History of medicine: The holocaust - Pandora's box of anatomy

Uri Weinberg*, Shmuel Reis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Physicians in Nazi Germany were among the first to join the Nazi party and the SS, and were considered passionate and active supporters of the regime. Their actions included development and implementation of the racial theory thus legitimizing the development of the Nazi genocide plan, leadership and execution of the sterilization and euthanasia programs as well as atrocious human experimentation. Nazi law allowed the use of humans and their remains in research institutions. One of the physicians whose involvement in the Nazi regime was particularly significant was Eduard Pernkopf. He was the head of the Anatomy Institute at the University of Vienna, and later became the president of the university. Pernkopf was a member of the Nazi party, promoted the idea of racial hygiene, and in 1938, purified the university from all Jews. In Pernkopf's atlas of anatomy, the illustrators expressed their sympathy to Nazism by adding Nazi symbols to their illustrations. In light of the demand stated by the Yad Vashem Institute, the sources of the atlas were investigated. The report, which was published in 1998, determined that Pernkopf's Anatomy Institute received almost 1400 corpses from the Gestapo's execution chambers. Copies of Pernkopf's atlas, accidentally exposed at the Rappaport School of Medicine in the Technion, led to dilemmas concerning similar works with a common background. The books initiated a wide debate in Israel and abroad, regarding ethical aspects of using information originated in Nazi crimes. Moreover, these findings are evidence of the evil to which science and medicine can give rise, when they are captured as an unshakable authority.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)455-458
Number of pages4
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Anatomy
  • Ethics
  • Holocaust & medicine
  • Nazi medicine
  • Pernkopf


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