This book goes into extreme detail describing every facet of the Nazi regime’s various medical experiments, policies and atrocities with the intention of giving the reader an understanding of the past such that it should not repeat itself- as the author suggests it may in today’s atmospheres of modern genocide and “ethnic cleansing.” Lifton draws comparisons particularly to potentially similar situations in Serbia, Rwanda and Cambodia, and draws parallels to the political and societal evolutions that took place in Germany, eventually developing a “genocidal mentality” that resulted in the systematic killing of (and medical experimentation on) millions of innocent victims.
It smoothly describes the growth and development of the overall Nazi medical ideology, beginning with the definition of “life unworthy of life.” Lifton explains the process by which mentally and physically disabled children and adults came to be regarded as detriments to society that needed to be killed- both for their own good and for the betterment of mankind. This twisted view resulted in a state-sanctioned euthanasia program, wherein German doctors were first compelled to break their Hippocratic Oath- the professional promise to do no harm that is as old as medicine itself.
From its beginnings, Lifton further describes the progression of Nazi killings under the guise of science- culminating in the work of Dr. Josef Mengele in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Unlike many studies of Mengele’s work, Lifton does not focus simply on the horrors he perpetrated during his time at the camp. Rather, he attempts to explain how the “camp culture” within Auschwitz and the increasingly brutal practices of the Nazi system resulted in the atmosphere which allowed such horrible atrocities to occur.
Koren, Y. (2005). Mengele and the Family of Dwarfs: Yehuda Koren Tells One Family’s Remarkable Story of Surviving Auschwitz. History Today, 55, 32-33.
This article examines another group of Mengele’s victims, Jews suffering the genetic disease of dwarfism. Specifically, an entire family, all of whom somehow managed to survive not only his experiments but the deadly atmosphere of Auschwitz itself.
Koren provides first-person accounts via interviews of some members of the Ovitz family, a unique clan from Romania that arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. The family of twelve included seven dwarfs and was the largest recorded dwarf family in the world and before their transport to Auschwitz had spent years touring in a traveling exhibition that promoted them as the “Lilliput Troupe.” Mengele was extremely interested in genetic abnormalities, and as such targeted dwarfs and other unusual individuals for experimentation.
Experiments conducted on the family included extensive drawing of blood, high doses of radiation, removal of blood marrow samples, teeth pulled and the women received mysterious injections into their wombs. Despite all of this horrid treatment, Mengele seemed to have a strange fondness for the family and often treated them to special meals and other privileges, so that he could use them as a source of entertainment for other SS officers. This makes their case extremely unique amongst all of his victims. So, while he avoided killing them, he did so for entirely selfish reasons.
The case involving this particular family offers interesting insight into Mengele’s personality.
Freyhofer, H. (2004). The Nuremberg Medical Trial: The Holocaust and the Origin of the Nuremberg Medical Code. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
This book examines and explains the Medical or “Doctors” trial of Nuremberg, by recounting everything that led up to the trial, and the wide-ranging effects it had. Particular care is paid to analyzing the breaches in ethics by members of the medical community that chose to take part in the Nazi euthanasia programs and subsequent medical experimentation on prisoners. These doctors, when charged with war crimes in the face of overwhelming evidence of what went on during the course of the war in hospitals and concentration camps, attempted to prove that the experiments they carried out were justifiable in the name of science.
Though Josef Mengele was on the run and in hiding at the time of the Trial and didn’t face justice alongside his fellow perpetrators, Freyhofer goes into extensive detail analyzing Mengele’s methods and potential motivations, as well as the ethical implications of Mengele’s work. Instead of focusing on the nature of the experiments performed by Mengele and other Nazi doctors, this text seeks to examine the larger picture of medical responsibility.
Freyhofer explains the nature of the Hippocratic oath and why it failed to endure the pressures brought upon it by Nazi ideology. Coupled with this is a study of how the doctors charged in the trial, many of them highly respected in their fields before the war, could have so thoroughly warped their ethical viewpoints.
The most significant contribution of this work is the explanation of the Nuremberg Medical Code that resulted from the trial, in which the courts set a legal international standard for medical experimentation. As a result of this landmark decision, doctors could never again claim to have performed experimentation on unwilling subjects for the good of science.
Riordan, C. (1997). The Sins of the Children: Peter Schneider, Allan Massie and the Legacy of Auschwitz. Journal of European Studies, 27, 161-180.
This article examines the repercussions that Nazi war crimes have had on the descendants of both the perpetrators and the victims. Countless sources recount the stories of Holocaust survivors and the stories of their children, but few examine the effects the war had on the equally innocent children of many top Nazis. These children grew up with the heart-breaking weight of their fathers crimes, which in turn generated a degree of self-loathing.
One particular figure of interest in this article is Rolf Mengele, the son of Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele, having disappeared after the war into hiding in Brazil, lived out the rest of his days in relative peace and quiet, never meeting retribution for his terrible crimes. Six years after the death of his father, Rolf finally came forward and recounted his story of what it was like to have to live in obscurity under constant fear of discovery, and coping with the knowledge that his father never regretted any of his barbaric doings.
The primary purpose behind analyzing the stories of the children of Nazi war criminals is to determine where historians draw the line between understanding and acceptance. To accomplish this, Riordan references two fictionalized accounts of these father-son relationships in order to gain insight into how the children of war criminals deal with the knowledge of their fathers’ actions, and what action (or lack thereof) they take to attempt to atone for those crimes. Why, for example, did Rolf Mengele never turn his father in to the authorities? The motives are varied, and in the end it’s up to the individual to weigh perceived loyalty to family, or loyalty to justice.
Hinton, AL. (2002). Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide. Berkeley: University of California Press.
This book seeks to examine the larger picture of genocide and what drives humanity to single out and persecute specific groups of people within society. By studying various cases where genocide has occurred, such as the Holocaust, the author hopes to bring about an understanding of what causes these shameful events and how we might strive to prevent them in the future.
Hinton states that genocide cannot occur without a basis of ideology that the perpetrators feel justifies their behavior. Clearly this makes the Holocaust a prime example, and Hinton places great emphasis on the supposed anthropological basis for many Nazi ideologies. Primarily amongst these are those regarding the Jews, who were defined by the Nazis as a lesser breed of humanity due to their stereotypical ethnic features, which differed in some ways from the “ideal” Aryan.
This anthropological view that Jews were sub-human played a major role in Nazi justification of their treatment of the Jews, from basic imprisonment to systematic killing and use in ghastly medical experiments like those carried out by Josef Mengele.
Hinton also discusses the psychological blocks put in place by the Nazis themselves in order to avoid full comprehension of their misdeeds. This included the frequent use of obscure terms and code words that were used in place of clear descriptions of the atrocities carried out on prisoners by Mengele and other Nazis. This suggests that even ideology couldn’t fully convince even the Nazis that what they were doing was right, and subconciously they corrected for this by softening the appearance of their crimes, at least in writing.
Baumel, JT. (2000). “You Said the Words You Wanted Me to Hear But I Heard The Words You Couldn’t Bring Yourself To Say”: Women’s First Person Accounts of the Holocaust. The Oral History Review. 27, 17-18.
This article offers a unique view of some of Mengele’s forgotten victims, the mothers of many of the children used in his experiments. It’s well documented that Mengele was highly interested in performing experiments on twins, and he took great care to sort twin children out from the rest of the Jews brought to Auschwitz by train. Twins were often yanked from their mothers grasps and the mothers sent off to their deaths never knowing what became of their children, while other times the mothers themselves were also involved in the experiments.
This article examines both situations, with particular attention paid to the later group- Mengele was interested in what caused the twin phenomenon, and did tests on the Jewish mothers of twins in hopes of discovering the cause of twin births. Other mothers were forced to take part in the tests conducted on their own children, sometimes forced to inject their children with unknown substances, many of which had terrible effects. This had an obvious severe psychological effect on these mothers, which Baumel explores in detail through first hand accounts.
Other times, pregnant women were selected by Mengele for experimentation, such as one mother that had her newborn child taken from her and was forced to watch it starve to death as Mengele sought to determine how long a newborn could survive without its mother. Other pregnant women were experimented on, with injections and surgery. Through this and other terrible descriptions, Baumel illustrates not only the horrors of Mengele’s experimentation, but also the terrible effect it had on the women they involved.
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