinberg MD, PhD, a medical student at the time] was preparing for a first yearstudents' lesson with a colleague. A question arose, and we [Weinberg and author SPR]searched for the answer in the available anatomy textbooks. Much to our surprise, wefound a copy of Pernkopf's Atlas, with its detailed manner and unique style ofillustrations. Shocked and trembling, we came across an illustration of a neck dissectionof a shaven headed man which, according to the illustrator's signature, had been drawn in1943-.(Weinberg and Reis, 2005).In 1933 Eduard Pernkopf, head of the anatomy school of Vienna University, beganpreparing an anatomical atlas. An ardent Nazi, he was appointed Dean in 1938 andPresident of the university in 1943. Among his first actions as Dean was to "purify" themedical school of all Jews by expelling a total of 153 of the 197 faculty members. Healso arranged for the bodies of nearly 1400 people executed by the Gestapo, most of themfor political reasons, to serve as models for his atlas.Only the day before finding the atlas, we had heard the story behind the atlas'creation during a noon conference held annually for our faculty. Thus, for us, finding atextbook with such history had added significance. We felt revolted that students hadbeen using this book for so many years while unaware of its history. The discovery ofthis book in an Israeli medical school, coincidentally in the same week wecommemorated the Holocaust, enhanced those feelings. An inspection revealed furthercopies on the faculty's library shelves with no reference to their background either insidethe books or in library files. We now share this learning moment. These volumes, rather than being destroyed, cannow be used for educating students, faculty, and the public. Displaying these books with anexplanation of their horrific origin appropriately commemorates the many victims used in theatlas' production. It is our hope that such exposure will lead to further search for othersources with similar histories. Given the significance of this finding and its importantimplications for medical education, our Medical Students Association, in cooperation with theProgramme for the Study of Holocaust and Medicine in the faculty, hopes to bring this issueto the attention of medical students in Israel and worldwide. As future doctors and/orscientists, we are obligated to learn from the terrible past. *(Source: Weinberg, U, Reis S.(2005). The Holocaust and Medicine - a learning moment. BMJ. 331, 668. Reprinted withpermission).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMedical Education
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal Perspectives, Challenges and Future Directions
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781626186392
StatePublished - 2013


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