News FocusANATOMY

Confronting Anatomy's Nazi Past

Science  16 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5989, pp. 274-275
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5989.274-a

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Summary

Papers published in the past year or so are documenting the grim symbiosis that arose between anatomists who wanted human bodies for teaching and research and the Nazi regime, which wanted to dispose quietly of the corpses of large numbers of executed prisoners. Medical schools were assigned particular prisons from which to receive corpses and accepted extra bodies for incineration. One leading Berlin anatomist manipulated the timing of executions and used the terror that female prisoners experienced as they waited to die as a scientific variable in a study, according to research published in Clinical Anatomy last year. The research is prompting German anatomists to acknowledge publicly for the first time the extent of their field's involvement in Nazi abuses. And it raises ethical questions about the continuing use of research and illustrations based on dissections of Nazi victims (see sidebar).