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Ethical Problems Encountered by Auschwitz Prisoner Doctors

  • Claude Romney
Chapter

Abstract

When one talks about physicians and ethical problems in the Nazi concentration camps, the subject usually refers to the violation by the SS doctors of the Hippocratic oath they had taken at the end of their medical studies, their cruel treatment of prisoners, the infamous pseudo-scientific experiments they subjected them to, and the ruthless way they selected millions of innocent people and sent them to their deaths. Indeed, at the Nuremberg medical trial which took place from December 1946 to July 1947,1 twenty Nazi physicians were judged, seven of whom were sentenced to death for their crimes. The trial resulted in what has become known as the Nuremberg Code which outlines certain ethical principles to be respected by the medical profession and which has been termed ‘the most important document in the history of ethics of medical research’.2

Keywords

Ethical Problem Concentration Camp Hippocratic Oath Nuremberg Code Camp Hospital 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    On the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial, see, among others, Alexander Mitscherlich and Fred Mielke, Doctors of Infamy, tr. Heinz Norden (New York: Henry Schuman, 1949 [1947]);Google Scholar
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  4. 2.
    Evelyne Shuster, ‘Fifty Years Later: The Significance of the Nuremberg Code’, New England Journal of Medicine 337 (20), (1997): 1436–1440, 1436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 3.
    Władysław Fejkiel, ‘Health Services in the Auschwitz I Concentration Camp/Main Camp’ in International Auschwitz Committee, Nazi Medicine. Doctors, Victims and Medicine in Auschwitz, Part Two (New York: Howard Fertig, 1986 [1961]), pp.4–37.Google Scholar
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    See Tadeusz Paczula., ‘The Organization and Administration of the Camp Hospital in the Concentration Camp Auschwitz I,’ in International Auschwitz Committee, Nazi Medicine. Doctors, Victims and Medicine in Auschwitz (New York: Howard Fertig, 1986 [1965]), Part One, pp.38–75.Google Scholar
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  10. 8.
    Ima Spanjaard, ‘Personnel’, in Lore Shelley (ed.), Criminal Experiments on Human Beings in Auschwitz and War Research Laboratories: Twenty Women Prisoners’ Accounts (San Francisco: Meilen Research University Press, 1991), p.50.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Christian Bernadac, Les Médecins de l’impossible (Mont-Royal (Quebec): Le Nordais, 1981).Google Scholar
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    See, for instance, Józef Kret, ‘The Doctors Found a Way Out’, in International Auschwitz Committee, Nazi Medicine. Doctors, Victims and Medicine in Auschwitz (New York: Howard Fertig, 1986 [1971]), Part II, pp.76–106, and Stanisława Leszczyńska, ‘Report of a Midwife from Auschwitz’, ibid., Part III, pp.181–192.Google Scholar
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  16. and André Lettich, Trente-quatre mois dans les camps de concentration. Témoignages sur les crimes ‘scientifiques’ commis par les médecins allemands (Tours: Imprimerie Union coopérative, 1946), both medical theses.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    Robert Waitz ‘Auschwitz III-Monowitz,’ De l’Université aux camps de concentration. Témoignages strasbourgeois (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1947), pp.466–499.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Gisella Perl, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz. (New York: Arno Press, 1979 [1948]). Dr. Gisella Perl, a gynaecologist from Maramaros Sziget in Transylvania, was deported in 1944 with her husband, their young son and her parents to Auschwitz. She was the only survivor.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    R.J. Minney, I Shall Fear No Evil. The Story of Dr. Alina Brewda (London: William Kimber, 1966).Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    Adéläde Hautval, Médecine et crimes contre l’humanité. Témoignage manuscrit écrit en 1946, revu par l’auteur en 1987 (Arles: Actes Sud, 1991), p.36.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    Ella Lingens, Eine Frau im Konzentrationslager. (Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1966), p.23.Google Scholar
  22. 36.
    Odette Abadi, Terre de détresse (Paris, L’Harmattan, 1995). The description of a selection in the women’s hospital by Dr. Odette Abadi is one of the most horrendously evocative of the gruesome scenes that took place and is well worth reading.Google Scholar
  23. 39.
    Robert Lévy, ‘Auschwitz II Birkenau.’ De l’Université aux camps de concentration. Témoignages strasbourgeois. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1947), pp.457–466.Google Scholar
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  25. 44.
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    Robert Krell and Marc I. Sherman, Medical and Psychosocial Effects of Concentration Camps on Holocaust Survivors, (New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London: Transaction Publishers, 1997).Google Scholar
  27. 50.
    Olga Lengyel, Five Chimneys, The Story of Auschwitz (Chicago: Ziff-Davis, 1947). Olga Lengyel was the wife of Dr. Miklos Lengyel, a distinguished surgeon and gynaecologist from Cluj. The family, consisting of the couple, their two young sons and Olga Lengyel’s parents, arrived in Auschwitz in May, 1944. Olga Lengyel was the only one of her family to survive. It is not clear whether she was a physician or not. Robert Jay Lifton, in The Nazi Doctors (op.cit.) calls her ‘Dr. Lengyel’, but Hermann Langbein states that she was a medical student (Menschen in Auschwitz, (Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1972). Olga Lengyel herself states in her book that before being deported to Auschwitz from her hometown she used to be her husband’s assistant.Google Scholar
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    Elie A. Cohen, The Abyss: A Confession (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973) and Human Behaviour in the Concentration Camps (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975).Google Scholar
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  30. Mavis M. Hill, and L. Norman Williams, Auschwitz in England: A Record of a Libel Action (New York: Stein and Day, 1965). The article by Winocour contains elements not found in the book by Hill and Williams, among others an analysis of reports of the trial given by the British press. A number of newspapers remained favourable to Dering. The BMJ’s title seems to indicate that the anonymous author shared their view. A leader in the same issue of the journal, however, deplored ‘[t]hat medical men could act as certain German doctors’ (p. 1270) without mentioning Dering’s nationality.Google Scholar
  31. 69.
    Miklos Nyiszli, Auschwitz, a Doctor’s Eyewitness Account, tr. Tibère Kremer and Richard Seaver (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993 [1960]).Google Scholar
  32. 72.
    Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle 1939–1945, tr. Barbara Harshaw, Martha Humphreys and Stephen Shearier (New York: Henry Holt, 1990).Google Scholar
  33. 74.
    Claudette Bloch Kennedy, Personal Communication, July 1996.Google Scholar
  34. 75.
    Imre Gönczi, Personal Communication, August 1997.Google Scholar
  35. 76.
    Leon Landau, Oskarzenie (Warsaw: Ksiąžka i Wiedza, 1962).Google Scholar
  36. 78.
    On the prisoner doctors’ involvement with the Underground Movement, see Hermann Langbein, op. cit.; Falk Pingel, Häftlinge unter SS. Herrschaft. Widerstand, Selbstbehauptung und Vernichtung im Konzentrationslager (Hamburg: Hoffman and Campe, 1978), and Hermann Langbein ‘The Auschwitz Underground,’ Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, ed. Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), pp.485–502.Google Scholar
  37. 79.
    Ima van Esso Spanjaard, Personal Communication, September 1999.Google Scholar
  38. 80.
    Imre Gönczi, Personal Communication, May 1999.Google Scholar
  39. 82.
    Primo Levi. The Drowned and the Saved, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Summit Books, 1988) p.59.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Claude Romney

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